As Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to crush the armed rebellion against the top leadership which instigated unrest for days, Wagner’s chief Yevgeny Prigozhin agreed with the authorities in Moscow to leave the country as he was seen taking selfies in the city of Rostove while departing — which he claimed to have taken control Saturday.
Putin, during a televised address, termed the acts “treason”, and a “stab in the back, adding that the Prigozhin move is a “blow to Russia, to our people.”
On Friday, Wagner’s chief appeared to cross a redline, saying Putin’s stated rationale for his special operation against Ukraine 16 months ago was based on lies “concocted by the army’s top brass”.
“The war was needed … so that Shoigu could become a marshal … so that he could get a second ‘Hero’ [of Russia] medal,” Prigozhin said in a video clip.
At 2:00am, Prigozhin posted a message on Telegram saying his forces were in Rostov and ready to “go all the way” against the top brass and destroy anyone who stood in their way.
Prigozhin denied that he was trying to stage a military coup.
The Wagner boss, whose private army fought the deadly battles in Ukraine even as he feuded for months with the military top brass, said he had “captured the headquarters of Russia’s Southern Military District in the city of Rostov without firing a shot.”
In Moscow, there was an increased security presence on the streets. Red Square was blocked off by metal barriers.
“Excessive ambitions and vested interests have led to treason,” Putin said, comparing the rebellion at a time of war abroad to Russia’s revolution and civil war unleashed during World War One.
“All those who deliberately stepped on the path of betrayal, who prepared an armed insurrection, who took the path of blackmail and terrorist methods, will suffer inevitable punishment, will answer both to the law and to our people.”
Prigozhin swiftly replied that he and “his men had no intention of turning themselves in.”
Rostov serves as the main rear logistical hub for Russia’s entire invasion force in Ukraine.
Wagner Chief launched the apparent mutiny Friday after alleging that the military had killed many of his fighters in an air strike. The Defence Ministry denied the allegations.
“There are 25,000 of us and we are going to figure out why chaos is happening in the country,” he said, promising to destroy any checkpoints or air forces that got in Wagner’s way.
He later said his men had been involved in clashes with regular soldiers and had shot down a helicopter.
Army Lieutenant-General Vladimir Alekseyev issued a video appeal asking Prigozhin to reconsider his actions.
“Only the president has the right to appoint the top leadership of the armed forces, and you are trying to encroach on his authority,” he said.