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Russian mercenary boss Prigozhin in standoff with Russian army amid ‘armed mutiny’

Storyline:National News, World


June 24 (Reuters) – Rebellious Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Saturday he had taken control of the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don as part of an attempt to oust the military leadership amid what the authorities said was an armed mutiny.

The dramatic turn, with many details unclear, looked like the biggest domestic crisis President Vladimir Putin has faced since he ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine – something he called a “special military operation” – in February last year.

Prigozhin demanded that Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff, whom he has pledged to oust over what he says is their disastrous leadership of the war against Ukraine, come to see him in Rostov, a city near the Ukrainian border.

He had earlier said that he had 25,000 fighters moving towards Moscow to “restore justice” and had alleged, without providing evidence, that the military had killed a huge number of fighters from his Wagner private militia in an air strike, something the defence ministry denied.

“Those who destroyed our lads, who destroyed the lives of many tens of thousands of Russian soldiers, will be punished. I ask that no one offer resistance…,” he said in one of many frenzied audio messages.

“There are 25,000 of us and we are going to figure out why chaos is happening in the country,” he said, promising to destroy any checkpoints or air forces that got in Wagner’s way. He later said his men had been involved with clashes with regular army soldiers and had shot down a helicopter.

One Russian security source told Reuters Wagner fighters had also taken control of military facilities in the city of Voronezh, which is about 500 km (310 miles) south of Moscow. Reuters could not independently confirm that assertion or many of the details provided by Prigozhin.

Putin was due to address the nation soon, the RIA news agency cited the Kremlin as saying on Saturday.

Prigozhin, whose Wagner militia spearheaded the capture of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut last month, has for months been openly accusing Shoigu and Gerasimov of incompetence and of denying Wagner ammunition and support in its battles in Ukraine.

Russia’s FSB security had earlier opened a criminal case against Prigozhin for armed mutiny and had said that his statements were “calls for the start of an armed civil conflict on Russian territory and his actions a ‘stab in the back’ of Russian servicemen fighting pro-fascist Ukrainian forces.

It added: “We urge the … fighters not to make irreparable mistakes, to stop any forcible actions against the Russian people, not to carry out the criminal and traitorous orders of Prigozhin, to take measures to detain him.”

The state news agency TASS quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying that all of Russia’s main security services were reporting to Putin “round the clock.”

Security was being tightened in Moscow, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on his Telegram channel.

In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden was briefed on the situation, a White House spokesperson said.