White House says it is monitoring situation in Russia with Wagner mercenary group

President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with AI experts and researchers at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, June 20, 2023. 

Jane Tyska | Medianews Group | Getty Images

The Biden administration has issued its first public response to the fast-moving developments in Russia.

“We are monitoring the situation and will be consulting with allies and partners on these developments,” Adam Hodge, a National Security Council spokesman, told NBC News.

Months of quiet feuding between the Kremlin and Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of Russia’s massive private military company Wagner Group, appeared to have spilled over on Friday when Prigozhin accused Russian military leaders of attacking his troops.

Prigozhin said his troops would “punish” Russia’s military leadership, prompting Russia’s prosecutor general to open an investigation into the mercenary commander for launching what it said was an “armed rebellion.”

— Christina Wilkie

Russian prosecutor general opens criminal probe of Prigozhin for ‘organizing an armed rebellion’

Russia’s prosecutor general has opened a formal investigation into the owner of the private military company Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, for allegedly launching an “armed rebellion.”

“On June 23, 2023, the Investigation Department of the FSB of Russia legally and reasonably initiated a criminal case against E.V. Prigozhin under Article 279 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, on the fact of organizing an armed rebellion,” the prosecutor’s office posted on its official Telegram channel.

“His actions will be given a proper legal assessment,” the office said, adding that, “this crime is punishable by imprisonment for a term of 12 to 20 years.”

— Christina Wilkie

Kremlin calls on Wagner troops to refuse Prigozhin’s ‘criminal and treacherous orders’

The entrance of the “PMC Wagner Centre,” associated with the founder of the Wagner private military group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, during the official opening of the office block on National Unity Day, in St. Petersburg on Nov. 4, 2022.

Olga Maltseva | Afp | Getty Images

Russia’s primary intelligence service, the FSB, has issued a new statement urging Wagner Group mercenaries to refuse calls by company owner Evgeny Prigozhin for armed revenge against Kremlin military leadership.

“Prigozhin’s statements and actions amount to calls for the start of an armed civil conflict on Russian territory and are a ‘stab in the back’ for Russian servicemen fighting pro-fascist Ukrainian forces,” the FSB said, according to Russian state media RIA Novosti.

“We call on PMC fighters not to make irreparable mistakes, to stop any forceful actions against the Russian people, not to carry out Prigozhin’s criminal and treacherous orders, to take measures to detain him,” the FSB said.

It was unclear where Prigozhin was at the time of this statement.

In Washington, spokespeople for the White House National Security Council and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the events that appeared to be unfolding in Russia.

— Christina Wilkie

Prigozhin says Wagner forces will ‘punish’ Russia’s military leaders for Ukraine losses

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – JUNE 17: (RUSSIA OUT) Russian billionaire and businessman, Concord catering company owner Yevgeny Prigozhin is seen during the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum SPIEF2016 on June 17, 2016 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said that his Wagner troops would “punish” Russian military leadership for having “destroyed many tens of lives of Russian soldiers.”

“The evil that the military leadership of the country bears must be stopped,” Prigozhin said in a series of audio messages on Wagner’s official Telegram channel, translated by Reuters.

“I ask no one to resist. Everyone who will try to put up a resistance … We will consider it a threat and destroy it immediately, including any roadblocks that get in our way, any aircraft that we see over our heads,” Prigozhin said. “I ask everyone to remain calm and not succumb to provocations, stay in their homes. It is advisable not to go outside along the route of our route,” he continued.

“We will deal with those who destroy Russian soldiers and return to the front. Justice in the troops will be restored, and after that – justice for all of Russia,” said Prigozhin.

The Kremlin has called Prigozhin’s recordings an “informational provocation.”

Russia’s domestic intelligence service, the FSB, said Friday that it had initiated a criminal probe of Prigozhin.

In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the developments in Russia.

— Christina Wilkie

Putin is aware of Prigozhin’s accusations and taking all ‘necessary measures,’ Kremlin says

Businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin shows then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin his school lunch factory outside Saint Petersburg on September 20, 2010. Prigozhin was nicknamed “Putin’s chef” because his company Concord catered for the Kremlin.

