Russia accuses Wagner boss of "calling rebellion" | International
The crisis between the Wagner mercenary group and the leadership of the Russian Defense Ministry reached a breaking point on Friday, when the organization's leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, accused the ministry of shelling his camps in the rear. Immediately afterwards he called for a "march for justice" against the high command of the armed forces. The Russian government responded by denying the accusations and opening a criminal file against Prigozhin for "calling rebellion", a crime under the Russian Criminal Code with sentences of between 12 and 20 years in prison.
Tension escalated rapidly late on Friday. Reuters reported the presence of Russian military vehicles at some points in Moscow, while also collecting the statements, broadcast on Telegram, by the deputy commander of the Russian campaign in Ukraine, General Sergei Surovikin, who urged the mercenaries to stop and return to their bases. “The enemy is just waiting for the internal political situation in our country to get worse,” he added. According to the TASS agency, security was reinforced in official buildings, transport facilities and other strategic places in the Russian capital.
"We were ready to make concessions to the Ministry of Defense, hand over our weapons and find a solution to continue defending our country," Prigozhin said in a recording posted on his Telegram account. “This scum has launched missile attacks on our camps. Many of our soldiers have died,” he added. In his recording, Prigozhin was referring to a video posted on social networks close to Wagner in which the attack was allegedly shown.
The Russian Defense Ministry responded within a few minutes, stating that the video "did not correspond to reality" and accusing Prigozhin of "informative provocation".
Only minutes later, in another audio, Prigozhin stated that his 25,000 men were going to “seek an answer to the chaos in the country”, and asked the armed forces not to interfere in his operations. "This is not a coup," he promised. And he added: "It's a march for justice."
Wagner's boss accused Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu of having flown to Rostov (a city in southern Russia, in a province bordering Ukraine) to lead the destruction of his organization, and assured that his action against the military leadership would not interrupt the military actions in Ukraine and that, once concluded, its forces would "return to the front to fight for the homeland." This already provoked a response from the Kremlin. Russian presidential spokesman Dimitri Peskov came out to indicate that Russian President Vladimir Putin was informed of the situation and that "all necessary measures would be taken."
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Minutes later, the anti-terrorism committee of the Russian Federation announced that the Federal Security Service (the former Soviet KGB) had opened a criminal investigation against Prigozhin for "calling for rebellion." The FSB Public Relations Center appealed "not to obey Prigozhin's criminal and treacherous orders and to take measures to arrest him." According to the entity, "Prigozhin's statements and actions are in fact a call to start an armed civil conflict on Russian territory and are a blow in the back to the Russian military fighting against Ukrainian pro-fascist forces." The Prosecutor's Office promised that "Prigozhin's actions will be legally valued fairly."
The open conflict between Prigozhin, a faithful collaborator of Putin, and the leadership of the armed forces, especially Shoigu, has been a constant in recent months. Prigozhin's accusations against the minister of incompetence and of denying Wagner's mercenary forces ammunition have been constant. In recent weeks, the Defense Ministry has taken steps to remove Prigozhin's control over his forces.
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