Moscow – Authorities have put critical facilities ‘under reinforced protection’, state-run TASS news agency said. The head of the Wagner mercenary group vowed Saturday to “go to the end” to topple the Russian military leadership, whom he accused of launching strikes on his men. “We will destroy everything that stands in our way,” he added in the most audacious challenge to President Vladimir Putin since the start of the offensive in Ukraine last year.
The Wagner Group is a private army of mercenaries that has been fighting alongside the regular Russian army in Ukraine. It’s estimated that there are tens of thousands of Wagner troops there. They played a major part in the long and costly fight to take the city of Bakhmut from Ukrainian forces.
Wagner units are now ‘almost certainly aiming to get to Moscow’ according to UK military intelligence. Putin has called for his military to crush Prigozhin, but it’s still unclear how they have responded. Putin’s plane has been recorded flying to St Petersburg.
‘With very limited evidence of fighting between Wagner and Russian security forces, some have likely remained passive, acquiescing to Wagner,’ the MoD said this morning. ‘Over the coming hours, the loyalty of Russia’s security forces, and especially the Russian National Guard, will be key to how the crisis plays out. This represents the most significant challenge to the Russian state in recent times.’
A short-lived revolt by a rebellious Russian mercenary commander ended with his troops beating a retreat, but the extraordinary challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s two-decade hold on power could have long-term consequences for his rule and his war in Ukraine.
Putin’s image as a tough leader had already been badly bruised by the Ukraine war, which has dragged on for 16 months and claimed huge numbers of Russian troops. Saturday’s march toward Moscow by forces under the command of his onetime protege, Yevgeny Prigozhin, exposed further weaknesses, analysts said.
It also meant some of the best forces fighting for Russia in Ukraine were pulled from that battlefield: Prigozhin’s own Wagner troops and Chechen ones sent to stop them.
After calling for an armed rebellion aimed at ousting Russia’s defense minister, Prigozhin and his fighters appeared to seize control of the Russian military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don that oversee fighting in Ukraine.