Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin claims his fighters are not involved in military coup but ‘a march of justice’.
The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary force Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed his forces have entered Russia to remove the country’s military leadership.
Russian security services said they had opened a criminal investigation into Prigozhin on Friday for launching what they describe as a mutiny.
Prigozhin has long accused Russia’s top military leaders of failures in the war in Ukraine and is known for his long-running feud with the Russian defence ministry.
Here’s what we know of Prigozhin’s stated aims:
What did Prigozhin say?
- Prigozhin posted a series of angry video and audio recordings on Friday in which he accused Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu of ordering a rocket attack on Wagner’s field camps in Ukraine, where his troops are fighting on behalf of Russia.
- Prigozhin said his troops would now punish Shoigu in an armed rebellion and urged the Russian army not to offer resistance.
- “This is not a military coup, but a march of justice,” Prigozhin declared.
- Russia’s defence ministry has denied carrying out the rocket attack.
- Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee, which is part of the Federal Security Services, or FSB, said the Wagner chief would be investigated on charges of calling for an armed rebellion.
- The FSB called Prigozhin’s statements on Friday a “stab in the back to Russian troops” and said they amounted to fomenting an armed conflict within Russia.
- The FSB urged Wagner’s fighters to arrest Prigozhin and told them to refuse to follow his “criminal and treacherous orders”.
- Riot police and Russia’s National Guard have been scrambled to tighten security at key facilities in Moscow, including government agencies and transport infrastructure, the state’s TASS news agency reported.
What is the basis of Prigozhin’s dispute with Russia’s military?
- Fighters purported to be Wagner mercenaries in Ukraine recorded a video in which cursed the Russian military’s General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov and accused him of failing to provide ammunition.
- Prigozhin also has singled out Shoigu for withering criticism while accusing Russian military leaders of incompetence.
- Once a shadowy business figure with close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prigozhin has increasingly raised his public profile, boasting almost daily about Wagner’s purported victories, sardonically mocking his enemies and complaining about Russia’s military leaders.