Russia’s Federal Security Services (FSB) opened a criminal investigation Friday against mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, accusing him of armed mutiny, citing the National Anti-Terrorism Committee.
The crime is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, according to Russia’s chief prosecutor.
The NAC, which is part of the FSB, insisted there is no basis to the allegations made by Prigozhin earlier Friday that the Russian Ministry of Defense conducted an airstrike against Wagner bases, killing 2,000 of his fighters.
Prigozhin accused the Russian military, acting on the orders of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, of shelling his troops’ positions in Ukraine.
“The Minister of Defense arrived specially in Rostov to carry out an operation to destroy the Wagner PMC (private military company),” he wrote on his Telegram social media channel.
An unverified video posted on the “Razgruzka Wagner” (Wagner’s Combat Vest) Telegram channel showed a scene in a forest where small fires were burning and trees appeared to have been damaged by explosions.
Prigozhin said the Wagner Group commanders’ council has vowed to punish Shoigu.
“The evil that the military leadership of the country is responsible for must be stopped. They neglect the lives of soldiers, they forgot the word ‘justice,’ which we will bring back,” he said.
“Therefore, those who killed our guys today, those who killed tens, many tens of thousands of lives of Russian soldiers, will be punished,” he said, announcing that his forces would begin a march to secure justice for the lost fighters.
Early Saturday, according to audio posted on Telegram, Prigozhin said he and his men had crossed into Russia. Russia’s defence ministry said in a statement that “all reports by Prigozhin spread on social media” of Russian strikes on Wagner camps were “not true and are an information provocation”.
It comes after a video message in May in which Mr Prigozhin stood surrounded by the bodies of his troops and berated Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu – as well as Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov – for not providing them with enough ammunition.
On Friday, he declared that the war in Ukraine had been started “so that Shoigu could become a Marshal”.
“The Ministry of Defence is trying to deceive the public, deceive the president and tell a story that there was some crazy aggression by Ukraine, that – together with the whole Nato bloc – Ukraine was planning to attack us.
Prigozhin’s rift with the military has been ignored by state-controlled TV, where most Russians get their news, although it is followed closely by the politically active, ultrapatriotic readers and viewers on social media networks, which share his contempt for military leaders.
While there are no indications that Putin is losing influence, “there are growing signs of deep dysfunction, anxiety, worry about the war and real problems in marshaling the resources necessary to fight it effectively,” said Nigel Gould-Davies, a senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the editor of its Strategic Survey.
Prigozhin’s feud with military leaders goes back years, and it spilled into the open amid the fighting for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut that was spearheaded by his mercenaries. It has pushed the 62-year-old Wagner owner, dubbed “Putin’s chef” for his lucrative Kremlin catering contracts, to the forefront of Russian politics and signaled his growing ambitions.
He scathingly criticized Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the chief of the General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov, as weak and incompetent in mocking statements full of vulgar language. At one point, he even alleged the army planted mines on the route his fighters planned to use and opened fire at them.
With the Ukrainian counteroffensive now in its initial stages, Prigozhin has accused the military brass of playing down the threat it presents and warned that Russian defenses could collapse. He even said he has asked the country’s top criminal investigation agency to open a probe of Shoigu and Gerasimov, urging their prosecution for the deaths of tens of thousands of Russians and surrendering territorial gains
With his crude and caustic remarks, Prigozhin ventured into areas where only Putin had gone before: Over the years, the Russian leader occasionally broke decorum with an earthy remark or off-color joke, while top officials used carefully worded language.
In a later video, Prigozhin made a statement that some have interpreted as a thinly veiled attack on Putin himself. He declared that while his men were dying due to the Defense Ministry’s failure to supply ammunition, a “happy granddad is thinking he’s doing well,” and then referred to that “granddad” with an obscenity.
At least 2 dead in Kyiv attack, Ukrainian military official says
At least two people were killed and eight others injured when debris hit a tall building in Kyiv’s central Solomyanskyi district, a Ukrainian military official said.
Serhiy Popko, head of the Kyiv region military administration, said the debris hit a 24-story building. Previously, the Kyiv mayor reported it was 16 stories.
“Clarification of information regarding the consequences of debris hitting a 24-story building in the Solomyanskyi district. At the moment, two dead have been identified. Injured — eight people. Two were hospitalized, the rest received medical assistance on the spot. About 40 cars parked in the parking lot were damaged,” Popko said on Telegram Saturday. The Kyiv city military administration says air defense systems destroyed more than 20 missiles in airspace around Kyiv overnight.
Those reports also cited unnamed sources as saying there are security worries in the wake of drone attacks that hit the Kremlin and the outskirts of Moscow in May,
International attendance at Russia’s annual investment showcase, the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, was notably lower than it had been prior to Russia’s sending troops into Ukraine in February 2022.
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