Putin Warns of Civil War as Wagner Mercenaries Launch Rebellion

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In a dramatic turn of events, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a dire warning on Saturday, cautioning that a rebellion by the Wagner mercenary group poses a grave threat of civil war in Russia. The country's military swiftly responded by initiating an operation to quell the mutiny.

This uprising marks the most significant challenge to Putin's longstanding rule and represents a critical security crisis for Russia since he assumed power in the late 1990s. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of Wagner and formerly a close ally of Putin, declared that his forces had seized control of the military command center and bases in Rostov-on-Don, a crucial city in Russia's offensive in Ukraine. He vowed to overthrow the top military leaders in Moscow.

As tensions escalated, the governor of Russia's Voronezh region announced that a "counter-terrorist operation" had been launched to suppress the revolt, as Wagner's potential route toward Moscow raised concerns. Reports indicated that a fuel depot in Voronezh city was ablaze.

The FSB security service accused Prigozhin of instigating a "civil conflict" and urged Wagner fighters to apprehend him. In response, Putin, in a televised address, condemned Prigozhin's betrayal, labeling it a threat to Russia's survival. The president emphasized the need for unity in the face of this internal turmoil, stating that the battle to determine the fate of the nation required the consolidation of all forces.

Putin vowed that all those who engaged in armed rebellion, blackmail, and terrorist methods would face inevitable punishment under the law and before the Russian people. He attributed the treachery to Prigozhin's extravagant ambitions and personal interests, highlighting the leader's rise from a catering contractor for the Kremlin to commanding a private military force.

Shortly after Putin's speech, Prigozhin retaliated, asserting that he and his followers were patriots of their motherland and dismissing the notion of surrendering to the president or the FSB. Meanwhile, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, closely monitoring the events unfolding in Russia as his forces executed a counteroffensive, remarked on the weakness exhibited by Russia. He underscored Ukraine's ability to protect Europe from the spread of Russian chaos and emphasized that the longer Russian troops and mercenaries remained on Ukrainian soil, the greater the problems Russia would face in the future.

Images captured armed individuals surrounding administrative buildings in Rostov, alongside tanks deployed in the city center, although their identities remained unclear. In response to the developing situation, the mayor of Moscow announced anti-terrorist measures, while authorities tightened security in multiple regions. Critical facilities were placed under reinforced protection.

The prosecutor general informed Putin of the initiation of a criminal case related to the attempted organization of an armed rebellion. The Russian Defense Ministry warned that Ukrainian troops were exploiting the internal conflict to prepare an assault near Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

While Prigozhin's Wagner group played a prominent role in Russia's offensive in Ukraine, recent months witnessed an acrimonious feud between the mercenary outfit and Moscow's military leadership. Prigozhin blamed Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov for the deaths of his fighters.

As the situation unfolded, the Institute for the Study of War, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., stated that Prigozhin's attempt to change the leadership in the defense ministry was unlikely to succeed, given the denouncement by General Sergei Surovikin, commander of Russia's aerospace forces. However, the capture of Rostov-on-Don by Wagner would have significant repercussions on Russia's war effort in Ukraine, the institute warned.

The United States President Joe Biden received a briefing on the situation in Russia, and the National Security Council announced consultations with allies and partners regarding the unfolding developments. France and Germany closely monitored the events, while Italy advised its citizens in Russia to exercise caution. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appealed to all parties to spare civilian lives.

Meanwhile, Russia's Orthodox leader, Patriarch Kirill, emphasized the importance of unity in the face of the rebellion, lending his support to President Putin's efforts to prevent turmoil in the country. The patriarch condemned any attempt to sow discord, describing it as an unjustifiable crime while acknowledging the sacrifice of Russian soldiers on the frontlines.

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