Putin Vows ‘Decisive Actions’ as Wagner Chief Claims A part of Key Army Advanced

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Russian generals late on Friday accused Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the outspoken mercenary tycoon, of attempting to mount a coup in opposition to President Vladimir V. Putin, because the Russian authorities opened an investigation into Mr. Prigozhin for “organizing an armed riot.”

The long-running feud between Mr. Prigozhin and the Russian army over the struggle in Ukraine has now escalated into an open confrontation, organising the most important problem to Mr. Putin’s authority since he launched his invasion of Ukraine 16 months in the past.

Movies circulating broadly on social media confirmed that army and nationwide guard armored autos had been deployed in Moscow and the southern metropolis of Rostov-on-Don, close to the entrance line in Ukraine the place Mr. Prigozhin’s fighters had been working.

Credit score…Reuters

Mr. Prigozhin on Friday accused the Russian army of attacking his Wagner mercenary forces and, in a collection of recordings posted to social media, pledged that his fighters would retaliate. Russian authorities, in flip, accused Mr. Prigozhin — whose broadsides in opposition to the Russian Protection Ministry had been tolerated by Mr. Putin for months — of attempting to foment a revolt.

“It is a stab at the back of the nation and the president,” Gen. Vladimir Alekseyev, the deputy head of Russia’s army intelligence company, mentioned in a video attraction to Mr. Prigozhin’s fighters, urging them to name off any riot. “It is a coup.”

Mr. Prigozhin’s Wagner mercenary power has proved pivotal to the Russian struggle effort in Ukraine, however in current months, he repeatedly chastised Russia’s prime brass for alleged corruption and indifference to common troopers’ lives. On Friday night time, he took his accusations to a brand new degree, claiming that the Russian army had attacked Wagner encampments, killing “an enormous variety of fighters.”

“The evil borne by the nation’s army management have to be stopped,” Mr. Prigozhin (pronounced pree-GOH-zhin) mentioned in one among a collection of voice recordings posted to the Telegram social community after 9 p.m. Moscow time.

Minutes later, he instructed that his Wagner mercenary power was ready to go on the offensive in opposition to Russia’s personal Protection Ministry, saying, “There’s 25,000 of us, and we’re going to determine why chaos is occurring within the nation.”

He denied that the actions have been a “army coup.”

“It is a march for justice,” he mentioned in one other audio message on Telegram. “Our actions aren’t interfering with the troops in any approach.”

Simply previous midnight Moscow time, Russia’s prosecutor basic introduced that Mr. Prigozhin was being investigated “on suspicion of organizing an armed riot” and would face as a lot as 20 years in jail if prosecuted.

The Wagner chief then defiantly took to Telegram once more, saying his fighters have been approaching town of Rostov-on-Don and including: “We’re going farther. We are going to go to the tip.”

Mr. Prigozhin’s whereabouts remained unclear, and there was no fast affirmation that his forces have been truly approaching town.

Whereas President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine had but to remark as of Friday night time, one among his advisers, Mykhailo Podolyak, warned on Twitter that “tumultuous instances are coming” for Russia.

White Home officers mentioned they have been following the occasions, however wouldn’t say way more. “We’re monitoring the scenario and shall be consulting with allies and companions on these developments,” mentioned Adam Hodge, a Nationwide Safety Council spokesman.

Credit score…Kremlin, by way of Related Press

Mr. Prigozhin, a St. Petersburg restaurateur who leveraged his private connections with Mr. Putin into profitable authorities contracts, gained worldwide prominence after his on-line “troll factory” interfered within the 2016 American presidential election — and after his Wagner fighters have been deployed in Syria and across Africa as a shadow power believed to be combating for Kremlin pursuits.

For months the Russian struggle effort has been hampered by the bitter feud between Mr. Prigozhin and prime army leaders, whom he has accused in scathing phrases of incompetence in conducting the struggle. He has asserted that Russia’s prime brass have refused to provide Wagner forces with needed ammunition at the same time as they fought alongside the Russian army for management of the Ukrainian metropolis of Bakhmut.

However by no means earlier than had Mr. Prigozhin accused Russia’s army leaders of attacking his forces, nor asserted in such stark phrases that the Kremlin’s said justification for the struggle was nonsense.

