Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an emergency televised address on Saturday that an “Armed mutiny” by the Wagner Group mercenary force was treason, and that anyone who had taken up arms against the Russian military would be punished.
He said he would do everything to protect Russia, and that “decisive action” would be taken to stabilize the situation in Rostov-on-Don, a southern city where Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said his forces had taken control of all military installations.
“There will be decisive measures taken on stabilising the situation in Rostov-on-Don,” Putin said in an address to Russians. “It remains difficult and the work of civil and military authorities in fact is being blocked.”
He described efforts by the Wagner military group to unseat the country’s top brass as a “deadly threat” to Russia and urged the country to unite.
“Any internal turmoil is a deadly threat to our statehood and to us as a nation. This is a blow to Russia and to our people,” Putin said in an address broadcast on television, adding: “This battle, when the fate of our people is being decided, requires the unification of all forces and unity.”
Putin said that armed mutiny by Wagner mercenaries was a “stab in the back” and that the group’s chief Yevgeny Prigozhin had “betrayed” Russia, vowing to punish those rebelling.
“This is a stab in a back to our country, to our nation,” Putin said in an address to the nation. “What we have been faced with is exactly betrayal. Extravagant ambitions and personal interests led to treason,” Putin said referring to Prigozhin.
“All those who consciously stood on the path of betrayal, who prepared an armed rebellion, stood on the path of blackmail and terrorist methods, will suffer inevitable punishment, before the law and before our people,” he added.
Wagner Chief vows to topple Russia Top Brass
The head of the Wagner mercenary group said Saturday he had crossed into Russia with his forces to topple Moscow’s military leadership, saying he and his 25,000 fighters were “ready to die”.
“All of us are ready to die. All 25,000, and then another 25,000,” Yevgeny Prigozhin, 62, said in an audio message, after earlier accusing the Russian top brass of launching strikes against his men.
“We are dying for the Russian people.”
In response, Russian authorities said security had been tightened in several regions and the mayor of Moscow announced that “anti-terrorist” measures were being taken in the capital.
The FSB security service accused Prigozhin of attempting to launch a “civil conflict” and urged Wagner fighters to detain him.
“We will destroy everything that stands in our way,” Prigozhin said earlier, in the most audacious challenge to President Vladimir Putin since the start of the offensive in Ukraine last year.
Prigozhin said his forces, who have spearheaded much of Russia’s offensive in Ukraine, had entered the southern Russian region of Rostov, and had also shot down a Russian military helicopter.
He did not, however, provide proof, and AFP could not independently verify the claims.
Authorities in Rostov urged residents to stay home.
“Law enforcement agencies are doing everything necessary to ensure the safety of residents,” Rostov governor Vasily Golubev said.
Videos and pictures posted online, including by TASS, showed armed men surrounding administrative buildings in Rostov and tanks deployed in the city centre. It was not clear who the armed men were.
In Moscow, critical facilities were “under reinforced protection”, the TASS state-run news agency reported, citing a law enforcement source.
Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov had informed Putin of “the initiation of a criminal case in connection with an attempt to organise an armed rebellion”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding the president was getting regular updates on the situation.