Russia vs. Russia? Wagner Group turns against Vladimir Putin's regime

Putin accused Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the mutinous paramilitary group, of "treachery" and promised to crush the revolt.

On Friday, June 23, at midnight, Moscow time, a tide of uncertainty swept over the country. A paramilitary group allied with Vladimir Putin called the Wagner Group has turned against the Russian government for an alleged attack on its camps, leading to the militarization of Moscow with tanks of war circulating in the streets on the eve of an unsure internal conflict in Russia.

It all started when Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner group, launched strong statements against the war in Ukraine, claiming that it is not really about "demilitarizing" or "denazifying Ukraine" but that it is a necessity of the "oligarchs" in a clear reference to Putin and his allies.

Not content with this, he also indicated that Moscow is covering up the actual number of casualties in Ukraine and that soldiers are fleeing the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the southeast. Putin's Defense Ministry quickly countered these claims, stating they "do not correspond to reality and are an information provocation."

Hours later, the tension would rise several notches when Prigozhin himself claimed on Telegram that Putin's government launched several attacks on his camps, killing a "large number" of people from the Wagner group. "We will make a decision on how to respond to these atrocities. The next step is ours," he added.

The Russian government responded by militarizing Moscow and preparing for what could be an uprising by the Wagner group and its mercenaries, who, up to this point, were aligned with Vladimir Putin. According to reports, checkpoints have been set up throughout the city, and the most important buildings are being secured.

The FSB (the modern version of the extinct KGB) demanded "the immediate cessation of illegal activities" and called on the paramilitary group "not to make an irreparable mistake."

Prigozhin hastened to distance himself from the word "riot" to adopt the definition of "march for justice." "Our actions do not pose an obstacle to the Armed Forces," he added. His relationship with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was not the best before this episode and it does not look like the relationship will improve in the coming hours.

The Wagner Group's war caravan is heading to Moscow to assert its notion of "justice," worrying local authorities. "We will destroy anyone who stands in our way," the paramilitary leader reportedly said.


On Saturday night, Vladimir Putin spoke to the country in a televised message. "We will defend both our people and our statehood from any threats, including internal treachery," the Russian president maintained, state-run Tass agency reports. "What we have been confronted with can be precisely called treachery."

Putin accused the mercenary leader of possessing "unbounded ambitions and personal interests" that led him to try to "stage a mutiny and push the country towards anarchy and fratricide, defeat and finally surrender."

The Russian publication also reported that the FSB initiated a criminal case against Prigozhin, which could result in a sentence of 12 to 20 years.

President Putin notified his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, about the situation, according to Al Jazeera. The site also assured assured that the Russian president promised to bring down Prigozhin.

Going north

After taking Rostov-on-Don, Wagner's troops advanced northward. Testimonies from Russia claim that Voronezh is already under Wagner control, after which they are set to move on to Krasnodar and Volgograd, even further north.

The advance of the mercenaries would bring them closer to Moscow. They are said to have approached up to 185 miles from the Russian capital, according to the Eastern European media Nexta. The same newspaper reported that the authorities were destroying the streets to cut off the advance of the rebel vehicles, although other reports already place Wagner deep in Lipetsk.

Meanwhile, Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov's troops followed the mercenaries' trail to Rostov-on-Don. Putin's ally had promised to fight to maintain the status quo in Russia, and according to media outlets such as Visegrád 24 he seems to be delivering.

The question looms: Where is Putin? Expert Matthew Schmidt told Fox News that several sources claim the president has left the capital, moving to a residence in the north. Official sources denied this information.

Local newspapers reported that several private jets took off from the capital. One of them was reportedly carrying the government's richest man, Denis Manturov.