Putin faces mutiny as mercenary fighter group Wagner, his Ukraine war ally, now threatens Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who invaded Ukraine precisely 16 months ago — on February 24 last year — now has another conflict on his hands. The mercenary fighter group Wagner, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, that was until recently helping Russia, has now ferociously turned upon Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Screenshot of a crowdsourced video of a Wagner tank in the Russian city of Rostov. Photo courtesy: Twitter/@OliLondonTV

The sight of the Wagner militia’s armoured vehicles moving into the city of Rostov and reportedly taking over the Russian army headquarters there has set alarm bells ringing in Moscow. The hostility that Prigozhin felt towards Shoigu was never very subtle, but this is the first time that the militia chief has questioned the very reason for the invasion of Ukraine, and accused Shoigu of deceiving Putin.

Just hours before Rostov, a town in Yaroslavl Oblast, Russia, faced its own ‘invasion’ of sorts by Wagner, in a video uploaded on the social network Telegram, the militia chief minced no words about the war against Ukraine. Indeed, he used the word “war” repeatedly even though Russia calls it a “special military operation”.

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Prigozhin said in the video: “Why was the war needed? The war was needed so that a handful of scumbags could have a blast and get PR attention showing how strong the army is. The war was needed not in order to return Russian citizens to our bosom, and not in order to demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine. It was needed for one star with additional embroidery, so that one mentally sick man could look good on a coffin pillow.”

Directly attacking the Russian defence minister, the Wagner chief then said, “Shoigu lives by the principle that a lie must be horrific for people to believe it. That’s when the lies count.”

The perceived threat from Ukraine, especially after its attempt to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), was the official reason for the invasion. But now the militia chief has criticised the very basis of this invasion.

Wagner militia chief Prigozhin (centre) sitting at the Rostov headquarters of the Russian army. Photo courtesy: Twitter/@maxseddon

Photos were posted on social media today that purportedly showed Prigozhin sitting at the Rostov headquarters of the Russian army. A Twitter post said: “First sighting of Prigozhin, in a video posted by a Wagner channel. It says he’s in the Rostov army HQ ‘negotiating’ with deputy defense minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov. ‘We want We want [Russian chief of army staff Valery Gerasimov] and Shoigu. Until they’re here, we’ll stay, block off Rostov, and head to Moscow,’ he says.”