Wagner’s owner, who called for an armed rebellion to oust Russia’s defense minister, said his soldiers reached Rostov-on-Don in a video.
The city houses Russian Ukraine combat headquarters.
Yevgeny Prigozhin stated early Saturday that his forces infiltrated Russia from Ukraine, where they were crucial to the war. The social media footage showed him in Rostov and that his soldiers “aren’t fighting against children.”
“But we will destroy anyone who stands in our way,” he said in one of many furious social media videos and audio recordings released late Friday. “We’ll continue.”
Late Friday, the Defense Ministry attacked his Ukrainian field camps.
He said General Staff head Gen. Valery Gerasimov ordered planes to hit Wagner’s convoys, which were traveling with civilian automobiles. Prigozhin said his forces shot down a Russian military helicopter that fired on a civilian convoy, but there was no proof.
Russian social media did not corroborate Prigozhin’s Wagner convoys entering Rostov-on-Don. Online footage showed heavy equipment, including tanks, on the streets and soldiers taking positions, although Wagner’s or the military’s command was unclear. Heavy trucks and National Guard convoys previously blocked city highways.
The governor of Voronezh, north, advised residents to stay off the main route due to a military column.
Prigozhin said Gerasimov ordered rockets, helicopter gunships, and artillery to attack Wagner field camps in Ukraine after meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
Wagner soldiers captured Bakhmut, the bloodiest and longest battleground, helping Russia win the Ukraine conflict. Prigozhin routinely accuses Russia’s military leadership of incompetence and depriving his forces of firearms and ammo.
This is not a military coup, but a march of justice
The FSB’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee charged him with instigating an armed rebellion, punishable by 20 years in prison.
FSB encouraged Wagner’s contract forces to arrest Prigozhin and disobey his “criminal and treacherous orders.” His “stab in the back to Russian troops” incited conflict, it said.
Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesperson, said Putin was informed and “all the necessary measures” were taken.
Heavy military trucks and armored vehicles were seen in various central Moscow areas early Saturday. Troops with assault rifles were stationed outside the Defense Ministry. Red Square’s presidential administration was congested.
Downtown bars and eateries were filled despite military presence. Outside an FSB-area tavern, people danced.
Moscow’s mayor announced counterterrorism measures Saturday morning, including traffic control and possible public assembly restrictions.
Prigozhin, who has long battled the Defense Ministry, refused to sign contracts until July 1. “They treacherously cheated us,” he continued late Friday.
“Today they rocketed our rear camps and killed many of our comrades,” he said. Defense Ministry denied Wagner camp assaults.
Prigozhin said that Shoigu “cowardly” ordered the Rostov-on-Don military headquarters attack.
“Stop military leadership evil,” he yelled.
Col. Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the deputy commander of Russia’s forces in Ukraine, cautioned Wagner forces not to assault the army because Russia’s opponents are “waiting to see the exacerbation of our domestic political situation.”
Tatiana Stanovaya predicted Prigozhin’s doom.
She tweeted that governmental involvement is irrevocable. Wagner and Prigozhin leave. Absolute obliteration depends solely on Wagner group resistance. Surovikin mediated their surrender. Confrontation seems pointless.”
Top military officer Lt. Gen. Vladimir Alexeyev labeled Prigozhin’s choice “madness” that threatens civil war.
Only Russia’s enemies could stage such a provocation
“Prigozhin’s provocation” prompted Ukraine to mobilize troops for an operation on Bakhmut, according to the Defense Ministry. It alleged Russian artillery and bombers targeted Ukrainian forces planning an offensive.
The Institute for the Study of War in Washington stated, “Prigozhin fully intends for Wagner to move against MoD leadership and forcibly remove them from power, more likely against the Southern Military District command in Rostov-on-Don but possibly also against Moscow.”
“The violent overthrow of Putin loyalists like Shoigu and Gerasimov would irreparably damage Putin’s perceived hold on power,” it stated.
“We are monitoring the situation and will consult with allies and partners on these developments,” said White House National Security Council Adam Hodge.
“A desperate act, though much depends on whether Prigozhin is alone, or if others that matter join him,” tweeted Arlington, Virginia-based CAN research group head of Russia Studies Michael Kofman. Wagner and him won’t benefit.”
Serhii Popko, the commander of Kyiv’s military administration, reported on Telegram that a Russian missile attack killed two and injured eight Saturday when falling debris caused a 24-story apartment building in a critical region to catch fire.
He destroyed 20 rockets. The photograph showed ash and debris in the parking lot after a top-story fire.
In other war news, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that Russia may target a seized nuclear power facility, causing a radioactive calamity.
His government warned international authorities of the threat to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, whose six reactors had been shut down for months. Zelenskyy foresaw other nations “giving appropriate signals and exerting pressure” on Moscow.
Russia denies threatening the plant.
Last year, Russian troops invaded Ukraine and captured Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, raising the potential of a deadly radiation release. The director of the U.N. atomic energy agency spent months trying to negotiate a safety border to protect the facility from shelling, but he failed.
The International Atomic Energy Agency warned Thursday that “the military situation has become increasingly tense” amid a Ukrainian counteroffensive that began this month in Zaporizhzhia province, where the plant is located, and an adjacent portion of Donetsk province.