A screenshot captured from a video shows Russian President Vladimir Putin making a statement amid escalating tensions between the Kremlin and the head of the Wagner paramilitary group in Moscow on June 24, 2023.
Kremlin Press Office| Brochure | Anadolu Agency | fake images
Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to punish all those involved in the “armed rebellion” and accused them of treason.
In a televised speech on Saturday morning, Putin appealed to those who “by deceit or threats were drawn into a criminal adventure, pushed onto the path of a serious crime: armed rebellion.”
His comments come after Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the mercenary Wagner Group, accused the Kremlin of deliberately bombing Wagner’s troops. Russia’s Defense Ministry has denied the allegations, calling Prigozhin’s comments an “informative provocation”. The mercenary boss had also claimed that Russia’s justification for invading Ukraine was based on lies.
Putin characterized the unprovoked war in Ukraine as a fight for Russia’s future, an effort he said requires unity among his forces. The Russian leader said: “I repeat, any internal turmoil is a deadly threat to our state, to us as a nation.”
“We will protect both our people and our state from any threat, including internal betrayal,” Putin said. “And what we are dealing with is precisely a betrayal. Exorbitant ambitions and personal interests led to the betrayal.”
Prigozhin later responded, saying Putin was “deeply wrong” and Wagner’s forces were “patriotic,” according to an NBC News translation of his comments.
“Regarding treason, the president is deeply mistaken. We are patriots of our Motherland,” he said. “We are and have been at war and no one is going to submit by order of the FSB, the president or another, because we do not want our country to live more in corruption, deceit and bureaucracy.”
He also accused Russian bureaucrats of corruption and hoarding arms and money for themselves, “for the occasion that is happening today when someone is marching on Moscow.”
Putin also described the situation in Rostov-on-Don, a city in southwestern Russia near Ukraine, as difficult, but said he would seek to stabilize the situation there.
Prigozhin has claimed that he and his mercenary forces have seized control of the city, a key logistics center for Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine. CNBC has not verified the claims. Wagner’s boss has demanded that Russian senior general Valery Gerasimov and the defense minister meet him in Rostov.
The UK Ministry of Defense characterized this dispute between Wagner and Moscow as “the most important challenge to the Russian state in recent times”, adding that it has “turned into an open military confrontationThe ministry said that the loyalty of the Russian forces is crucial for the outcome of this situation. He noted that there was little evidence that the Russian forces fought with the mercenary troops, even remaining “passive” or “consenting” in some cases.
Putin’s promise to hold those who organized the rebellion to account for their actions marks a sharp divide for Prigozhin, once one of the president’s oldest supporters. Even as tensions rose between the paramilitary leader and top defense officials, Prigozhin was careful not to direct his criticism at the Kremlin and Putin.
Russia has relied heavily on the mercenary group in its war, but a rift has grown between the Moscow and Wagner fighters. Prigozhin previously complained that his forces had received only a fraction of the ammunition deliveries that had been requested. He has also criticized the strategy of defense officials in Ukraine.
The mercenary rebellion comes as Ukraine moves away from Russian-occupied territory in its counteroffensive efforts. The fighting has intensified, but kyiv’s efforts have produced only limited gains so far.
— CNBC’s Holly Ellyatt and NBC News contributed reporting.