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

24 June 2023, 08:13 | Updated: 24 June 2023, 11:53

A furious Putin denounced the rebellion
A furious Putin denounced the rebellion. Picture: Social media

By Will Taylor

Vladimir Putin branded the Wagner rebellion a "stab in the back" in a televised address early on Saturday.

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

The Russian president said anti-terror measures were in place and urged fighters not to take part in what has been described as a coup.

It comes after Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner, launched an insurrection with his mercenaries and apparently took parts of the southern city of Rostov, which serves as a regional HQ for the invasion of Ukraine.

Putin, 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

"It’s a question of Russia's millennial history. 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.

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.

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

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 Kremlin said military facilities well north have 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 vowed to "destroy anyone who stands in our way" and insisted his rebellion is "not an armed rebellion, but a march of justice".

He 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.

Russian authorities have now called for his arrest.

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