Fighters of the private military contractor, Wagner Group, seized a military building outside Moscow early Saturday in what has now been described as a mutiny by President Vladimir Putin.
Wagner’s chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in an unexpected turn of events early Saturday, called for a rebellion against Russia’s army, an act Mr Putin described as a betrayal and a stab in the back.
“Any internal mutiny is a deadly threat to our state, to us as a nation. It’s a blow against Russia, against our people. And our actions to defend the fatherland from such a threat will be brutal,” Mr Putin promised.
“They will answer before the law and our people,” he assured.
According to news reports, the mutiny is the result of a long-running feud between Wagner’s chief Prigozhin and Russian military chiefs.
Wagner is a Russian private military contractor that has fought alongside Russia’s military in the ongoing war in Ukraine. The group is also present in some African countries including Mali and Libya.
Mr Prigozhin has in recent months criticised the Russian military hierarchy over the way the war in Ukraine has been fought. On Friday, he accused the Russian military of launching a deadly missile strike on his troops and vowed to punish them.
Russia has since denied the strike and demanded he halts his “illegal actions”.
Mr Progozhin vowed to “go all the way” to topple Russia’s military leadership claiming that his fighters had crossed the border from Ukraine into Russia, entering the city of Rostov-on-Don.
He said his men would destroy anyone who stood in their way.
He also claimed that his forces had shot down a Russian military helicopter that “opened fire on a civilian convoy”. He did not give a location and the assertion could not be immediately verified.
The Wagner chief claims he is not leading a mutiny but marching for justice and to stop the “evil” in Russia’s military leadership.
However, by Saturday evening, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said he had brokered a deal with Mr Prigozhin, who had agreed to de-escalate the situation and pull his forces back. Mr Lukashenko is a key ally of Mr Putin.
A few minutes after that, Mr Prigozhin said he had ordered his mercenaries to halt their march on Moscow to avoid “shedding Russian blood.”
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