The long-standing verbal war between Wagner mercenary group kingpin Yevgeny Prigozhin and Russian military and political leadership took a kinetic turn Friday that could lead to a potential coup attempt.
Prigozhin, in audio recordings posted on his Telegram channel is threatening a march on Moscow after claiming his troops were attacked by Russian forces.
The Russian Defense Ministry claimed any statements about it attacking Prigozhin are «untrue and an informational provocation» and that the war on Ukraine continues apace. Meanwhile, the official Russian news agency RIA Novosti is reporting on its Telegram channel that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir «Putin is aware of the situation unfolding around Prigozhin, all necessary measures are being taken.»
Author’s note: we are running a rolling update, which will be posted at the bottom of this story.
Prigozhin, whose declarations have long called into question how he could survive to continuously make them, is now a top target of Russian authorities.
«According to the National Anti-Terrorism Committee, the allegations spread on behalf of Yevgeny Prigozhin have no basis,» RIA Novosti reported about the claims the Wagner leader made earlier in the day about Russia’s military leadership failures. «In connection with these statements, the FSB of Russia initiated a criminal case on the fact of calling for an armed rebellion. We demand that illegal actions be stopped immediately.
In the wake of what he said was a deadly attack on his troops, the Wagner boss – Putin’s former ‘chef’ – said he was going to march on Moscow.
«The command council of the Wagner Private Military Company has reached a decision,» Prigozhin said in an audio message delivered on his Telegram channels Friday. «The evil that the country’s military leadership perpetuates must be stopped. They disregard the lives of soldiers…Therefore, those who have killed our guys today, those who have taken the lives of tens, many tens of thousands of Russian soldiers will be punished.»
«There are 25,000 of us and we are going to figure out why this chaos is happening in the country,» said Prigozhin. That figure «is a tactical reserve, but the strategic reserve is our whole army and the whole country. Everyone who wants, join us. We must end this disgrace can add this.»
Prigozhin asked «that no one resist. Anyone who attempts to resist we will consider to be a threat and eliminate them immediately, including any checkpoints in our way, any aircraft above our heads. I ask everyone to remain calm, not to succumb to provocations, to stay in their homes, preferably not to go out into the streets along our route. After we finish what has been started, we will return to the front and defend our homeland.»
Prigozhin claimed many of his troops were killed by Russian forces today.
“A missile attack was launched on the camps of PMC Wagner,” Prigozhin stated on one of his Telegram channels. “Many victims. According to eyewitnesses, the strike was delivered from the rear, that is, it was delivered by the military of the RF Ministry of Defense.”
However, some Russian propagandists are suggesting that the attack was carried out by Ukraine or its allies to stir an already boiling pot.
Either way, the alleged attack came after Prigozhin had earlier in the day said Russia was losing the war and accused Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, the Russian Army chief of the general staff, of «genocide» against their own people «for the murder of tens of thousands of Russian citizens and the transfer of Russian territories to the enemy.»
«Two realities on the ground now, as of today, [the] Russian Army is retreating in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia directions,» Prigozhin said. The Ukrainian Armed Forces «are pushing the Russian Army.»
Gerasimov and Shoigu «should be held responsible for the genocide of the Russian people, the murder of tens of thousands of Russian citizens and the transfer of Russian territories to the enemy,» said Prigozhin. «Moreover, the transfer is deliberate, just like the murder of Russian citizens and genocide. Shoigu has a genocide on a national basis.”
Prigozhin said the war was started on false pretenses.
The initial all-out invasion launched Feb. 24, 2022, was planned «by a bunch of fools» and «degenerates» who sent troops «naked and barefoot toward Kyiv.»
Shoigu «sat cowardly in his office and at the end of the very first day wondered very much why the thousands of missiles that had been spent, that had been launched without proper intelligence, without having anything, just hadn’t gone anywhere…»
Continuing his rant, Prigozhin said «in the first days of the war, Shoigu killed thousands of Russian soldiers. He destroyed the most combat-ready part of the army, and combat-ready was very little part of the army, because in the army for many years were raised the fools and any active man, he either left the army or was ready to leave.»
Igor Girkin, an influential former military leader in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic who is also known by the name Igor Strelkov, said on his Telegram channel that Prigozhin’s message, «if not a fake…[it] is the very [definition of a] military mutiny and coup.»
As of late Friday night Moscow time, Girkin said that there was no indication that Wagner troops were actually on the move.
«So far, no information has been received about clashes between the Wagners and the Moscow Region,» he said. «Sources do not observe any columns, etc. anywhere.»
In the Rostov region, «all security forces have been put on high alert, but so far everything is quiet. Let’s hope that Prigozhin announced a coup, but Wagner themselves do not intend to participate in it.»
This is an extremely volatile and rapidly evolving situation. We will provide updates as we learn more information.
Russian security forces appear to be enacting long-standing measures to deal with the potential for a coup.
«Security measures have been strengthened in Moscow, all the most important facilities, state authorities and transport infrastructure facilities have been taken under enhanced protection,» the official TASS news agency reported on its Telegram channel, citing law enforcement agencies.
Russian Guard units were placed on alert, according to TASS.
This is the kind of event Russian security services have been training to deal with for the past several months.
The Russian MoD claims Ukrainian troops are on the move in Bakhmut trying to take advantage of the distractions.
«Taking advantage of Prigozhin’s provocation to disrupt the situation, the Kyiv regime is concentrating units of the 35th Marine Brigade and the 36th Mechanized Brigade of the [Armed Forces of Ukraine] in Bakhmut tactical direction at the initial line for offensive actions,» the MoD reported on its Telegram channel. «The servicemen of the Yug Group of Forces are defeating the enemy with air and artillery strikes.»
Russian Gen. Sergei Surovikin, considered a Prigozhin ally, is urging Wagner troops not to comply with Prigozhin and asking that they return to the front lines and concentrate on the fight with Ukraine.
In its typically coy fashion, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry weighed in.
National Security Council spokesman Adam Hodge tells The War Zone:
“We are monitoring the situation and will be consulting with allies and partners on these developments.”
There are additional reports of major security reinforcements in Moscow and to a lesser degree Rostov, the latter of which borders Ukraine on the Sea of Azov. Rostov is where Prigozhin and thousands of Wagner fighters are supposedly headed. Once again, everything is very murky right now, so keep that in mind.
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