Coup bid by hired guns against Putin
Large convoy of Wagner group’s mercenaries marching towards Moscow after initially capturing Rostov-on-Don city.
A mercenary group promoted and patronised by President Vladimir Putin became a Frankenstein monster on Saturday, capturing a key southern city and launching an armed coup against the Russian establishment.
Wagner group mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who led the fight against Ukraine but withdrew his troops after an open spat with Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu, now poses the biggest threat to Putin’s leadership in over two decades in power.
In a hurried address to the nation, Putin promised harsh punishment for Prigozhin, denouncing his uprising as a stab in the back. There was some speculation about Putin’s plane flying out of Moscow and switching off its transponder but it could not be verified.
Prigozhin’s estimated 25,000-strong private army claimed control over the military headquarters in the city of Rostov-on-Don, over 1,000 km south of Moscow, from where Russia controls its Ukraine operations.
Wagner’s troops and tanks also rolled into Lipetsk province, about 360 km south of Moscow.
The group’s hired guns are also said to have seized military facilities in Voronezh, halfway between Rostov and Moscow in their blitzkrieg. Their convoy was seen moving north towards Moscow beyond Lipetsk, its governor said. Moscow’s mayor asked people to stay indoors, as the Capital braced to face the Wagner onslaught.
“All those who prepared the rebellion will suffer inevitable punishment,” Putin said. Joining issue with him, Prigozhin said his fighters would not surrender. “We do not want the country to live on in corruption, deceit and bureaucracy... Regarding the betrayal of the motherland, the president was deeply mistaken. We are patriots of our homeland,” he said on his Telegram channel.
Prigozhin said he wanted to punish defence minister Shoigu as Russian forces were attacking Wagner camps in Ukraine. He alleged that Gen Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff, ordered the attacks following a meeting with Shoigu.