Russian Security Agency Accuses Wagner Leader of Inciting 'Internal Conflict'

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Russian authorities have leveled serious allegations against the head of the Wagner mercenary group, accusing him of deliberately instigating a "civil conflict" and urging for his immediate detention. The Federal Security Service (FSB) launched an investigation following Yevgeny Prigozhin's accusations that Moscow had orchestrated deadly missile strikes against his forces in retaliation. Prigozhin, aged 62, boldly called on Russians to join his ranks and take action against the military leadership, marking an audacious challenge to President Vladimir Putin since the start of the Ukrainian offensive last year.

The FSB issued a statement categorizing Prigozhin's statements and actions as an open call for armed conflict within Russian territory and an act of betrayal towards Russian servicemen engaged in combat against Ukrainian forces. Urging Wagner fighters to take immediate action and apprehend Prigozhin, the FSB emphasized that his behavior cannot go unpunished. Meanwhile, the Kremlin announced that President Putin had been briefed on the situation and assured that necessary measures were being implemented.

While Prigozhin's private military group, Wagner, has been instrumental in Russia's offensive operations in Ukraine, the leader has found himself entangled in a bitter feud with Moscow's military leadership in recent months. He alleges that this feud has now spilled over onto the battlefield, with Russia's military conducting missile strikes on their own rear camps, resulting in a significant number of casualties among their ranks. Prigozhin's spokespersons released furious audio messages where he passionately called for an end to the military leadership's malevolence and sought justice for the fallen fighters.

Prigozhin issued a warning to those who would oppose his forces, stating that any resistance would be perceived as a threat and dealt with accordingly. He further emphasized his desire to halt the chaos and clarified that his movement was not a military coup but a march towards justice. However, he did not disclose the exact location of the alleged strikes or the number of casualties, and the claims could not be independently verified by AFP.

Prigozhin has consistently blamed Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov for the deaths suffered by his fighters in the battlefield. In response, the Russian Defense Ministry dismissed Prigozhin's claims as baseless and characterized them as a deliberate provocation. They affirmed that the Russian armed forces continue to carry out their missions in Ukraine, vehemently denying any attack on Prigozhin's forces. The Defense Ministry further suggested that Ukrainian troops were exploiting the internal discord in Russia to prepare for an assault near the hotspot of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

Notably, a prominent Russian general, Sergei Surovikin, took the unusual step of addressing Prigozhin directly through a video message, urging him to abandon his efforts to remove Moscow's defense ministry leadership. Surovikin warned about the enemy's anticipation of worsening internal political conditions in Russia and stressed the importance of obeying the will and orders of the popularly elected President of the Russian Federation.

The Ukrainian defense ministry expressed interest in the infighting within Moscow, closely monitoring the situation. Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine's military intelligence chief, commented that rival factions in Russia were turning against each other in pursuit of power and wealth. Meanwhile, Prigozhin contradicted President Putin's account of the situation in Ukraine, claiming that Russian forces were retreating in the east and south, contradicting the narrative of "catastrophic" losses and a lull in fighting.

This recent escalation sheds light on Prigozhin's secretive Wagner mercenary group, which he now openly admits to leading. Notably, he acknowledged interfering in US elections as well. Prigozhin's forces, augmented by thousands of prison recruits, played a crucial role in Russia's capture of the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk, the most protracted and bloodiest battle of the conflict. However, he has now accused Moscow's top brass of deceiving the Russian public regarding the offensive in Ukraine, arguing that the war served the self-interests of a group of individuals.

The rise of Prigozhin, a highly controversial figure, within the Russian political landscape under Putin's rule is remarkable. He transitioned from a modest background to becoming a part of Putin's inner circle. After serving a nine-year prison sentence for fraud and theft during the final years of the USSR, Prigozhin ventured into various businesses, starting with a hot dog-selling enterprise during the tumultuous 1990s. Eventually, he entered the restaurant industry and established a luxurious establishment in Saint Petersburg, frequented by Putin himself during his transition from the KGB to local politics. Prigozhin's catering company even had the honor of working for the Kremlin, earning him the nickname "Putin's chef."

However, in recent months, Prigozhin has found himself embroiled in a bitter power struggle with the defense ministry, accusing the Russian military of attempting to usurp his victories in Ukraine and criticizing Moscow's sluggish bureaucracy for hindering military progress. Wagner's presence has been reported in various conflict zones, including Syria, Libya, Mali, and the Central African Republic, where the group has faced allegations of human rights abuses and attempting to seize power.

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