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Kremlin Charges Wagner Chief With Mutiny, as Prigozhin Asks Russians to Join Uprising Against Defense Minister

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The Kremlin charged Yevgeny Prigozhin with mutiny on Friday night after the bellicose Wagner Group chief called on all Russians to join his forces in an uprising against the country’s defense minister.

Prigozhin accused his wartime nemesis, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, of ordering Russian troops to shell Prigozhin’s forces in Ukraine.

“The Minister of Defense arrived specially in Rostov to carry out an operation to destroy the Wagner PMC (private military company),” Prigozhin wrote on his Telegram social media channel.

The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Soldier of Fortune.

An unverified video posted on the “Razgruzka Wagner” (Wagner’s Combat Vest) Telegram channel showed a scene in a forest where small fires were burning and trees appeared to have been damaged by explosions.

Prigozhin said the Wagner Group commanders’ council has vowed to punish Shoigu.

“The evil that the military leadership of the country is responsible for must be stopped,” he wrote. “They neglect the lives of soldiers, they forgot the word ‘justice,’ which we will bring back.

“Therefore, those who killed our guys today, those who killed tens, many tens of thousands of lives of Russian soldiers, will be punished,” he said.

Prigozhin said he had 25,000 fighters, and called on all Russians who wanted to be in the group to join, including regular army servicemen. He promised to return Wagner to the Ukrainian front after the “restoration of justice.”

The Defense Ministry debunked claims of airstrikes at Wagner PMC units. A Kremlin spokesman said that President Vladimir Putin was informed about the situation regarding Prigozhin, adding that all necessary measures are being taken.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) press office in Moscow said that the situation threatened to escalate inside Russia. The service also told PMC fighters not to comply with Prigozhin’s orders, and to detain him.

Reports circulated Friday night on Russian social media that Wagner forces were engaged in armed conflict with Russian troops. The unverified video shows gunfire at night.

If convicted, Prigozhin faces up to 20 years in prison, according to Russia’s chief prosecutor.

An unverified video posted on the “Razgruzka Wagner” (Wagner’s Combat Vest) Telegram channel showed a scene in a forest where small fires were burning and trees appeared to have been damaged by explosions.

Prigozhin said the Wagner Group commanders’ council has vowed to punish Shoigu.

“The evil that the military leadership of the country is responsible for must be stopped. They neglect the lives of soldiers, they forgot the word ‘justice,’ which we will bring back,” he said.

“Therefore, those who killed our guys today, those who killed tens, many tens of thousands of lives of Russian soldiers, will be punished,” he said, announcing that his forces would begin a march to secure justice for the lost fighters.

Early Saturday, according to audio posted on Telegram, Prigozhin said he and his men had crossed into Russia.

“Everyone who will try to put up resistance … we will consider it a threat and destroy it immediately, including any checkpoints that will be in our way and any aircraft that we see over our heads. I am asking everyone to remain calm and not succumb to provocations, stay in their homes. It is advisable not to go outside along the route of our movement,” he continued.

“After we finish what we started, we will return to the front to defend our Motherland,” Prigozhin said. “There are 25,000 of us, and we are going to figure out why this country is in such a mess. Twenty-five thousand are expected as a tactical reserve, and the strategic reserve is the whole army and the whole country. Everyone who wants to join. We must end this disgrace,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, accompanied by Victory Museum Director Alexander Shkolnik, visits the Victory Museum in Moscow, Russia, June 22, 2023.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, visits the Victory Museum in Moscow, June 22, 2023.

Military vehicles have been seen on Moscow streets, Reuters reported.

In Washington, the White House said it is monitoring the situation and consulting with allies, National Security Council spokesperson Adam Hodge said Friday.

The Interfax news agency quoted Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov as saying that President Vladimir Putin has been briefed on the developments and “necessary measures are being taken.”

If convicted, Prigozhin faces up to 20 years in prison, according to Russia’s chief prosecutor.

Earlier Friday, Prigozhin said the Kremlin’s reasoning for invading Ukraine is based on lies fabricated by the army’s top brass. Prigozhin has for months openly accused Shoigu and Russia’s top general, Valery Gerasimov, of gross incompetence.

“The Defense Ministry is trying to deceive society and the president and tell us a story about how there was crazy aggression from Ukraine and that they were planning to attack us with the whole of NATO,” Prigozhin said in a video clip released on the Telegram messaging app by his press service.

“The war was needed … so that Shoigu could become a marshal … so that he could get a second ‘Hero’ [of Russia] medal,” Prigozhin said. “The war wasn’t needed to demilitarize or denazify Ukraine.”

The Wagner chief also attacked the ruling elite, saying greed fueled its desire to absorb the assets from Ukraine’s Donbas region. “The task was to divide material assets,” he said. “There was massive theft in the Donbas, but they wanted more.”

Prigozhin previously has used social media to voice his complaints about the Russian Defense Ministry.

Amid fierce fighting for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, Prigozhin repeatedly published videos sharply criticizing Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov for not providing enough ammunition.

With reporting from VOA and RFE/RL.

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