In a 30-minute video launched on Friday, Mr. Prigozhin had described his nation’s invasion of Ukraine as a “racket” perpetrated by a corrupt elite chasing cash and glory with out concern for Russian lives.

He additionally accused the Russian minister of protection, Sergei Okay. Shoigu, of orchestrating a lethal assault with missiles and helicopters on camps to the rear of the Russian strains in Ukraine, the place his troopers of fortune have been bivouacked. And he accused Mr. Shoigu of overseeing the strikes himself from the city of Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia, close to Ukraine.

The mercenary chief’s claims couldn’t be instantly verified. The Russian protection ministry denied the allegations, saying in an announcement that the messages Mr. Prigozhin had posted about supposed strikes on Wagner camps “don’t correspond to actuality.”

Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, mentioned that Mr. Putin was “conscious of all occasions round Prigozhin,” based on Interfax, a Russian information company.

Mr. Prigozhin’s accusations created a ripple impact amongst Russian pro-war activists, who concern that an open battle between the military and Wagner forces might threaten the Russian entrance strains in the course of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. In Ukraine, some considered his statements as extra proof of inside divisions inside the Russian struggle effort.

In an earlier videotaped speech, Mr. Prigozhin didn’t explicitly impugn Mr. Putin, as an alternative casting him as a frontrunner being misled by his officers. However in dismissing the Kremlin’s narrative that the invasion was a necessity for the Russian nation, Mr. Prigozhin went additional than anybody in Russia’s safety institution in publicly difficult the knowledge of the struggle.

“The struggle wasn’t wanted to return Russian residents to our bosom, nor to demilitarize or denazify Ukraine,” Mr. Prigozhin mentioned, referring to Mr. Putin’s preliminary justifications for the struggle. “The struggle was wanted so {that a} bunch of animals might merely exult in glory.”

Friday’s diatribes deepened the enigma of Mr. Prigozhin’s ambiguous position in Mr. Putin’s system. His Wagner troops, composed of veteran fighters in addition to 1000’s of convicts whom Mr. Prigozhin personally recruited from Russian prisons, proved key in capturing the Ukrainian metropolis of Bakhmut in Could after a monthslong battle.

However, in the course of the battle for Bakhmut, Mr. Prigozhin additionally emerged as a populist political determine, excoriating Russia’s army management for corruption. His indignant recordings and movies posted to the Telegram messaging community solid prime army and Kremlin officers as unaware and uncaring of the struggles of normal Russian troopers.

Up to now, Mr. Putin has not reined in Mr. Prigozhin, at the same time as Mr. Putin’s safety forces have jailed or fined 1000’s of Russians for criticizing the army or opposing the struggle. Some individuals who know Mr. Putin have mentioned they imagine that he nonetheless sees Mr. Prigozhin as a loyal servant making use of wanted stress on a sprawling army equipment. Others theorized that the Kremlin had orchestrated Mr. Prigozhin’s tirades in opposition to Mr. Shoigu, the protection minister, to deflect blame from Mr. Putin himself.

However Friday’s statements sophisticated the image, with Mr. Prigozhin going after not simply Mr. Shoigu but in addition unnamed “oligarchs” round Mr. Putin, whereas casting the complete official rhetoric across the invasion as a sham. He mentioned there was “nothing out of the unusual” in Ukraine’s army posture on the eve of the February 2022 invasion — difficult the Kremlin’s justification that Ukraine was on the verge of attacking Russian-backed separatist territory in Ukraine’s east.

“Our holy struggle with those that offend the Russian folks, with those that are attempting to humiliate them, has was a racket,” he mentioned.

Mr. Prigozhin additionally asserted in his video that Ukraine’s counteroffensive to achieve again territory was going way more poorly for Russia than the federal government was letting on. On Telegram, pro-war commentators rapidly pushed again in opposition to that declare, together with Igor Girkin, a former paramilitary commander who himself has typically criticized Russia’s prime brass.

“Prigozhin already ought to have been handed over to a army tribunal for a lot of issues,” Mr. Girkin wrote. “Now additionally for treason.”

Julian E. Barnes and Cassandra Vinograd contributed reporting.



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