Head of the Russian mercenary force Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, 62, claimed Saturday to have seized the military headquarters in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don “without a single gunshot” in what he called a “march of justice,” the Associated Press (AP) reported.
Prigozhin released an audio statement in which he allegedly made the claims, but could not be independently verified, per the AP news report. An explosion was heard near the Rostov military headquarters before the release of the statement, but the precise location and extent of the explosion were not immediately clear, the report said.
Prigozhin’s forces also appeared to have entered Russia’s Lipetsk province Saturday night, about 360 kilometers (225 miles) south of Moscow and much closer to the Russian capital than Rostov-on-Don, per the report. Lipetsk’s governor Igor Artamonov released a statement saying the “situation is under control” and asked all residents to stay indoors and not travel, the report said. (RELATED: American Music Manager Arrested, Detained On Drug Charges in Russia)
The Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the nation Saturday and, without naming Prigozhin, condemned the rebellion as a “betrayal” and “treason,” and vowed everyone “who prepared the rebellion will suffer inevitable punishment,” according to another AP news report.
Prigozhin allegedly responded by saying Putin was “deeply mistaken” to have dubbed the rebellion a betrayal, and that his fighters, whom he called “patriots of our homeland” would not surrender, as “we do not want the country to live on in corruption, deceit and bureaucracy,” the report said.
Russian authorities declared a “counterterrorist regime” in Moscow, shoring up security and limiting some movement. There was also a call for Prigozhin’s arrest following the apparent rebellion, per the report.
The incidents appear to be the latest cracks in the relationship between Russia’s national army and Wagner over their joint prosecution of their war against Ukraine, with Prigozhin alleging that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov had conspired to destroy Wagner, according to the AP report. Prigozhin released an expletive-filled tirade against Shoigu and Gerasimov for allegedly withholding ammunition from Wagner and exposing the mercenary group to heavy casualties. He alluded to the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 in a separate video clip in which he criticized the Russian elite for sending ordinary Russians, rather than their own children, to their deaths in the war in Ukraine. He released a video Friday in which he alleged Russia’s war on Ukraine “was needed for the self-promotion of a bunch of bastards.”