Members of the Wagner paramilitary group are advancing on Saturday towards Moscow, where President Vladimir Putin strongly condemned the “betrayal” of their leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and was careful to warn the West against any attempt to “take advantage” of the situation .
The master of the Kremlin went so far as to mention the risk of a “civil war”, facing Evguéni Prigojine who claims to have 25,000 men “ready to die”.
“We warn Western countries against any [tentative] to take advantage of the internal situation in Russia to achieve their Russophobic goals. Such attempts would be futile,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “All Special Military Operation Objectives [en Ukraine] will be achieved,” he added.
On the ground, the news is nevertheless gloomy for the Kremlin to the point where the mayor of Moscow called on residents to limit travel in the city, described the situation as “difficult” and declared Monday a day off.
The Russian region of Kaluga, whose regional capital is 180 km south of Moscow, has introduced travel restrictions in the face of the rebellion.
Wagner’s men have entered the Lipetsk region, about 400 km south of Moscow, local authorities said on Saturday, confirming their progress towards the Russian capital. “The situation is under control,” regional governor Igor Artamonov assured Telegram.
Since the announcement of the Wagner Group’s rebellion on Friday evening, their forces have been spotted in three Russian regions: Rostov, Voronezh and Lipetsk.
“Without a Shot”
According to one of the most popular Russian military bloggers, “Rybar”, in the Lipetsk region, Wagner’s fighters “passed the town of Yelets”, located 340 km from Moscow, with the apparent intention of attempting to cross a bridge over the Oka River and continue their walk along the highway linking the south of the country to the Russian capital.
According to the same source, other Wagner units are marching through the Voronezh region where the “anti-terrorist operation regime” was established on Saturday. The governor of this region bordering Ukraine reported “combat” activities there on Saturday.
Finally, Prigozhin claimed that his men had “without a shot” taken over the military headquarters in Rostov, in southern Russia, and controlled several military sites there.
According to the “Rybar” channel, Chechen regiments dispatched by Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov to suppress the mutiny “in areas of tension” in Russia were seen near Rostov in the afternoon.
AFP was unable to independently verify this information.
“It’s a stab in the back of our country and our people,” Putin said in an address to the nation. “What we are facing is nothing but betrayal. A betrayal caused by the excessive ambitions and the personal interests “of Mr. Prigojine, he affirmed.
Vladimir Putin “is deeply mistaken” and that his fighters will not “surrender”, retorted the head of Wagner.
“We are patriots. No one is going to surrender at the request of the president, the security services or anyone,” he added, attacking the Russian president for the first time directly.
And while rumors on social networks claimed that Mr. Putin had left Moscow after the mutiny, his spokesman Dmitri Peskov quoted by the Ria Novosti agency, assured that “the president works in the Kremlin”.
Earlier, Prigojine had claimed to hold the headquarters of the Russian army in Rostov, the nerve center of operations in Ukraine, and to control several military sites including the airfield.
To counterbalance this rebellion against Moscow, the leaders of both houses of parliament have called for support for “President Vladimir Putin, Commander-in-Chief”.
The leaders installed by Russia in the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk (east), as well as Zaporizhia and Kherson (south) did the same, declaring themselves “with the president! “.
Yevgeny Prigojine assured that his troops had shot down a Russian helicopter which had “opened fire on a civilian column”. But he did not provide proof of these assertions, the veracity of which AFP could not verify.
Mr Putin was forced to admit that the situation in Rostov is “difficult”.
A “criminal investigation” linked to an “attempt to organize an armed mutiny” has been announced, according to the Kremlin spokesman.
In multiple audio messages throughout the day, Wagner’s boss previously claimed that Russian strikes had caused a “very large number of casualties” in his ranks. “A very large number of our fighters have been killed,” he said, accusing Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu of ordering the attacks.
These accusations “do not correspond to reality and are a provocation”, retorted the Ministry of Defense in a press release.
The FSB (security forces) called on Wagner’s fighters to arrest their leader. And an influential general, Sergei Surovikin, urged them to give up their revolt.
“Those who have the military responsibility for the country must be stopped”, also said the boss of Wagner, calling on the Russians to join his troops or not to oppose them with resistance.
” Gift “
The White House and the European Union said they were closely monitoring the situation and the heads of G7 diplomacy met for an “exchange of views”.
Rishi Sunak, the British Prime Minister called on all parties to be “responsible” and to “protect civilians”.
The Wagner Group mutiny illustrates the weakness of Russia, a country plunged into “evil and chaos”, said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, adding that Ukraine was protecting the rest of Europe.
The Russian opponent in exile in London and businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky called on Telegram to support Yevgeny Prigojine against Vladimir Putin: “Yes, even the devil would have to help him if he decided to go against this regime! “.
“There are no Russian military successes,” Prigozhin lamented on Friday, suggesting that the Russian army is suffering heavy losses in Ukraine. Words that contradict those of Putin, according to whom the Russian army “repels” all Ukrainian attacks.
The Kremlin has assured that President Putin has received the “full support” of his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
And Belarusian diplomacy claimed that Wagner’s rebellion was a “gift” given to the West.