Russia's main intelligence service has declared Yevgeny Prigozhin a “foreign agent” CREDIT: Handout/Telegram/Concordgroup_official/AFP via Getty Images

Wagner chief launches coup against the Kremlin

Russian soldiers put on high alert after Yevgeny Prigozhin accuses military of bombing his fighters and vows to stop the leadership’s ‘evil’

By James Kilner

Russia’s main intelligence service has declared Yevgeny Prigozhin a “foreign agent” CREDIT: Handout/Telegram/Concordgroup_official/AFP via Getty Images

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner mercenary leader, has launched a coup against the Kremlin after he accused the Russian military of shelling his fighters.

Russian soldiers across the country were put on high alert on Friday night after Prigozhin said that he had 25,000 men ready to fight.

He said: “The commanders’ council of the Wagner Private Military Company has reached a decision.

“The evil that the country’s military leadership perpetuates must be stopped.”

The FSB, Russia’s main intelligence service, said that it had opened a criminal case against Prigozhin, once considered one of Vladimir Putin’s most trusted fixers, and declared him to be a “foreign agent”.

In the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, said that the Russian leader was aware of “the situation around Prigozhin”.

Later reports said that Putin’s motorcade was seen speeding through Moscow to the Kremlin from his residence in the suburbs of the capital. 

News reports also said that an emergency plan called “krepost”, or fortress, had deployed Russian soldiers around the capital and to strategic locations.

In Rostov, a large city in the south of Russia that the Russian top military command have been using as their base, armoured personnel carriers were seen guarding street corners.

Prigozhin is a fierce critic of Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s Defence Minister, and Valery Gerasimov, the head of the military.

He said that he wanted to avenge the ordinary Russian soldiers who have been killed by incompetent leadership since the start of the invasion of Ukraine last February.

Russia has lost an estimated 220,000 men in the war.

“Everyone who tries to resist, we will consider them a danger and destroy them immediately, including any checkpoints on our way,” Prigozhin said in one of several voice messages he posted on the Telegram messaging app.

He did not give his location.

“There are 25,000 of us and we are going to figure out what this chaos is happening in the country,” he said in a later update.

“Anyone who wants to join can. We need to end this mess.”

Prigozhin has been highly visible in Russia’s regions over the past few weeks since withdrawing from the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine where his forces captured the town of Bakhmut.

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