The Wagner Group mercenary organization headed by Yevgeny Prizgozhin appeared to be attempting a rebellion this weekend against Russia’s military leadership in response to what Prizgozhin said were orders issued by the defense ministry in Moscow to strike Wagner camps.
The Wagner Group has been deployed by Russia for months in its invasion of Ukraine, including in one of the bloodiest battles of the war for the battered city of Bakhmut.
“The council of commanders of PMC Wagner has made a decision — the evil that the military leadership of the country brings must be stopped,” he said in a post on his Telegram channel.
A new requirement issued by the Moscow government mandated signed contracts between military contractors and the Russian defense ministry before July 1. Under the new requirement, the Wagner Group would have become an illegal organization.
“They have treacherously cheated us,” he said.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin told residents in a statement to avoid traveling around the city, calling the situation “difficult,” Reuters reported. Sobyanin said Monday would be a non-working day to “minimize risks.”
Russian counter terrorism forces were working to halt the advance of the Wagner Group in the Voronezh region, according to a spokesperson for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who remained in the Kremlin.
Earlier in the day on Saturday, Prizgozhin vowed to “stop the evil military leadership” and topple Russia’s military headquarters in Moscow.
By Saturday night, however, he said his group would stand down.
“Right now the moment has come when blood could be spilled,” he said. “Therefore, understanding all the responsibility for the fact that Russian blood will be spilled on one side, we are turning our convoy around and going back to our base camps [in Ukraine], in accordance with the plan.”
Prigozhin threatened late Friday and early Saturday to “go to the end,” claiming his forces had entered Rostov-on-Don.
“They cannot destroy us, we have goals, we are all ready to die. All 25,000, and after that – another 25,000, because we are dying for our country,” Prigozhin declared, calling the move “a march of justice.”
In response, Russia’s national anti-terrorism committee — part of the Federal Security Services (FSB) — charged the Wagner Group leader with calling for an armed rebellion, effectively declaring him an outlaw.
If convicted, Prigozhin could face up to 20 years in prison.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin vowed to defend his country from what he called a “deadly threat” and a “stab in the back.”
In a recorded address, Russian President Vladimir Putin says the Wagner group rebellion is a ‘criminal campaign’ and an ‘equivalent to armed mutiny’.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) June 24, 2023
Speaking in a televised address to the nation, Putin warned, “All those who prepared the rebellion will suffer inevitable punishment. The armed forces and other government agencies have received the necessary orders.”