- By Christy Cooney & Rebecca Seales
- BBC news
The head of Russia’s mercenary group Wagner has vowed to “do whatever it takes” to overthrow Russia’s military leadership, hours after the Kremlin accused him of “armed rebellion”.
Yevgeny Prigozhin said his Wagner fighters crossed the border from Ukraine into Russia, entering the city of Rostov-on-Don.
Mr. Prigozhin said his men would destroy anyone who stood in their way.
The local governor urged people there to stay calm and stay indoors.
Prigozhin claimed that his forces shot down a Russian military helicopter that “opened fire on a civilian convoy”. He did not give the location and the claim could not be immediately verified.
The Wagner Corporation is a private mercenary army that has fought alongside Russian regular troops in Ukraine.
Tensions have grown between them over how the war was played out, with Mr Prigozhin making sharp criticisms of Russia’s military leadership in recent months.
On Friday, the 62-year-old mercenary leader accused the army of launching a deadly missile attack on his troops and vowed to punish them. He did not provide evidence.
Authorities denied the strike and asked him to stop his “illegal actions”.
Mr Prigozhin said “evil” in Russia’s military leadership must be stopped and vowed to “march for justice”.
“Those who killed our boys, and tens of thousands of Russian soldiers’ lives [in the war in Ukraine] will be punished,” he said in an audio message posted to social media platform Telegram.
“I ask you not to resist. Anyone who does so will be considered a threat and destroyed. That applies to any checkpoints and airspace on our way.
“The powers of the president, the government, the police and the Russian security forces will operate as usual.
“This is not a military coup, but a march of justice. Our actions do not interfere with the military in any way.”
His spokesman said Russian President Vladimir Putin is receiving 24-hour updates on the situation.
Russia’s state news agency TASS said that security in Moscow was beefed up Friday night at prime locations in Moscow, including government buildings and transport facilities.
The governor of the Lipetsk region of Russia also asked residents not to go south.
Lipetsk is about 280 km northeast of the nearest Ukrainian border and more than 500 km north of Rostov.
Writing on Telegram, Igor Artamonov said security measures in the region are being tightened, with a particular focus on protecting critical infrastructure.
The White House said it was monitoring the situation and would consult with US allies.
General Sergei Surovikin, the deputy commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, whom Prigozhin once praised for his leadership, called on him to “stop the convoys and bring them back to base”.
“We share the same blood, we are warriors,” he said in a video. “You must not play into the hands of the enemy at a difficult time for our country.”
Another senior commander, Lieutenant General Vladimir Alekseyev, described Wagner’s actions as “stabbing the country and the president in the back”.
Russian state media reported that the FSB, Russia’s security agency, had opened a criminal case against Prigozhin, accusing him of “calling for armed rebellion” and of plotting to incite armed conflict. affairs in Russia.
The FSB is also said to have called on Wagner fighters to disobey his orders and take steps to arrest him.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that “all reports by Prigozhin circulating on social networks” about Russian attacks on the Wagner camps are “not true and are a propaganda provocation.” believe”.
It comes after a video message in May in which Mr Prigozhin stood among the bodies of his troops and berated Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu – as well as Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov – for failing to provide enough ammunition for them.
On Friday, he announced that the war in Ukraine had begun “so that Shoigu could become Marshal”.
“The Department of Defense is trying to deceive the public, deceive the president and tell a story that Ukraine had a crazy invasion, that – along with the whole of NATO – Ukraine is planning an attack on us.” , he said.