Leader Wagner Prigozhin said his forces had entered the Russian city of Rostov without encountering any resistance.

The owner of the private military contractor Wagner issued the most direct challenge to the Kremlin on Friday, calling for an armed uprising aimed at toppling Russia’s defense minister. The security services responded immediately by opening a criminal investigation into Yevgeny Prigozhin and calling for his arrest.

In a sign of how seriously the Kremlin is taking the threat, security has been beefed up in Moscow and in Rostov-on-Don, which is home to the Russian military headquarters in the southern region and also oversees close to the war in Ukraine.

Prigozhin announced on Saturday that his forces had reached Rostov, saying they encountered no resistance from young conscripts at the checkpoints and adding that his forces were “not fighting in the air.” fight against children”.

“But we will destroy anyone who gets in our way,” he said. “We are moving forward and will go to the end.”

He claimed that the Chief of the General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov, sent fighter jets to attack Wagner’s convoys that were running alongside conventional vehicles.

Prigozhin said Wagner’s field camps in Ukraine were attacked with rockets, armed helicopters and artillery fire on orders of Gerasimov after a meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, at which they decided to destroy Wagner.

Prigozhin said his army would punish Shoigu in an armed rebellion and urged the army not to resist.

“This is not a military coup, but a march of justice,” Prigozhin declared.

The National Counterterrorism Committee, part of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, said he would be investigated for calling for an armed uprising. The FSB called on Wagner’s contract soldiers to arrest Prigozhin and refuse to obey his “traitor and criminal orders”. It called his statements a “stab in the back of the Russian army” and said they could spark an armed conflict in Russia.

Russia’s chief prosecutor said the criminal investigation was justified and armed rebellion could carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

President Vladimir Putin has been briefed on the situation and “all necessary measures have been taken”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Wagner’s forces played a key role in Russia’s war in Ukraine, successfully capturing the city where the bloodiest and longest battles took place, Bakhmut. Prigozhin regularly criticizes the Russian military, accusing them of incompetence and starving his army of weapons and ammunition, but with Friday’s accusations and calls for an armed uprising, he appears to have Go too far.

The Russian Ministry of Defense requires all military contractors to sign contracts with them by July 1, but Prigozhin, who has a feud with the Ministry of Defense many years ago, refused to comply. In a statement released late Friday, he said he was willing to seek a compromise with the Department of Defense, but “they have cunningly deceived us”.

“Today they carried out a missile attack on our rear camps, and a large number of our comrades were killed,” he said. The Department of Defense denies attacking the Wagner camps.

Prigozhin claims that Shoigu personally went to the Russian military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don to direct the attack and then fled “cowardly”.

“This scum will be stopped,” he said of Shoigu.

“The evil shown by the military leadership of the country must be stopped,” he shouted, urging the military not to offer any resistance to Wagner as they moved to “restore justice.” “.

Tass reported that security was also increased in Rostov-on-Don. Its correspondent said military and law enforcement personnel were seen on the streets, with at least one armored personnel carrier and air patrols.

Colonel General Sergei Surovikin, deputy commander of the group of Russian forces fighting in Ukraine, called on Wagner forces to stop any action against the troops, saying it would fall into the hands of Russia’s enemies, who who is “waiting to see the aggravation of the political situation in our country.”

Another top military officer, Lieutenant General Vladimir Alexeyev, denounced Prigozhin’s move as “crazy” and threatened a civil war in Russia.

“It’s a knife in the back of the country and the president,” he said. “It is impossible to imagine a more severe blow to the image of Russia and its armed forces. Such a provocation can only be staged by Russia’s enemies.”

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the Ukrainian military was gathering troops to launch an attack around Bakhmut to take advantage of “Prigozhin’s provocation”. It said Russian artillery and warplanes fired on Ukrainian forces as they prepared to begin an offensive in the area.

In other developments on the Ukrainian military situation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on other countries to heed warnings that Russia may be planning an attack on an occupied nuclear power plant to cause havoc. radioactive disaster.

Members of his government informed international representatives of the possible threat to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, whose six reactors have been shut down for months. Zelenskyy said he expected other countries to “give the appropriate signal and put pressure” on Moscow.

A Kremlin spokesman denied the threat to the plant came from Russian forces.

The possibility of life-threatening radiation has been a concern since Russian troops invaded Ukraine last year and seized the plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. The head of the United Nations’ atomic energy agency has spent months trying to negotiate the establishment of a safety belt to protect the facility from repeated shelling of neighboring areas, but he unsuccessful.

The International Atomic Energy Agency noted on Thursday that the “military situation has become increasingly tense” while a Ukrainian counter-offensive is underway this month in Zaporizhzhia province, where it is located. factory of the same name and in a neighboring area of ​​the Donetsk Oblast.

Although the last of the plant’s six reactors was shut down last fall to reduce the risk of melting, experts have warned that radioactive releases could still occur. if the system that holds the reactor core and cools the spent nuclear fuel loses power or water.

During months of fighting, Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for which side has increased the threat to the plant. On Friday, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi met the head of Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom in Russia’s Kaliningrad breakaway to discuss conditions at the plant. Rosatom director Alexey Likachev and other officials “emphasized that they now expect concrete steps” from the United Nations agency to prevent Ukrainian attacks on the plant and neighboring territory, a statement said. from the Russian corporation, which has divisions in the construction and operation of nuclear power plants.

Earlier this week, Ukrainian officials accused Russia of exploiting the plant’s cooling system, which was threatened by a dam failure earlier this week that left water in a reservoir the plant uses.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on Friday that Russia had strengthened its defense forces in southern Ukraine to deal with an early counterattack and stepped up efforts to capture more land in the east. When asked if the initial attacks by the Ukrainian army set the stage for a larger attack, Maliar told Ukrainian television: “We have not seen the main events and the main blow. And indeed, a portion of the reserve will be used later.”

Ukrainian forces have so far achieved only incremental victories in Zaporizhzhia province, one of four regions that Putin illegally annexed last year. Putin has pledged to defend the areas that are Russian territory.

Zelenskyy has said that Ukraine is fighting to force Russian troops out of those areas, as well as the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow illegally annexed in 2014 and is using as a supply and staging route in the conflict. The war lasted 16 months. If the counterattack breaks through Russia’s defenses to the south, Ukrainian forces could attempt to reach the two occupied port cities on the Sea of ​​Azov and break through Russia’s land bridge to Crimea.


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