Chechen soldiers to fight against Wagner group in Russia: 'A knife in the back'
Ramzan Kadyrov said his forces were ready to help put down a mutiny by Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said on Saturday finally issued a statement on the stand-off between Wagner and Russia's defence ministry, denouncing the mercenary outfit and his forces were ready to help put down the mutiny by outfit chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and to use harsh methods if necessary.
Kadyrov in a statement called Prigozhin's behaviour "a knife in the back" and called on Russian soldiers not to give in to any “provocations.”
In Russia's first armed insurrection since the Chechen wars 20 years ago, heavily armed fighters from Prigozhin's Wagner militia group were in control of the streets of Rostov-on-Don, a city of more than a million people close to the border with Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin vows to crush 'armed mutiny'
Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to crush what he called an armed mutiny after the private army of mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin seized control of a southern city as part of an attempt to oust the military leadership.
Prigozhin said he had captured the headquarters of Russia's Southern Military District there, after leading his forces into Russia from Ukraine. The city serves as the main rear logistical hub for Russia's invasion force.
A Russian security source told news agency Reuters that Wagner fighters had also taken control of military facilities in the city of Voronezh, further north on the road towards Moscow.
Moscow Red Square blocked off by metal barriers
In Moscow, there was an increased security presence on the streets. Red Square was blocked off by metal barriers.
"Excessive ambitions and vested interests have led to treason," Putin said in a televised address, calling the mutiny a "stab in the back".
"It is a blow to Russia, to our people. And our actions to defend the Fatherland against such a threat will be harsh."
"All those who deliberately stepped on the path of betrayal, who prepared an armed insurrection, who took the path of blackmail and terrorist methods, will suffer inevitable punishment, will answer both to the law and to our people," Putin said.
In a series of hectic messages overnight, Prigozhin demanded defence minister Sergei Shoigu and the chief of the general staff Valery Gerasimov come to see him in Rostov. Western capitals said they were closely following the situation in nuclear-armed Russia. The White House said President Joe Biden was briefed.
Allegations of airstrike
Prigozhin launched the apparent mutiny on Friday after alleging that the military had killed a large number of his fighters in an airstrike. The defence ministry denied it.
"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...," Prigozhin said.
"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 in clashes with regular soldiers and had shot down a helicopter.
Russia's FSB security service opened a criminal case against Prigozhin for armed mutiny and said his statements were "calls for the start of an armed civil conflict on Russian territory".
(With inputs from agencies)