Russian mercenaries seize military sites; Putin vows to punish rebellion

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Russian mercenaries seize military sites; Putin vows to punish rebellion

The boss of Russia’s Wagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, says its mercenaries have seized “all military facilities” in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don.

They are also said to have deployed in Voronezh, further north, following his threat to march on Moscow to topple Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

President Vladimir Putin said it was “a stab in the back” and pledged to punish those who had “betrayed” Russia.

Tightened security has been introduced in many regions, including Moscow.

The Wagner Group is a private army of mercenaries that has been fighting alongside the regular Russian army in Ukraine.

Tension has been growing between them over how the war has been fought, with Prigozhin launching vocal criticisms of Russia’s military leadership in recent months.

The dramatic escalation came after Prigozhin accused Russia’s military of hitting his group’s base in Ukraine – a claim denied by Moscow.

Prigozhin claims this is not a military coup – but his aim seems to be to topple Russia’s military leadership, reports the BBC’s Russia editor Steve Rosenberg in Moscow.

But in his emergency address, President Putin said that Russia was facing “treason”.

“All those who consciously stood on the path of betrayal, who prepared an armed rebellion, stood on the path of blackmail and terrorist methods, will suffer inevitable punishment, before the law and before our people,” Putin vowed.

He did not mention Prigozhin – a former ally – by name.

In his response – the first time Prigozhin had criticised the Russian leader directly – the Wagner boss said his troops were “patriots of our motherland” and President Putin was “deeply wrong” to talk of betrayal.

In a video posted on his Telegram channel earlier on Saturday, Prigozhin said his fighters had entered Rostov-on-Don after crossing the border from Ukraine – and his men would destroy anyone who stood in their way.

He said his forces had shot down a Russian military helicopter that “opened fire on a civilian convoy” – no location was given and that assertion could not be immediately verified.