How Putin's own warlord Prigozhin turned his troops on the president
24 hours that rocked Russia: How Vladimir Putin’s own warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin turned his troops on the president
- Wagner’s Yevgeny Prigozhin came within 120 miles of Russian capital Moscow
- The military coup will go down in history as the gravest threat faced by Putin
As Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin heads for exile, the rebellion which brought Russia to the brink of civil war appears to be over… for now.
In an extraordinary 24 hours of mayhem, the mercenary leader had come within 120 miles of Moscow after taking a major city and key military sites in a lightning advance.
As Prigozhin boasted his men were ‘ready to die’ for their cause, Russian troops armed with machine guns, tanks and helicopters scrambled to the capital to face down the assault.
But the surprise assault was called off – the warlord suddenly retreated after striking an 11th-hour deal with the Kremlin.
Despite its abrupt end, the military coup is destined to go down in history as the gravest threat ever faced by Vladimir Putin during his rule.
In an extraordinary 24 hours of mayhem, the mercenary leader had come within 120 miles of Moscow. Pictured: A member of Wagner group stands guard in Rostov-on-Don with a machine gun today
Russian troops armed with machine guns, tanks and helicopters scrambled to the capital to face down the assault
The dramatic events were set in motion with an explosive video by Prigozhin calling for an armed rebellion late on Friday.
It came amid escalating tensions between the warlord and Russian generals who had tried to neutralise him by ordering his men to sign up with the regular army.
In a direct challenge to the Kremlin, the rebel leader bragged he had 50,000 fighters ready to battle with the Russian army and called on regular soldiers to join them.
Dressed in military fatigues, he described the move as a ‘march for justice’ against the top brass including defence minister Sergei Shoigu.
Shortly after midnight, his men were said to have crossed Russian borders with Ukraine in multiple locations and were soon marching towards Rostov-on-Don.
The key southern city lies 60 miles from the border of Ukraine where Wagner was serving alongside Russian forces.
Dressed in military fatigues, he described the move as a ‘march for justice’ against the top brass including defence minister Sergei Shoigu
Shortly after midnight, his men were said to have crossed Russian borders with Ukraine in multiple locations and were soon marching towards Rostov-on-Don.. Pictured: A local resident walks past members of Wagner group in Rostov-on-Don
READ MORE: Humiliated Prigozhin is sent into exile in Belarus after aborting his Wagner mercenaries’ march to Moscow
In response the Kremlin opened a criminal case against Prigozhin branding him a ‘foreign agent’ who had launched an ‘armed rebellion’.
‘Operation Fortress’ – which requires all military to be at ‘full readiness’ – had by now been activated in Rostov and Moscow.
By 1am Russian forces were on high alert and with soldiers, armoured trucks and military helicopters being deployed to key locations.
Photos showed soldiers setting up machine gun nests, as Putin signed into law a measure which allowed people to be detained for up to 30 days.
At around 2am, Rostov’s residents were told to lockdown in their homes as terrified people resorted to panic buying food.
Around this time Wagner’s chief claimed his forces had shot down a Russian helicopter which ‘opened fire on a civilian convoy’ – but no further details were given.
At 3am, officials in Russia’s Voronezh region urged residents to avoid the M4 north-south motorway that connects Moscow to the south because of a military convoy.
The day began with the warlord announcing he had taken Rostov-on-Don. At 5.30am on Saturday, he said the headquarters of Russia’s Southern Military District was seized ‘without firing a single shot’ and claimed up to 70 Russian soldiers joined them.
The Kremlin’s defence ministry issued a statement appealing to fighters to abandon Prigozhin, saying they had been ‘deceived and dragged into a criminal adventure’.
Standing between Russian flags in a TV address at 8am, Putin admitted that it was a ‘complicated situation’ and that the rebels had taken control of military sites in Rostov. He warned of ‘inevitable punishment’ for those responsible.
By 9am, roads to Moscow were blocked while sandbags and moats were built in a bid to slow the rebels’ advance.
Sources suggested Wagner had taken control of military sites in Voronezh, a city halfway between Rostov and the capital Moscow.
Standing between Russian flags in a TV address at 8am, Putin admitted that it was a ‘complicated situation’
They were said to have been met with some resistance with gunfire and explosions being heard.
Shortly before 11am, Prigozhin responded to Putin’s statement saying he was ‘deeply mistaken’ to call him and his forces traitors, adding that his men would not surrender.
Later in the morning, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov backed Putin and revealed his fighters were already heading to the ‘zones of tension’, adding: ‘The rebellion must be crushed’.
At lunchtime authorities in the Lipetsk region confirmed that the rebels were moving ‘equipment’ through the region – less than 250 miles from Moscow.
At 2.16pm one of Putin’s planes took off from Moscow apparently heading for St Petersburg. But the Kremlin denied reports that he had fled the capital.
A series of private jets also took off from Moscow while tickets on commercial flights out of the city sold out as British nationals were urged to leave amid fears of violent clashes.
Later in the morning, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (pictured) backed Putin and revealed his fighters were already heading to the ‘zones of tension’
READ MORE: Business as usual, Mr President? Vladimir Putin breaks his silence in ‘pre-recorded’ interview about ‘stepping up efforts’ in Ukraine
Oligarchs including Arkady Rotenberg and Russia’s richest man Vladimir Potanin reportedly left Moscow for Azerbaijan and Turkey on private aircraft.
By 3pm, the rebels’ two-mile-long convoy had managed to pass through the halfway city of Voronezh, later reaching the town of Yelets.
Shortly before 4.30pm, Moscow declared Monday a ‘non-working day’ and announced powers to restrict movement, monitor communications, carry out searches and even forcibly evacuate.
The conflict was greeted warmly in Kyiv with Ukraine’s forces believed to have taken full advantage of the chaos by stepping up their attacks along the frontline in northern Bakhmut.
As the mayhem unfolded president Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted: ‘For a long time, Russia used propaganda to mask its weakness and the stupidity of its government. And now there is so much chaos that no lie can hide it.’
An adviser to Ukraine’s defence minister said that they were ‘running out of popcorn’ while closely watching the uprising.
Ukraine claimed that a week ago it liberated an area near Krasnohorivka in south-west Donetsk, which had been under Russian control since 2014.
The victory was kept secret until Saturday for ‘tactical reasons’. But in a shocking twist, Prigozhin called off the attack after striking a truce with Putin.
His army was just 120 miles away from Moscow when he ordered it to halt at 6.30pm.
‘We got to within 200km of Moscow in 24 hours, without spilling a drop of the blood of our fighters.
‘Now, the moment has come, when blood could be shed,’ Prigozhin said. It came after Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko brokered a last-minute deal that involved the Kremlin dropping plans to abolish the Wagner military company.
The deal also included plans for Prigozhin to move to Belarus and the criminal charges against him and his men being dropped.
By around 8.30pm, Wagner troops were reported to have started to leave Rostov and were said to have completely withdrawn by 11pm.
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