Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of Russias Wagner mercenary force, speaks in Paraskoviivka, Ukraine in this still image from an undated video released on March 3, 2023. — Reuters/File
Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of Russia’s Wagner mercenary force, speaks in Paraskoviivka, Ukraine in this still image from an undated video released on March 3, 2023. — Reuters/File

Russia seems to be teetering on the brink of an abyss of uncertainty as Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of Russia’s rent-an-army contractor Wagner,  has publicly opened fire on Russian military leadership and threatened a coup.

Russian intelligence service, FSB, has launched criminal proceedings against an extremely angry Prigozhin for what they called a clear “incitement of an armed rebellion” against the homeland. 

The Russians may have put a bounty on Prigozhin’s head as they have called on Wagner troops to bring in Pirogzin.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia would decimate the rebellion.

The dramatic turn, with many details unclear, looked like the biggest domestic crisis Putin has faced since he ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine – which he called a “special military operation” – in February last year.

Prigozhin had demanded that Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff, whom he has pledged to oust over what he says is their disastrous leadership of the war against Ukraine, come to see him in Rostov, a city near the Ukrainian border that he said he had seized control of.

Let’s walk through the complex issue.

What happened?

Prigozhin, a day earlier, accused the Russian military of attacking a Wagner camp, which resulted in a significant loss of personnel. He, therefore, affirmed to forcefully retaliate and implied that his forces would “destroy” opposition in case of resistance, including those via aircraft and roadblocks.

“There are 25,000 of us and we are going to find out why there is such chaos in the country,” Prigozhin said, according to CNN.

However, he later retracted the threat and said that his criticism of Russian military leadership was a “march of justice” rather than a coup. However, by that point, he seemed to have angered the Kremlin.

Prigozhin, towards the end of Friday, claimed that his fighters entered Russia’s Rostov region further asserting that they had even shot down their helicopter which targeted a civilian convoy.

Russia’s response

The Defense Ministry of Russia has denied allegations of launching an attack on Wagner forces. It has dismissed them as “informational propaganda.” The FSB, meanwhile, has initiated a criminal case against Prigozhin for the threats made by him and have charged him with inciting “armed rebellion.”

“Prigozhin’s statements and actions are in fact calls for the start of an armed civil conflict on the territory of the Russian Federation and are a stab in the back of Russian servicemen fighting pro-fascist Ukrainian forces,” a statement by the Russian intelligence service mentioned, asking Wagner fighters to apprehend their leader.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, said Russian President Vladimir Putin is informed regarding the situation. According to Russian state media TASS, officials in Moscow have beefed up security measures. Meanwhile, social media posts depicted military vehicles patrolling major streets of the Russian capital in the wee hours of Saturday.

Who is Yevgeny Prigozhin?

As a former associate of Putin, Prigozhin had a successful business providing catering services to the Kremlin and supplying meals to public schools.

However, he later expanded his ventures to include the Wagner Group, a mercenary force aligned with the Kremlin. The Wagner fighters have been involved in conflicts across Africa and have played a significant role in the war in Ukraine, fighting alongside the Russian army.

62-year-old Prigozhin has now taken on his most daring role yet: advocating for an armed uprising against Russia’s military leadership.

While some reports have suggested Prigozhin’s growing influence and potential political aspirations, analysts caution against overestimating his relationship with Putin.

Mark Galeotti, an expert in Russian security affairs, notes that Prigozhin is more of a staff member than a confidant, serving the Kremlin’s interests but not part of the inner circle.

Prigozhin’s rebellion and his call for an armed uprising against the Russian military leadership have stirred curiosity and concern.

As the situation unfolds, questions arise about the potential implications for Russia’s stability and the extent of Prigozhin’s influence on the country’s political landscape.


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