Crisis in Russia

A long-running feud over the invasion of Ukraine between the Russian military and Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s private Wagner military group, escalated into an open confrontation over the past day.

Prigozhin accused Russia of attacking his soldiers and appeared to challenge one of President Vladimir Putin’s main justifications for the war, and Russian generals in turn accused him of trying to mount a coup against Putin.

Prigozhin (pronounced pree-GOH-zhin) claimed he had control of Russia’s southern military headquarters in the city of Rostov-on-Don, near the front lines of the war in Ukraine where his fighters had been operating. Video showed him entering the headquarters’ courtyard.

Prigozhin's moves set up the biggest challenge to Putin’s authority since he invaded of Ukraine early last year. Putin promised “decisive actions,” and Russian security forces scrambled to regain control in the country’s south.

Events unfolded rapidly:

Prigozhin stepped up his criticisms of the Russian military in videos posted to social media yesterday. He said Russian troops had attacked Wagner encampments and killed “a huge number of fighters.” His claims could not be verified, but he promised to bring soldiers into Russia in retaliation.

Troops widely believed to be Wagner forces surrounded the military headquarters in Rostov, and tanks drove down the city’s streets, videos showed. Soldiers were also seen in other key places, like the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the region.

Signs of active fighting were also visible near the western Russian city of Voronezh, according to videos posted online, including helicopters and a destroyed truck along the road. Reports said that Wagner fighters had entered the region.

Prigozhin declared that his forces were headed to Moscow. “We are going farther,” he said. “We will go to the end.”

Russia military armored vehicles were deployed on the streets of Moscow and in Rostov-on-Don, and Russia was moving convoys of military equipment on a major highway linking the two cities.

Russian security forces appeared to have also raided a Wagner building in St. Petersburg.

Putin vowed “to stabilize the situation in Rostov-on-Don.” He also called Wagner’s actions a treasonous, armed rebellion. Prigozhin rejected the allegations.

The key figures

Prigozhin: Though he has complained for months about Russia’s military brass, his accusations were a significant turnabout. Prigozhin is a businessman who became rich through his ties to Putin, winning lucrative government contracts while building the Wagner mercenary force. (Read more about him from The Times’s Moscow bureau chief, Anton Troianovski.)

Putin: His quick public address was a sign of the seriousness of the situation. He prefers to exert power behind the scenes until the outcome is clear, The Times’s Steven Lee Myers wrote. Putin also acknowledged some success by Prigozhin, saying that the functioning of Rostov, a city of a million people, had “essentially been blocked.”

The generals: Prigozhin's feud with the Russian generals grew out of the battle for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which his forces led on the Russian side. He accused the defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, and the country’s most senior general, Valery Gerasimov, of treason. He said they deliberately withheld ammunition and supplies from Wagner while their troops failed repeatedly in the war.

Ukraine: “Russia’s weakness is obvious,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said. But his country was still mired in violence. Russian forces fired more than 20 missiles at Kyiv this morning, killing at least three people.

What’s next

The British military described the crisis as the “most significant challenge to the Russian state in recent times” and said: “Over the coming hours, the loyalty of Russia’s security forces, and especially the Russian National Guard, will be key to how the crisis plays out.”

More Russia news

Here’s what we know so far.

Putin struck a tough tone in his address.

Follow our live updates.


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