Putin mobilizes forces against Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin

Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed “decisive actions” to quell what he called an armed rebellion by the outspoken mercenary tycoon Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose forces claimed control of a southern Russian city and threatened to march to Moscow.

Putin mobilized Russian troops on Saturday to put down what he called an armed rebellion by the mercenary leader Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, whose forces had claimed control of the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and were seen moving north along a highway toward Moscow.

As security forces were scrambled in southwestern Russia and Moscow, military convoys believed to belong to Mr. Prigozhin’s Wagner forces were seen in the town of Elets, about 250 miles from the capital, according to video posted to social media on Saturday and verified by The New York Times. The armored convoys had traveled from Rostov, and governors of regions along Russia’s major M-4 highway to Moscow urged residents to stay away from the corridor. Videos showed signs of active fighting along the highway.

In a brief address to the nation on Saturday morning, Mr. Putin called Mr. Prigozhin a traitor who had delivered “a stab in the back of our country and our people.” He said that military and civilian functions had “essentially been blocked” in Rostov, an important military hub for Russia’s war in Ukraine, an implicit acknowledgment of some success by Mr. Prigozhin, an erstwhile Putin ally whose forces have fought alongside the Russian Army in Ukraine.

The confrontation marked the most dramatic threat to the Russian president’s power since he took over leadership in 1999, and came at a pivotal moment in Russia’s war in Ukraine, where Kyiv’s forces have begun a counteroffensive to take back territory. Moscow declared a “counterterrorist operation regime,” giving the authorities expanded legal powers, even as pro-war Russian activists expressed alarm that the uprising could threaten Moscow’s front lines in Ukraine.

Here is the latest:

  • In a video that surfaced early Saturday, verified by The Times, Mr. Prigozhin is seen in the company of armed men in the courtyard of Russia’s southern military headquarters in Rostov. “We’re blockading the city of Rostov and going to Moscow,” Mr. Prigozhin says, demanding to see the chief of the General Staff of the Russian military and the Russian defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu.

  • Russian authorities said they were charging Mr. Prigozhin with “organizing an armed rebellion” against the Russian president. For months, Mr. Prigozhin has accused Russia’s top military leaders of incompetence for not adequately supplying his Wagner forces with ammunition as they fought alongside the Russian military in Ukraine.

  • The mercurial Wagner leader’s long-running criticism of Moscow’s military leadership erupted into open confrontation on Friday when he accused the Russian Army of attacking his forces and pledged to retaliate. In an audio message on Saturday, Mr. Prigozhin (pronounced pree-GOH-shin) rejected the charge of treason and said that his forces were “patriots of our motherland.”

  • Kremlin apparatchiks, regional governors, lawmakers and other officials declared their fealty to Mr. Putin, with virtually all predicting that he would prevail. No central figures publicly took Mr. Prigozhin’s side. Ramzan Kadyrov, the ruler of Chechnya, promised to commit his own private troops to putting down the insurgency, although he has a history of proclaiming a more active role than he actually carries out.

  • U.S. officials said they were watching the situation closely but did not want to say anything publicly that could give Mr. Putin reason to blame the West for the turmoil. Britain’s defense intelligence agency described the crisis as the “most significant challenge to the Russian state in recent times” and said that the loyalty of Russia’s security forces — especially the Russian National Guard — would be crucial.

  • In eastern Ukraine, residents saw the rebellion as a distraction for Russia that could help Kyiv’s forces. Russia continued its attacks on Ukraine, firing more than 20 missiles at Kyiv in a predawn assault that left at least three people dead, the eighth attack on the Ukrainian capital this month.

    • The New York Times

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