Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the paramilitary group Wagner, has just claimed this Saturday 24/06/2023 at 7:30 in the morning to have entered the soil of Russia with his troops, its 25,000 commandos and control some military sites, including the airport, saying he is “ready to die” to “liberate the Russian people”.
Russia’s immediate response
The Russian prosecutor general’s office immediately announced on Saturday the opening of an investigation for “armed mutiny” against Yevgeny Prigozhin, who rebelled after accusing the regular army of bombing his men. Authorities have stepped up security measures in Moscow and several other regions of Russia.
“We continue, we will go to the end,” Prigozhin said in an audio message on Telegram. “We will destroy everything that comes our way.” “We are all ready to die, all 25,000. And then there will be another 25,000. Because we die for the fatherland, we die for the Russian people who must be liberated from those who bomb the civilian population,” he said.
He announced that his forces, so far deployed in Ukraine, had crossed the border and entered the city of Rostov, where the headquarters of the Russian army’s Southern Command is located, from where military operations in Ukraine are coordinated. He claimed on Saturday morning to have taken control of military sites, including an airfield.
“We are at the headquarters, it is 7:30 in the morning” (6:30 a.m. in France), said Yevgeny Prigozhin in a video posted on Telegram, “the military sites of Rostov are under control, including the airfield” He also assured that his troops had shot down a Russian helicopter that had “opened fire on a civilian column”. He did not provide evidence for these claims.
“Anti-terrorist activities are underway in Moscow with the aim of strengthening security measures,” said the mayor of the capital, Sergei Sobyanin. Images on social media and online media showed military vehicles circulating in the city, near the Defense Ministry, and positioned in front of the lower house of parliament, the Duma, a few dozen meters from the Kremlin.The governor of the Rostov region called on the population to “stay at home”, and that of Lipetsk, 420 km south of Moscow, also announced “enhanced security measures”.
Yevgeny Prigozhin on Friday accused the Russian army of bombing Wagner Group camps with missiles, calling for an uprising against the military command, earning him an immediate investigation for calling for “armed mutiny”.
Russian Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov informed President Vladimir Putin “of the opening of a criminal investigation in connection with the attempt to organize an armed mutiny,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
In several audio messages throughout the day, Wagner’s boss had previously claimed that Russian strikes had caused a “very large number of casualties” in its ranks. “They carried out strikes, missile strikes, on our camps in the rear. A very large number of our fighters were killed,” he said, accusing Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu of ordering the attacks.
These accusations “do not correspond to reality and are a provocation,” the Ministry of Defense retorted in a statement. The FSB (security forces) called on Wagner’s fighters to arrest their leader. And an influential Russian general, Sergei Surovikin, called on Wagner’s fighters to renounce their revolt.
“I ask (you) to stop … Before it is too late, we must obey the will and order of the elected president of Russia,” he said in a video on Telegram.
This open war exposes tensions within the Russian forces engaged in the Ukrainian conflict.
“Those who have the military responsibility of the country must be stopped,” said Wagner’s boss, calling on Russians to join his troops or not to resist them.
“Power and money”
Rival Russian factions have begun to “devour each other for power and money,” said Ukrainian Military Intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov.
In Washington, the White House said it was closely monitoring the situation. The exiled Russian opponent in London and businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky called for support for Yevgeny Prigozhin to fight Vladimir Putin’s regime.
“Yes, even the devil would have to help him if he decided to go against this regime! […] If this bandit wants to disturb the other, this is not the time to make a face, now we must help,” he wrote on Telegram.
The recent capture of the city of Bakhmut, after long months of fighting, has highlighted the leader of the Wagner group. A bloody commitment that gives him a freedom of criticism rare today in Russia.
On Friday, Yevgeny Prigozhin said that, contrary to Moscow’s claims, the Russian army was retreating in the areas of Zaporizhzhya and Kherson (south) as well as Bakhmut, an eastern city that the Russians claim to have captured but where the Ukrainians say they have advanced on the flanks in recent weeks.
“There are no military successes” of Moscow, said Yevgeny Prigozhin, saying that the Russian military “washes with their blood”, a way of saying that they suffer heavy losses.
Unverifiable by independent sources, the words of the boss of Wagner contradict in any case those of Vladimir Putin and Sergei Shoigu, according to which the Russian army “repels” all Ukrainian assaults.
The Russian Defense Ministry, however, warned that Ukraine is preparing to attack on Bakhmut’s side by “taking advantage of Prigozhin’s provocation.” In recent days, Vladimir Putin has repeated that the Ukrainian counter-offensive was a failure and that Kiev’s forces had suffered almost “catastrophic” losses.
Yevgeny Prigozhin described these victorious statements as “deep deception”. While many Russian opponents and anonymous are in prison for criticizing the conflict in Ukraine, Wagner’s leader has openly questioned the reasons why the military intervention was launched.
Will Yevgeny Prigozhin die or will he spread until the total fall of the Russian dictator? Only time will tell.
“The war was necessary for a group of bastards to be promoted,” he lashed out, also accusing Russian “oligarchs” who “needed war”, while Kiev was according to him “ready for any agreement”.