THE Wagner Group, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, occupied a Russian military headquarters and announced an “armed uprising” against the country’s armed forces in June 2023.
The move prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to deliver an emergency address in which he described the group’s actions as “treason.”
What is the Wagner group?
The Wagner Group, officially known as PMC Wagner, is a Russian paramilitary organization formed in 2014.
It is headed by Putin’s former close ally, Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Russia refers to the Wagner Group as a “private military company,” though others have described it as a mercenary network.
It is believed that the Wagner Group employed an estimated 50,000 people in Ukraine as of December 2022.
That number is made up of about 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts from Russian prisons, said John Kirby, spokesman for the US National Security Council NBC News.
In the wake of the group’s rebellion against Putin, videos posted on social media showed banners being torn down in Russian cities urging people to join the Wagner group.
Who is Yevgeny Prigozhin?
Yevgeny Prigozhin is the leader of the Wagner Group and spearheaded their involvement in the war against Ukraine.
He was a close confidante of Putin but became his greatest enemy when he launched an alleged coup in June 2023.
In the past, Prigozhin was often referred to as “Putin’s chef” because he owned several restaurants and catering companies that provided services to the Kremlin.
Prigozhin appeared to spark a crisis after vowing to “punish” Russia by blaming the Kremlin for a rocket attack on a Wagner training camp in Bakhmut, Ukraine, that killed dozens.
Prigozhin and his troops had fought in Putin’s war in Ukraine – but the Wagner boss had become a vocal critic of the Russian military leadership.
In the early hours of June 24, 2023, he announced that he had taken control of the Russian army headquarters in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don and vowed to shift the fight to Moscow.
In a series of videos and audio clips posted online, Prigozhin said, “We will crush anyone who stands in our way… we are going on and we will go on to the end.”
He called for an armed uprising against Russia’s top general and defense minister, Sergei Shoigu.
Why is the Wagner group in Rostov-on-Don?
On June 24, 2023, Prigozhin accused Russian troops of launching a missile attack that killed several of his fighters.
Prigozhin said he was at Russian army headquarters in Rostov-on-Don and his forces were marching in the streets.
He also claimed his fighters controlled the city’s military sites.
A Russian security source also claimed Wagner militants took control of all military installations in the city of Voronezh, some 500 kilometers south of Moscow.
Prigozhin promised Wagner would overthrow Moscow’s military leadership, claiming its 25,000 fighters were “ready to die.”
The Russian security services responded to his declaration of an armed uprising by demanding his arrest.
Security measures have been tightened in both Rostov and Moscow. Footage was captured from the Russian capital showing armored vehicles speeding through the streets.
Special forces roadblocks were set up around the city while military officials attempted to secure both the Kremlin and Russia’s parliament building, the Duma.
What did Vladimir Putin say about Yevgeny Prigozhin?
Following Prigozhin’s statement, Putin delivered an emergency address in which he described the Wagner group’s “armed mutiny” as a “stab in the back.”
In a televised address, Putin said: “This is a criminal campaign. It is tantamount to an armed mutiny. Russia will defend itself and resist this move.”
“We fight for the life and safety of our citizens and our territorial integrity. Everything must be done to avert this danger.”
“It’s an attempt to infiltrate us from within. This is treason. In the face of those fighting on the front lines, this is a stab in the back of the troops and the Russian people.”
The Russian president also warned of “inevitable punishment” for those attacking “the motherland” and vowed to defend Russia against “anarchy”.