Alexey Druzhinin | Afp | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been informed of accusations by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner private military company, that Russian troops attacked Wagner mercenaries who are fighting on Russia’s side in its invasion of Ukraine.

“Putin is aware of the situation around Prigozhin,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told state broadcaster RIA. “All necessary measures are being taken.”

The Kremlin has denied the attack, which comes after months of rising tension between Putin and Prigozhin, who commands a private army of tens of thousands of troops.

A spokesman for the U.S. Defense Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the reports of a possible attempted coup by Prigozhin coming out of Russia.

— Christina Wilkie

Russia denies attacking Wagner troops, calls Prigozhin’s claims ‘informational provocation’

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (R) attend a ceremony, marking the Day of Remembrance and Sorrow, June 22, 2023 in Moscow, Russia. 

Getty Images

The Kremlin is denying accusations by Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin that Russian military forces deliberately fired missiles on his mercenary troops.

“All messages and video frames distributed on social networks on behalf of Yevgeny Prigozhin about the alleged ‘delivering of a blow by the RF Ministry of Defense on the rear camps of PMC Wagner’ do not correspond to reality and are an informational provocation,” the Russian Ministry of Defense told state media outlet RIA, according to a post on RIA’s official Telegram channel.

Prigozhin on Friday publicly accused the Kremlin of invading Ukraine on false pretenses. He said Russia’s military leadership “forgot justice,” and said he and his private army would “bring it back.”

— Christina Wilkie

Wagner company leader accuses the Kremlin of launching an attack on Russian mercenaries

An advertising screen promoting private mercenary group Wagner sits on a building in Moscow on April 17, 2023. – The slogan reads “Together we will win!”.

Natalia Kolesnikova | AFP | Getty Images

Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner private military company, accused the Kremlin of deliberately attacking his mercenary troops, Reuters reports.

“A missile attack was launched on the camps of PMC Wagner. Many victims. According to eyewitnesses, the strike was delivered from the rear, that is, it was delivered by the military of the Russian Ministry of Defence,” Prigozhin posted in audio recordings on Wagner’s official Telegram channel.

He warned the company has “25,000” mercenary soldiers, many of them fighting for Russia in Ukraine.

“This is not a military coup,” said Prigozhin.

— Christina Wilkie

Head of Wagner mercenary group criticizes Russia’s reason for invading Ukraine

The entrance of the “PMC Wagner Centre,” associated with Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, during the official opening of the office block on National Unity Day, in St. Petersburg, on Nov. 4, 2022.

Olga Maltseva | AFP | Getty Images

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the private Russian Wagner mercenary group, accused several senior Russian military leaders of fabricating the reason for invading Ukraine, Reuters reported.

Prigozhin has targeted Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russia’s top general, Valery Gerasimov, with several accusations, but for the first time spoke out against the main reason for invading Ukraine, the news service said.

“The war was needed … so that Shoigu could become a marshal … so that he could get a second ‘Hero’ [of Russia] medal. The war wasn’t needed to demilitarise or denazify Ukraine,” Prigozhin said in a video clip released on Telegram, according to Reuters.

Prigozhin, who has not yet directly criticized President Vladimir Putin, also said the war in Ukraine was to benefit the ruling elite, Reuters said.

Chris Eudaily

Ukraine’s financial picture has improved year-on-year, finance minister says

The view through a destroyed building after the Russian drone attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 28, 2023.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Ukraine’s financial results have significantly improved year-on-year, the country’s finance minister Serhiy Marchenko said.

Budget revenues were up 45% in May of this year compared to the same period last year.

“In 2023, we have much better financial results than a year ago. Thanks to strong financial support and comprehensive measures implemented by the government, we ensure a balanced budget and financing of critical expenditures, primarily in the social sphere,” Marchenko said in a statement.

“Monetary and fiscal policies are under control,” he added.

— Natasha Turak

U.S. Treasury imposes sanctions on Russians it says interfered in American elections

The U.S. imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence officers that worked to try and influence the outcome of a local election, the Treasury Department said. It did not specify which election in the U.S. the individuals in question — Yegor Sergeyevich Popov, 31, and Aleksei Borisovich Sukhodolov, 49 — allegedly interfered in.

