'Treachery…': Putin slams Wagner Group, warns of 'brutal action' against rebels | World News - Hindustan Times
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'Treachery…': Vladimir Putin slams Wagner Group, warns of 'brutal action' against rebel soldiers

Jun 24, 2023 04:57 PM IST

Russia Ukraine War Live: Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin has demanded the Russian defence minister come to him - in Rostov - to discuss the situation.

Russia president Vladimir Putin on Saturday branded Wagner Group mercenaries and those who have taken up arms against his military as 'traitors' and declared their actions a 'stab in the back'. He also warned those taking up arms against that they were committing treason and would face 'brutal action'.

A fighter of Wagner private mercenary group is seen atop of an armoured vehicle in a street near the headquarters of the Southern Military District in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, June 24, 2023. REUTERS/Stringer
A fighter of Wagner private mercenary group is seen atop of an armoured vehicle in a street near the headquarters of the Southern Military District in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, June 24, 2023. REUTERS/Stringer

"What we are facing is precisely treachery… excessive ambitions and personal interests led to treason (against) their country and people, and to the cause for which Wagner fighters and commanders fought and died side by side with our other units and divisions," Putin said in a televised address to the nation.

"Those who organised a military mutiny… who took up arms against their comrades… betrayed Russia and will answer for it. This is a blow to Russia… our people. Our actions to protect the Fatherland from such a threat will be harsh."

Russian defence ministry's message to Wagner

Putin's address came shortly after his defence ministry reached out to soldiers employed by the Wagner Group - a private army - claiming they had been 'deceived' and 'dragged into a criminal adventure'. The ministry called on Wagner soldiers to contact their representatives and local law enforcement (presumably to surrender) and, in turn, promised to guarantee their safety.

The ministry's message - posted on messaging platform Telegram - comes hours after Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin's dramatic video statement denouncing Russian military leaders for failing to support his soldiers, who have spearheaded Moscow's illegal invasion of Ukraine.

LIVE COVERAGE | Wagner Group threatens Russia coup, marches on Moscow

The statement said: “Many of your comrades from several squads have already realised their mistake... asking for help in ensuring they can safely return to their places of permanent deployment. Such assistance from our side has already been provided to all fighters and commanders who applied.”

Putin has been briefed on the situation, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, adding 'all necessary measures (are) being taken'. The latter includes heavy military deployment in the Russian capital, according to the Associated Press

'A stab in the back'

The Russian response to the Wagner Group's actions have been to fortify Moscow - where an 'anti terror operation' has been announced. And, on Friday, the country's National Anti-Terrorism Committee - part of the Federal Security Services - charged Prigozhin with calling for an armed rebellion.

That is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Meanwhile, the FSB has ordered Wagner soldiers to arrest Prigozhin and refuse to follow his 'criminal and treacherous orders'. It called his statements a 'stab in the back to Russian troops' and accused him of fomenting armed conflict.

Wagner takes control of Rostov, marches on Moscow

In the hours since the Wagner Group's coup attempt was revealed, Prigozhin has claimed to have taken control of Rostov (the military HQ of Russia's southern forces) and sent an armed convoy to Moscow to unseat Putin.

READ | Wagner Group downed Russian chopper near city they now control

Prigozhin said early Saturday his forces had crossed into Russia from Ukraine and had reached Rostov, adding that they faced no resistance from young conscripts at checkpoints and that his forces 'aren't fighting against children'.

"But we will destroy anyone who stands in our way," he said in a series of angry video and audio recordings on social media. "We will go until the end."

Sources told news agency Reuters Wagner fighters had also seized military facilities in Voronezh, a city about 500 km south of Moscow.

Wagner has also reportedly shot down at least two Russian military helicopters; visuals online show plumes of smoke that seem to confirm this.

The Wagner Group boss has warned Putin and Russia's military that every soldier in his 25,000-strong army stood 'ready to die'.

READ | '25,000 of us...': Mercenary leader vows to destroy Putin. Russia reacts

What is the Wagner Group?

The Wagner Group - or PMC Wagner - is a private military with tens of thousands of fighters, according to United States intelligence. The United Kingdom's defence ministry believes there are over 50,000 in Ukraine alone

Wagner forces have played a key role in Ukraine and have succeeded in conquering Bakhmut, where the fighting has been some of the bloodiest.

READ | Wagner Group vows to topple Russian military. Who are they?

However, Prigozhin has increasingly been criticised by top Russian military leaders, accused of incompetence and starved of weapons and ammunition.

Who is Yevgeny Prigozhin?

A mildly successful former businessman who was fortunate enough to be patronised by Putin, Prigozhin made headlines when the Ukraine war began.

READ | Who is Russian mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin?

Prigozhin and Putin were both born in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and, in the final years of the Soviet Union, the latter spent 10 years in jail.

Prigozhin's mercenaries have taken contracts across the world - Africa in particular - and allegedly provide security for national leaders or warlords in exchange for lucrative payments, like a share of gold or natural resources.

With input from agencies

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