Ally Turns Rebel! Here Are The Latest Events As Wagner Group Move To Topple Putin’s Government

Ally Turns Rebel! Here Are The Latest Events As Wagner Group Move To Topple Putin's Government

Yevgeny Prigozhin calls it his “March of Justice”. Vladimir Putin says it is a “criminal escapade” and an “armed mutiny”. One senior Russian commander has called it “a coup”.

Whatever you call it, the Wagner chief has gone for broke to try to topple Russia’s military leadership.

This had been brewing. For months there has been very public infighting between Wagner and Russia’s Ministry of Defence over how the war in Ukraine has been fought.

Wagner had repeatedly accused the ministry of failing to supply the mercenary group with sufficient ammunition (and doing that on purpose.)

Prigozhin had been increasingly vocal in his criticism of Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

Criticising is one thing. Armed confrontation is another.

Prigozhin claims the defence ministry started it, though, with a missile strike on Friday on a Wagner base camp. The Russian authorities deny that ever happened. They call that story “an information provocation”.

A coup or something else?

If this is an attempted coup, then it is not a traditional one.

In his rants on social media, Prigozhin has been careful not to criticise President Putin or the Russian government.

He has always emphasised that his beef is with the military leadership, not with the Kremlin.

But that is of little consolation to President Putin. An armed insurrection by a private Russian army (especially one that is supposed to be fighting on your side) does not exactly reflect well on the man at the top – the president and commander-in-chief.

This is why Vladimir Putin needed to make that address to the nation on Saturday morning – to convince Russians he is still in control.

From the sound of things, there will be no quiet Kremlin chat with Prigozhin to calm him down.

President Putin’s speech was packed with references to “betrayal” and Russia having been “stabbed in the back.”

He promised a “tough response”.

Easy to say. Much harder to do.

President Putin will almost certainly enjoy the support of senior Russian commanders. Some have already gone public with their condemnation of Prigozhin’s actions.

What’s less clear is the current mood in the lower ranks of the army. To what extent have Prigozhin’s criticisms of military chiefs struck a chord there?

Watching the president making his TV address, I had a strong feeling of déjà vu.

I remembered the dramatic speech he made exactly 16 months ago when he announced the start of his “special military operation” – the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

It was a very different Vladimir Putin back then.

He seemed supremely confident of victory.

That was an operation the Russian authorities expected to be over in days, a few weeks maximum.

But it did not go at all according to plan. Russia’s war not only led to death and destruction on a large scale in Ukraine. It sparked instability within Russia itself.

Prigozhin and Putin at a dinner in 2011
Image caption, Yevgeny Prigozhin (left) with the Russian president at a dinner in 2011

And that has led to the dramatic events we are witnessing now with Prigozhin and his Wagner fighters.

It creates another huge headache for the Kremlin.

Not only is President Putin fighting a war in Ukraine.

He now has to deal with a mutiny at home.

Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has told news agency TASS that the president is “working in the Kremlin” in Moscow. But, as Wagner mercenaries apparently try to make their way to the capital, the rumour mill on social media is in overdrive.

Some users have noted that Putin’s plane – special aircraft Il-96-300PU – left Moscow at 14:16 (11:16 GMT), and headed north-west, according to the FlightRadar tracking service. The plane then apparently disappeared off the system near the city of Tver, northwest of Moscow.

But we have, of course, no way of knowing whether Putin was on that plane.

We do know that Putin reportedly spends a lot of time at his sprawling residence on Lake Valdai, located northwest of Moscow, and does apparently not permanently live in the capital.

The Wagner group is claiming to have taken control of all military facilities in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, and reports suggest it has taken sites in Voronezh – further north.

Rostov has played a key role since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Located close to the Ukraine border, Rostov – with a population of just one million – houses the main headquarters of Russia’s Southern Military District.

Russian troops are often stationed in the city before being sent on to Ukraine.

The regional capital has also been an important logistics hub for armoury and fuel deliveries.

Voronezh – another regional capital not far from the Ukrainian border – is roughly the same size as Rostov.

The city lies halfway between Rostov and the capital Moscow and is a major railway hub.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the powerful Wagner mercenary group, has called for a rebellion in Russia and launched what he calls a “march of justice”. The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) says his troops are “almost certainly aiming to get to Moscow“.

It says that in the early hours of Saturday, Wagner forces crossed the border from Ukraine, where they have been fighting on the side of the Russians, and took control of the city of Rostov-on-Don.

This is a problem for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his war, since the headquarters of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – the Russian Southern Military District command – is based in the city.

Russian sources also say Wagner mercenaries have seized military facilities in Voronezh, which is halfway between Rostov and Moscow – this video shows a huge explosion near the city.

In the last few minutes, our BBC Verify team has verified the location of the video appearing to show a Wagner convoy of vehicles travelling on the M4 motorway, which links Voronezh and Moscow through the region of Lipetsk.

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