Popov and Sukhodolov were described as being part of Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB, and “played a significant role in the Kremlin’s attempts to conduct global malign influence operations, including efforts to influence a local election in the United States,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.

“The United States will not tolerate threats to our democracy, and today’s action builds on the whole of government approach to protect our system of representative government,” Treasury official Brian Nelson said.

The sanctions freeze any assets that the sanctioned individuals hold in the U.S., and prohibit American entities and people from transacting with those individuals.

— Natasha Turak

Ukraine’s military says it advanced in south, held off Russian forces in east

A tank from Ukraine’s 3rd Independent Tank Iron Brigade near the front line in the Kharkiv region on June 15, 2023.

Sergey Bobok | AFP | Getty Images

Ukraine says its forces are advancing in the south and stopped a Russian offensive toward the eastern cities of Lyman and Kupiansk.

“We had very fierce battles in the Kupiansk and Lyman directions, but our soldiers stopped the enemy there,” Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar told media. CNBC was unable to verify details on the ground.

Russian authorities deny the claims of Ukrainian progress, and Russia’s forces still hold a large amount of territory in Ukraine’s east and south. Ukrainian military leaders admit that the most difficult fighting is yet to come as the country’s long-awaited counteroffensive has yet to make significant gains.

“Indeed, we still have the main events ahead of us,” Maliar said. “And the main blow is still to come. Indeed, some of the reserves — these are staged things — will be activated later.”

Both countries say the other has suffered heavy casualties, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged that progress in the counteroffensive is slow so far.

— Natasha Turak

Workers survey a destroyed bridge in the town of Svyatogirsk, Donetsk region

Photos show workers surveying a destroyed bridge next to the Svyatogirsk Orthodox Christian Monastery in the town of Svyatogirsk, Donetsk region on June 22, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Workers clean debris of the destroyed bridge next to the Svyatogirsk Orthodox Christian Monastery in the town of Svyatogirsk, Donetsk region on June 22, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Genya Savilov | Afp | Getty Images

Workers clean debris of the destroyed bridge next to the Svyatogirsk Orthodox Christian Monastery in the town of Svyatogirsk, Donetsk region on June 22, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Genya Savilov | Afp | Getty Images

Workers clean debris of the destroyed bridge next to the Svyatogirsk Orthodox Christian Monastery in the town of Svyatogirsk, Donetsk region on June 22, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Genya Savilov | Afp | Getty Images

Workers clean debris of the destroyed bridge next to the Svyatogirsk Orthodox Christian Monastery in the town of Svyatogirsk, Donetsk region on June 22, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Genya Savilov | Afp | Getty Images

Genya Savilov | Afp | Getty Images

NATO concludes its largest-ever air force exercise in Europe

01 June 2023, Hamburg: U.S. Navy F18 jets park at Hohn Air Force Base. They will take part in the Air Defender 23 exercise. 

Markus Scholz | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

NATO wrapped up its largest-ever joint air force exercise in Europe, the German-led “Air Defender 23”.

“The largest multinational air defence exercise in NATO’s history brings around 10,000 personnel and 250 aircraft from 25 countries, including around 100 aircraft from 35 different U.S. states, training together in the airspace over Europe,” NATO wrote on its website earlier this week.

The exercise exhibited a show of force likely meant to deter potential adversaries.

German officials have in the past said the exercise was “not targeted at anyone,” while U.S. Ambassador to Germany Amy Gutmann said it was meant to send a message to states like Russia.

“I would be pretty surprised if any world leader was not taking note of what this shows in terms of the spirit of this alliance, which means the strength of this alliance, and that includes Mr. Putin,” Gutmann told media.

— Natasha Turak

EU adopts 11th sanctions package against Russia

“Our sanctions are already taking a heavy toll on the Russian economy and on the Kremlin’s ability to finance its aggression,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief for foreign affairs and security policy, said in a statement.

Stephanie Lecocq | Reuters

The European Union adopted its 11th sanctions package against Russia, which the Council of the EU said is “intended to strengthen existing EU sanctions and crack down on their circumvention, thereby further eroding Putin’s war machine and his revenues.”

