The head of the Wagner mercenary group threatened to attack Russia’s Defense Ministry after what he said was a missile strike that killed “huge” numbers of his men, as tensions surged between the two feuding Russian camps over the war in Ukraine.
The Defense Ministry denied the claims by Yevgeny Prigozhin that it had attacked Wagner’s rear camps in Russia, calling his allegations a “provocation” in a statement late Friday. Investigators opened a criminal probe into Prigozhin for allegedly calling for an armed uprising.
Prigozhin posted a series of audio messages on his Telegram channel threatening to “punish” Russia’s military leaders for the alleged attack and the losses of “tens of thousands” of Russian troops in the war. He accused Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu of overseeing an operation to “destroy” Wagner.
“There are 25,000 of us and we are going to figure out why there is lawlessness happening in the country,” Shoigu said. “Everyone who wants to join us, we need to end this mess.”
After threatening to destroy “anyone who will try to resist,” Prigozhin said “this is not a military coup. This is a march of justice.”
President Vladimir Putin has been informed of all the events involving Prigozhin and “necessary measures” are being taken, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, the Interfax news service reported.
There was no immediate sign of Wagner mobilizing to carry out Prigozhin’s threat, which marked the most dramatic escalation in the long-running battle between the mercenary leader and Russia’s defense establishment.
He has accused Shoigu and the Defense Ministry for months of failing to adequately support Wagner forces fighting in Ukraine, particularly during battles for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
The National Anti-Terrorism Committee called on Prigozhin to stop illegal actions and said the Federal Security Service was investigating his comments, state-run Tass news service reported.
Earlier Friday, Prigozhin posted a video on Telegram accusing the Defense Ministry of “deceiving” Russians and Putin about the war as he challenged Kremlin justifications for the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
The war wasn’t required to save Russian citizens “or to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine,” but to allow “a bunch of scumbags” in the Defense Ministry to claim medals and promotions, Prigozhin said.