‘Won’t surrender’: Wagner chief on Putin's ‘treason’ claim after Russia coup | World News - Hindustan Times
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‘Won’t surrender’: Wagner chief reacts to President Putin's ‘treason’ claim after Russia coup

Jun 24, 2023 03:50 PM IST

Yevgheny Prigozhin denied allegations by Vladimir Putin that he is betraying his country and called his fighters patriots.

Russian mercenary Wagner group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin on Saturday denied allegations by President Vladimir Putin that he is betraying his country and called his fighters patriots.

Founder of Wagner private mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin speaks inside the headquarters of the Russian southern army military command center, which is taken under control of Wagner PMC, according to him, in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia in this still image taken from a video released.(via REUTERS)
Founder of Wagner private mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin speaks inside the headquarters of the Russian southern army military command center, which is taken under control of Wagner PMC, according to him, in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia in this still image taken from a video released.(via REUTERS)

In an audio message on his Telegram channel, Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said: “Regarding the betrayal of the motherland, the president was deeply mistaken. We are patriots of our homeland.

Prigozhin said the Wagner paramilitary group won’t surrender to demands from Russian President Vladimir Putin or the security services. "We do not want the country to live on in corruption, deceit and bureaucracy,” he said.

“What we are facing is precisely treachery,” Putin said in a televised address Saturday. “Excessive ambitions and personal interests led to treason, to treason to their country and their people and to the cause for which Wagner fighters and commanders fought and died side by side with our other units and divisions.”

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Those who “organised and prepared a military mutiny, who took up arms against their comrades, betrayed Russia and will answer for it,” Putin said. “This is a blow to Russia, to our people, and our actions to protect the Fatherland from such a threat will be harsh.”

'Rostov-on-Don under Wagner's control'

Earlier Saturday, Prigozhin posted a video of himself at what he said were military offices in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don that were under his control along with the local airfield. The claims couldn’t be independently confirmed yet.

Prigozhin said army operations were continuing “normally” as he accused defence chiefs of covering up “enormous” Russian casualties in the war in Ukraine which he said were “three to four times more” than officials acknowledged.

“We are all ready to die,” he said in a separate audio message on Telegram, claiming Wagner had 25,000 troops involved and another 25,000 who were ready to join. “Because we will die for the Motherland, for the Russian people who need to be liberated.”

The showdown with the Wagner founder marks the most dramatic escalation in a long-running feud between him and Russia’s defence establishment that has spiralled into the biggest challenge to Putin’s authority since he sent troops into Ukraine 16 months ago.

‘Counter-terrorist regime’

The Kremlin was taking no chances. Officials announced a “counter-terrorist regime” in Moscow and the surrounding region on Saturday and in the southern Voronezh region. Security in the capital was tightened including around government buildings, and riot police were put on alert, state-run Tass news service reported. Russia opened a criminal case against Prigozhin and the Federal Security Service said it was seeking to detain him.

Putin, who didn’t name Prigozhin in his TV address, said “any internal turmoil is a deadly threat to our statehood,” and drew a comparison with divisions during World War I that led to the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and civil war in Russia. “This is a stab in the back of our country,” he said.

Putin discussed the situation with his ally, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, in a phone call Saturday, the state-run Belta news service reported.

(With inputs from agencies)

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