Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged on Saturday to suppress what he described as an ‘armed mutiny’ following a deteriorating situation between the Russian Army and the mercenary group known as Wagner Private Military Company, also referred to as Wagner Group. The Wagner Group, widely regarded as a de facto private army under Putin’s control, has until now been actively involved in the war in Ukraine, fighting on the Russian side.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of the Wagner Group, in a significant video message uploaded on the Russian social media platform Telegram, strongly criticised the country’s leadership for initiating the war and asserted that Ukrainian forces were effectively pushing back the Russian army.
Tensions escalated later on Friday when Prigozhin alleged that the Russian Army had launched an attack on Wagner camps in Ukraine. An unverified video circulated on a Telegram channel associated with Wagner, purportedly showing the aftermath of an airstrike against the group’s forces. The video depicted a forest with smouldering fires and evidence of trees being wilfully damaged.
A caption accompanying by the video read: “A missile attack was launched on the camps of PMC (Private Military Company) Wagner. Several victims. According to eyewitnesses, the strike was delivered from the rear, that is, it was carried out by the military of the Russian Ministry of Defence.”
In response to the Russian Army’s alleged strike, Prigozhin vowed to avenge the attack, singling out Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and accusing him of personally overseeing the operation. Prigozhin also urged Russians to join him, claiming to have 25,000 troops at his disposal. While denying any intent to stage a military coup, calling the action a “march for justice”, he still insisted on challenging the military leadership.
The Kremlin promptly denied the allegations that they had attacked Wagner camps, with the Russian Defence Ministry labelling Prigozhin’s statements as “provocative” and “inconsistent with reality”. The Russia’s Federal Security Service initiated a criminal investigation into Prigozhin for “calling for armed insurrection”. The Security Service urged Wagner fighters not to follow Prigozhin’s orders, but to apprehend him.
On Saturday, Prigozhin announced that he had taken control of the southern city of Rostov, near the Ukrainian border, as part of his efforts to displace the military leadership.
In a televised address, President Putin characterised the mutiny as a betrayal and a “stab in the back.” He emphasised that those who engaged in “methods of armed insurrection, blackmail and terrorism” would face severe consequences. The Russian leader affirmed his commitment to “defending the Fatherland against such threats” and stressed that harsh action would be taken.
The situation in Russia remains clouded by uncertainty, with conflicting reports and unverified social media content emerging throughout Friday evening and into Saturday. There have been claims of shots fired in various locations in Russia, although independent confirmation is lacking. It is also unclear whether the Wagner troops are actively mobilising. Russian General Sergei Surovikin has called on Wagner fighters to return home.
The ongoing developments in Russia mark one of the most significant domestic crises for Putin since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February of last year. The situation continues to unfold, and further clarity is expected soon. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence has stated that it is closely monitoring the situation in Russia.