'Soon we will have a new president': Wagner boss taunts Putin as Moscow mayor tells people to stay home

24 June 2023, 13:26 | Updated: 24 June 2023, 18:01

Prigozhin fired back at Putin
Prigozhin fired back at Putin. Picture: Social media

By Will Taylor

Wagner rebellion leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has insisted Putin is "deeply mistaken" about his mercenaries, calling them patriots on a "march of justice".

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His forces appear to have taken key parts of Rostov, and claimed to have taken the regional HQ used to coordinate part of the invasion of Ukraine.

They have also reportedly taken control of military facilities around Voronezh, to the north - just 300 miles from Moscow.

A visibly angry Putin said the mercenaries had "betrayed Russia and will answer for it" as he pledged a harsh response.

But Prigozhin said after his speech: "Regarding the betrayal of the motherland, the president was deeply mistaken. We are patriots of our homeland."

It came as Moscow's mayor told residents in the capital not to go to work on Monday "to minimise risks".

Read more: 'A stab in the back': Furious Putin lashes out at Wagner rebellion as he accuses mercenary leader of treason

Read more: Kremlin denies Putin has fled Moscow as rebel Wagner tanks and 5,000 soldiers move to capital

A Wagner convoy reportedly came under fire
A Wagner convoy reportedly came under fire. Picture: Social media

Putin ally Sergei Sobyanin wrote via Telegram: "A counter-terrorist operation regime has been declared in Moscow. The situation is difficult.

"I ask you to refrain from traveling around the city as much as possible.

"City services are on high alert."

Putin had asked fighters not to join in the rebellion, but Prigozhin said the mercenaries would not turn themselves in because "we do not want the country to live on in corruption, deceit and bureaucracy".

And in a chilling warning previously, he said: "We're on our way to Moscow, and anyone who entered our centres will answer for it."

He launched the insurrection, which he insists is targeted against the military leadership, after he accused the military of attacking his forces in Ukraine.

He claims a missile struck a training camp near Bakhmut, leading him to march his forces over the border and into Rostov - and he said young conscript soldiers did not even bother to oppose him.

Prigozhin also claimed artillery and helicopters have attacked his troops.

Footage posted to social media shows billowing smoke, with some accounts claiming a military helicopter and transport plane was downed in Russia.

Reports said an oil depot had been destroyed in Voronezh, possibly by Russian forces so that Wagner could not resupply it.

Jets have been recorded flying overhead while attack helicopters were recorded over Voronezh.

Observers have also seen government transport jets flying to St Petersburg, possibly an evacuation, while footage also emerged purporting to show Russian soldiers digging in around Moscow.

Meanwhile, Wagner convoys on the highway to the capital have been seen with tanks, armoured fighting vehicles and air defence systems.

Prigozhin has boasted of having 25,000 men at his disposal - all of whom, he says, are willing to die.

Wagner is said to have downed a Russian plane
Wagner is said to have downed a Russian plane. Picture: Social media

"This is not a military coup, but a march of justice," he said.

And he warned: "We’re 25,000 strong, and we’re going to get to the bottom of the lawlessness in this country.

"25,000 are waiting as a tactical reserve, while the strategic reserve is the entire army and the entire country.

"Everyone who wants to, join us. We need to put an end to this disgrace."

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Putin urged fighters not to take part in what has been described as a coup.

The Russian president, speaking on TV as Moscow was plunged into an "anti-terror" regime that saw armoured vehicles deploy, said: "This is a criminal adventuristic campaign. It's equivalent to armed mutiny.

"We will defend ourselves and repel this move. We are fighting for the life and security of our citizens and our territory.

Read more: 'We'll go all the way': Wagner forces 'seize Russian city' as Putin faces coup and Moscow locks down

Putin was livid in his speech denouncing Prigozhin
Putin was livid in his speech denouncing Prigozhin. Picture: Screengrab

"Everything has to be done to put this danger to rest.

"It's an attempt to subvert us from inside. This is treason in the face of those who are fighting on the front.

"This is a stab in the back of our troops and the people of Russia."

Footage shows Wagner fighters - a group of mercenaries that have fought in Ukraine and deployed around the world on behalf of Russia - across Rostov.

Prigozhin captured a regional HQ in southern Russia
Prigozhin captured a regional HQ in southern Russia. Picture: Social media

Video has emerged of Prigozhin speaking with deputy defence minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and Vladimir Alekseev, the deputy head of Russia's military intelligence, after entering the regional HQ. It is unclear when the footage was shot.

Prigozhin has been one of the biggest critics of the top brass, and used a series of videos during his group's bloody capture of Bakhmut to attack defence minister Sergei Shoigu and the armed forces head Valery Gerasimov.

Those tensions have now boiled over into a full scale fight between the Russian state forces and the mercenary group.

"All of us are ready to die. All 25,000, and then another 25,000," Prigozhin said in an audio message.

Wagner forces claim to have taken Rostov
Wagner forces claim to have taken Rostov. Picture: Social media

What effect this will have on the frontlines in Ukraine remains to be seen. It could only help the Ukrainian forces as they prepare to launch the main effort of their counter offensive.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said it exposed "full-scale weakness" and that Ukraine was protecting Europe from "the spread of Russian evil and chaos".

In the UK, a Cobra emergency meeting was convened and Rishi Sunak said: "We're keeping a close eye on the situation, as it's evolving on the ground as we speak," Mr Sunak told the BBC.

"The most important thing I'd say is for all parties to be responsible and to protect civilians, and that's about as much as I can say at this moment."

Besides Rostov, where surreal footage showed cowboy-hat wearing fighters and their comrades in the city, supported by tanks, as balloon sellers and street sweepers got to work, the military facilities to the north have apparently been taken.

These are near the city of Voronezh, about 300 miles south of Moscow. The M4 motorway, which goes to the capital, was sealed off.

A Wagner convoy on the route to the capital was reportedly struck, while the mercenaries were said to be using air defence systems to hit back at military aircraft. The situation is fast moving and in many places unclear.

Prigozhin made a name for himself as "Putin's chef", thanks to his catering for the Russian president, before finding more fame as the head of Wagner.

The mercenary group has become notorious for atrocities, including its members' use of sledgehammers to execute "traitors" and former fighters alleging they killed children in Ukraine.

He has recruited convicts on the promise of freeing them after their service.

Russian authorities have called for his arrest.

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