Russia’s Wagner boss is being investigated after being accused of inciting a “mutiny”.
The crisis began after Yevgeny Prigozhin – the head of the powerful mercenary group – accused Russia’s military of a bloody missile strike which allegedly killed many of his troops.
Prigozhin labelled the military “evil” and promised to “march for justice”.
He also hit out at widespread mismanagement within the defence ministry, and called for military leaders to be ousted.
‘Must be stopped’: Bombshell accusations
“The evil that the military leadership of the country brings must be stopped,” Prigozhin said, although he claimed he was calling for “justice” and “not a coup”.
Prigozhin also dropped the bombshell accusation that the Ukraine war as launched under false pretences, including so that Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu “could become a Marshal”.
“The Ministry of Defence is trying to deceive the public, deceive the president and tell a story that there was some crazy aggression by Ukraine, that – together with the whole NATO bloc – Ukraine was planning to attack us,” he said.
Russia slams ‘armed mutiny’
But despite Prigozhin’s assurances that he was not attempting to stage a coup, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has opened a criminal probe, claiming Prigozhin called for “an armed mutiny”.
The FSB has also called on Wagner soldiers to ignore and detain their leader, with Sergey Surovikin, Russia’s top commander in Ukraine, urging Wagner troops to instead “stop” and “obey the will” of President Vladimir Putin.
“We call on the … fighters not to make irreparable mistakes, to stop any forceful actions against the Russian people, not to carry out Prigozhin’s criminal and treacherous orders, and to take measures to detain him,” a FSB statement reads.
“Prigozhin’s statements and actions are in fact calls for the start of an armed civil conflict on the territory of the Russian Federation and are a stab in the back of Russian servicemen fighting pro-fascist Ukrainian forces.”
‘Coup’ threatens Russian leadership
Russian intelligence official Lt. Gen. Vladimir Alekseev has also slammed Wagner, describing the unfolding crisis as “a coup d’etat”.
Meanwhile, Russian leaders have denied the strike and decried Prigozhin’s “illegal actions”.
President Vladimir Putin is aware of the escalating situation, which shows a stunning division within the nation’s most powerful institutions.
According to Russian state news agency TASS, Moscow has rolled out tougher security measures as a result of the threat posed by Wagner.
“Security measures in Moscow have been tightened. All critical facilities, government and transport infrastructure objects have been put under reinforced protection,” TASS reported, citing an insider.
Wagner’s feud with military
The Wagner paramilitary organisation has been fighting the Ukraine war with the Russian army, and recently Prigozhin has been making headlines by calling out his country’s military elite.
For example, last month he appeared in a disturbing video next to the bodies of his soldiers and accused Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov of failing to provide Wagner with enough ammunition.
In a new bombshell message posted to social media platform Telegram, he claimed “huge numbers” of his troops had been killed by the alleged strike.
“Those who killed our lads, and tens of thousands of lives of Russian soldiers [in the war in Ukraine] will be punished,” he said.
“I ask you not to resist. Anyone who does will be considered a threat and destroyed. That goes for any checkpoints and aviation on our way.
“Presidential power, the government, the police and Russian guard will work as usual.
“This is not a military coup, but a march of justice. Our actions do not interfere with the troops in any way.”
‘We are watching’
The stunning development comes as Russia’s bloody war in Ukraine shows no signs of slowing.
In a statement, the Russian Ministry of Defence said it was taking advantage of Prigozhin’s “provocation” by preparing for an offensive in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which has become the epicentre of fighting.
“Taking advantage of Prigozhin’s provocation to disrupt the situation, the Kyiv regime is concentrating units of the 35th Marine Brigade and the 36th Mechanised Brigade of the AFU (Armed Forces of Ukraine) in Bakhmut tactical direction at the initial line for offensive actions,” the statement reads.