The package includes a transit ban on certain goods, import-export restrictions on 87 new entities directly supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine, the extension of broadcast suspensions for certain Russian state-linked media outlets, and restrictions on EU road and port use for certain vehicles from Russia or vessels known to be carrying banned Russian petroleum products or those purchased above the price cap agreed by the Price Cap Coalition.

“Our sanctions are already taking a heavy toll on the Russian economy and on the Kremlin’s ability to finance its aggression,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief for foreign affairs and security policy, said in a statement.

“Today’s package increases our pressure on Russia and Putin’s war machine. By tackling sanctions circumvention, we will maximise pressure on Russia by depriving it further of the resources it so desperately needs to allow it to pursue its illegal war against Ukraine.”

— Natasha Turak

Ukrainian air defenses shot down 13 Russian missiles, military says

Ukrainian air defenses intercepted 13 Russian cruise missiles headed for a military airfield in the country’s the western Khmelnitskyi region, Ukraine’s air force said.

Serhiy Tyurin, the regional governor, said the missiles were aimed at the Viysk airfield near Khmelnitskyi. Ukrainian military officials said the missiles were fired from Russian Tupolev Tu-95 bombers in the Caspian Sea area, Reuters reported.

NBC has not independently verified the information.

— Natasha Turak

Former Indian ambassador to the U.S. says it’s unlikely Modi shifts away from Russian weapons amid war in Ukraine

US President Joe Biden meets with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on June 22, 2023. 

Stefani Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

India’s former ambassador to the United States said that it is unlikely New Delhi would relinquish its ties with Russia’s defense industry as the Kremlin continues its armed conflict in Ukraine.

“We have to constantly think about the art of the possible and I don’t see a possibility of India cutting off its defense relationship with Russia,” Nirupama Rao told CNBC.

“The extent of dependence on Russia is so great, especially since we live in such a difficult neighborhood,” she said.

Nirupama Rao, India’s foreign secretary, speaks at the U.S. – India Economic Opportunities and Synergies Summit in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011.

Tim Doyle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Rao said that about 80% of India’s navy, 70% of the air force and approximately 60 to 65% of India’s army equipment is Russian-made.

“So a total of 70-75% of the equipment our defense force uses is of Russian origin. So you can’t say that Russia is the past and America is the future we’d like to put it in such simple terms but it doesn’t work that way,” Rao said.

“I think that the past, present and future are all so mixed up in this situation,” she added.

Rao’s comments come as the Biden administration hosts India Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House for a state visit.

— Amanda Macias

Nuclear watchdog chief plans to visit Russia following trip to Ukraine

Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), holds a press conference during his visit to the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on June 15, 2023.

Olga Maltseva | AFP | Getty Images

The International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, confirmed to NBC News that Director General Rafael Grossi will visit Russia tomorrow.

“The location for his visit will be confirmed in due course,” the IAEA wrote in the statement, adding no further details.

The visit to Russia comes on the heels of Grossi’s visit to Ukraine and an inspection of the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Grossi said previously that Ukrainian President Volodmymr Zelenskyy requested the nuclear watchdog chief to visit the power plant after an explosion at the Kakhovka dam and subsequent flooding jeopardized water reservoir levels used by the nuclear reactors.

— Amanda Macias

Russia has killed 136 children in Ukraine, used kids as human shields, UN report says

A house that was destroyed during a Russian missile attack, on June 16, 2023 in the village of Stari Petrivtsi, outside Kyiv, Ukraine. 

Roman Pilipey | Getty Images

The United Nations Security Council said in a report on children in armed conflict that Russia killed 136 children in Ukraine in 2022, Reuters reported, adding Russia to a list of global offenders.

Russian forces used 91 children as human shields, while those soldiers and other Russia-linked groups maimed 518 children and hit schools and hospitals with 480 attacks, the report said, according to Reuters.

The U.N. said Ukrainian forces killed 80 children, maimed 175 and hit schools and hospitals with 212 attacks, Reuters said. The UN did not name Ukraine to its list of offenders.

Chris Eudaily

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