Russia has opened a criminal case against the head of the Wagner mercenary group for alleged armed mutiny, with security tightened in the capital
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Yevgeny Prigozhin accused the country’s defence ministry of targeting his troops and ordering a rocket strike on Wagner’s field camps in Ukraine – killing “a huge number of our comrades”.
He warned that his troops will move to punish defence minister Sergei Shoigu – and urged the army not to offer resistance.
Ukraine war latest: Drone footage shows Bakhmut devastation
“This is not an armed rebellion, but a march of justice,” Prigozhin said.
However, there is no evidence so far of any movement or march by Wagner troops.
The FSB has urged Wagner Group fighters not to carry out “criminal and traitorous orders” at Prigozhin’s request – and instead, to take steps to apprehend him.
Local agencies carried a statement from the security service which said the mercenary chief’s remarks amount to a call to start armed civil conflict in Russia – and are a “stab in the back” for the nation’s troops.
The Russian defence ministry has denied orchestrating an attack on Wagner fighters – describing the allegations as “untrue and an informational provocation”.
According to the TASS news agency, President Vladimir Putin has been made aware of the latest developments – and “necessary measures are being taken”.
Security has now been tightened at key facilities in Moscow as riot police and the National Guard scrambled to protect government agencies and transport infrastructure.
Prigozhin had claimed the assault happened after he criticised the country’s top brass in an explosive outburst on the Telegram messaging app.
In a video, he had said the Kremlin’s rationale for invading Ukraine last February was based on lies – and the “evil” of Russia’s military leadership must be stopped.
Prigozhin also alleged that the defence minister ordered 2,000 bodies of Wagner fighters to be hidden in a southern Russia morgue.
Deborah Haynes, Sky’s security and defence editor, has described the latest developments as serious – and a “fairly extraordinary escalation in the vitriol between the head of the Wagner mercenary group and the Russian ministry of defence”.
If convicted, Prigozhin could face up to 20 years in prison.
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Sky News analyses Prigozhin videos
In his Telegram clip earlier on Friday, the Wagner chief had dismissed Moscow’s core justifications for invading Ukraine last February in what it called a “special military operation”.
Prigozhin said: “The defence ministry is trying to deceive society and the president and tell us a story about how there was crazy aggression from Ukraine and that they were planning to attack us with the whole of NATO.”
The mercenary chief went on to claim “the war wasn’t needed to demilitarise or denazify Ukraine” – and was driven by a desire to enrich the ruling elite.
He also argued that Moscow could have struck a deal with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy before the war began.
The Wagner Group, a private military company, played an instrumental role in helping Russia capture the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut last month.
It was a long and bloody battle, with Wagner relying on tens of thousands of convicts who were promised pardons if they survived six months of fighting.
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Footage shows Bakhmut devastation
‘Sailing close to the wind’
While Prigozhin has repeatedly attacked Moscow, he has stopped short of criticising President Vladimir Putin directly.
Nonetheless, his latest claims contradict Putin’s narrative, with Russian authorities imposing fines and prison terms for those who spread “falsehoods” about the conflict.
Prigozhin’s latest video claims that tens of thousands of young Russian lives have been sacrificed needlessly, while the nation’s top brass swill vodka and cognac and dine on caviar.
On Thursday, he had accused senior members of the military of lying to Putin and the Ukrainian people about the scale of Russian losses in Ukraine, as well as setbacks on the battlefield.
And in previous clips, he was shown standing in front of dead troops in Ukraine and yelling insults at military leadership.
He shouted: “They came here as volunteers and they died to let you lounge in your mahogany offices. You are sitting in your expensive clubs, your children are enjoying good living and filming videos on YouTube. Those who don’t give us ammunition will be eaten alive in hell.”
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Nigel Gould-Davies, a senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: “Prigozhin is now sailing much closer to the wind than he ever has.
“If your military forces are divided and if they’re not fighting together effectively, then your military operations will suffer accordingly and that’s exactly what’s happening here.”
Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin political commentator, described Prigozhin as “the second-most popular man after Putin” and a “symbol of Russia’s military victory for millions of people”.
There has been speculation that Prigozhin has ambitions for high office, with his criticisms creating the illusion that he is an outsider.
But Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Endowment said Prigozhin owes his position and wealth to Putin, adding: “He is playing an independent politician, raising the stakes and testing the system’s limits.
“But it’s only technically and physically possible for as long as Putin finds him useful and is amused by his escapades.”
Written by: Newsroom