Russian Generals late Friday accused mercenary Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin of attempting to mount a coup against President Vladimir Putin.
A months-long feud between Prigozhin and Moscow over how to wage the war in Ukraine has apparently escalated into open confrontation.
Social media was peppered Friday evening with videos of military vehicles deployed on the streets of Moscow and the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don near the Ukraininan front lines.
“Military police convoy driving towards Ministry of Defense in Moscow,” tweeted Anton Gerashchenko, advisor to Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs, along with video of what appeared to be military vehicles on the evening streets.
Gerashchenko further gave updates on what he said was happening on Russian state media, claiming that emergency broadcasts cut into regular programming, and broadcasters insisted that claims made by Prigozhin were false—there had been no military strike on the Wagner group.
In a series of social media posts, Prigozhin accused the Russian military of attacking his Wagner mercenary forces and stated that they would retaliate. Russian authorities then accused Prigozhin of trying to foment a revolt.
On Friday evening around 9pm local time, Prigozhin posted on the social media site Telegram, “The evil borne by the country’s military leadership must be stopped.” He accused Moscow of misleading the Russian people about the reason behind the invasion of Ukraine in February, 2022.
He added, “There’s 25,000 of us, and we are going to figure out why chaos is happening in the country.”
Though he said his mercenaries had crossed over into Ukraine—where they’re supposed to be fighting alongside Russian forces—and that they were marching toward Rostov, he denied that his actions were a military coup.
“This is a march for justice,” he said in a separate Telegram post. “Our actions aren’t interfering with the troops in any way.”
At roughly midnight Moscow time, Russia’s prosecutor general announced that Prigozhin was under investigation “on suspicion of organizing an armed rebellion” and he would face up to 20 years in prison if he was prosecuted.
Prigozhin, who is known as “Putin’s Chef” for his close ties to the Russian President and his role as a caterer to the Kremlin, is also known for making outrageous and unreliable statements—particularly in recent months as his mercenaries came under brutal fighting in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
In early May, in one expletive-laden tirade where he stood among dead bodies, Prigozhin threatened to pull out of Bakhmut while complaining of ammunition shortages and saying that his troops were “doomed to a senseless death.”
It wasn’t until weeks later, however, that he handed over Bakhmut to the regular Russian army in an apparently orderly fashion.
President Biden has been briefed on the situation between Prigozhin and the Russian authorities, according to the White House.