Colombo (News 1st) – UPDATE: President Vladimir Putin in a special televised address to the nation said “Russia’s future is at stake”, as the mutinous Wagner mercenary army threatened to march on Moscow if their demands are not met, international media reported.
Russia’s Wagner Group, the private army that has been fighting against Ukrainian forces in Ukraine alongside the Russian military, mutinied on Friday and crossed the border into southern Russia from Ukraine and took control of the strategic city of Rostov. It is believed to have between 25,000 to 50,000 soldiers.
International media is currently showing footage and photos of Wagner Group mercenaries with battle tanks patrolling the streets of Rostov.
Puttin said the mutiny is a “betrayal and high treason” and vowed “inevitable punishment” to stamp out the uprising.
Rostov is the headquarters of the Russian military Southern Command, which is directing all military operations in Ukraine. The city is home to more than one million people and is over a hundred kilometers from the border.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, 62, the head of the Wagner Group, threatened to “go all the way” to topple Russia’s military leadership and demanded that Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Army Chief General Valery Gerasimov come to Rostov to meet him.
The Russian government closed the main highway from Rostov to Moscow and called on the Wagner Group to stop its actions against the Russian military. Russian forces in Moscow have been placed on high alert, and Russian journalists reported that armored vehicles were patrolling streets of the capital, although Moscow is 1,000 km north of Rostov.
Prigozhin was earlier a key ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Although paramilitary groups are banned in Russia, the Wagner Group has been operating for several years both in Russia and internationally in countries such as Syrian, Libya, the Central African Republic and Mali in Africa. The group was formed in 2014 by a former Russian military officer whose codename was ‘Wagner’ and has been involved in fighting in the Ukraine since that time.
The Russian government has ordered the arrest of Prigozhin and Russia’s state media reported that the country’s security agency, the FSB, has opened a criminal investigation against him for attempting to start a civil war in Russia.
Tensions have escalated between the Wagner Group and Russia’s military over the last several months. Wagner forces have been in the forefront of fighting against Ukrainian forces in battles for several key towns and villages in Ukraine. But the Wagner Group has accused Russia’s military of not providing sufficient Russian soldiers and adequate supplies of ammunition.
In Washington, the White House said it was monitoring the situation and consulting with NATO allies.
Prigozhin claimed that Wagner forces had shot down a Russian military helicopter that attacked what he called ‘a civilian convoy’. He said his forces would destroy any Russian forces that opposed the Wagner Group.
Prigozhin accused the Russian military of launching a missile strike that killed a number of Wagner troops and said his forces would “march for justice” in order to rid the Russian military leadership of what he called “evil”.
Prigozhin said on the social media platform Telegram: “This is not a military coup, but a march of justice. Our actions do not interfere with the troops in any way. Those who killed our lads and tens of thousands of lives of Russian soldiers will be punished. 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.”
The governor of Russia’s Lipetsk region, 500 km north of Rostov and halfway between Rostov and Moscow, urged citizens to stay indoors for their own safety.
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