On Friday evening, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) opened a criminal case against Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group mercenary force, after he accused the Russian military of targeting his forces, and then vowed to destroy his rivals. The Wall Street Journal reported that an arrest warrant had been issued for Prigozhin, as he claimed his forces were heading toward Rostov-on-Don, which is home to the Russian military headquarters for the south region. It also oversees the fighting in Ukraine.
Via the Telegram social messaging app, Prigozhin published his claims that the Russian Army forces hit his private military contractors (PMCs) with airstrikes, and he called for his supporters to rise up against the national government in Moscow.
“This is not a military coup, but a march of justice,” Prigozhin declared via Telegram.
“The evil embodied by the country’s military leadership must be stopped,” he added and accused Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu of ordering the rocket strike on Wagner Group field camps. “This scum will be stopped.”
The Kremlin Fires Back
The Kremlin has denied launching a strike on the mercenary unit but also said that for his actions, a criminal case was initiated. The Kremlin called it justified. Prigozhin could face between 12 and 20 years in prison, as the National Antiterrorism Committee announced that Prigozhin’s statements became grounds for initiation of the criminal case over charges of calls for an armed mutiny.
“Prigozhin’s statements and actions effectively constitute calls for an armed civil conflict on Russian territory and a stab in the back of Russian servicemen fighting with pro-Nazi Ukrainian forces,” the press office of the National Antiterrorism Committee said via a media statement.
The Situation in the Capital
Moscow has been taking the threat very seriously, with National Guard and riot police sent to provide security around key facilities in Moscow, including transport infrastructure and government agencies. However, it has also been reported that it was very much a typical Friday evening in Moscow, as bars and restaurants were filled with customers.
Additional reports suggest that there have been police checkpoints set up on Russia’s M-4 highway, and some cars have been turned back.
Prigozhin is reported to have as many as 25,000 troops under his command.
The Disorganization is Aiding Ukraine
Russian state media also made claims that Kyiv is now exploiting the provocation from the head of the Wagner Group, and has concentrated forces for an offensive near the city of Bakhmut, which was only captured by the mercenary unit just weeks ago.
“Taking advantage of Prigozhin’s provocation on disorganization of the situation, the Kiev regime is concentrating forces of 35th and 36th Marine Brigades on the Bakhmut tactical direction for offensive action,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said in the early hours of Saturday morning local time.
Did Progozhin Overplay His Hand?
So far it has mostly been saber-rattling on the part of the mercenary chief, but it is unclear if he can win wider support within the Russian military. For now, it could be a showdown between the Wagner Group and the FSB – but the mercenaries may be outmatched.
“It appears that Prigozhin has crossed the line in his fight with the Russian security bureaucracy. The FSB, Russian domestic security service has opened a criminal investigation into Prigozhin, following his calling for a military rebellion, according to the National Counter-terrorism committee,” said Rebekah Koffler, a Russian-born former Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) intelligence officer, who also told Fox News Digital that it may appear the Wagner Group chief has gone too far in a fight with the FSB.
“This has to be a major headache for Putin now,” Koffler added, and suggested the world is likely watching the situation very closely. “The Pentagon ought to be watching this potential crisis very carefully. President Biden, who just a few days ago re-stated that the threat of Russia unleashing a Nuclear Armageddon is real, must think carefully how to react to this one. He suggested a strategic defeat of Russia would be a good thing. He should really think of the consequences of such a scenario.”
A Russian Civil War – Historical Context
It should be noted that this month marked the 100th anniversary of the end of the Russian Civil War, which began with the February Revolution in 1917 that toppled the centuries-old monarchy. That was followed by the October Revolution later that year, in which the Bolsheviks overthrew the provisional government, beginning nearly six years of civil war.
The conflict cost tens of millions of lives.
A great danger is that today Russia maintains the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, and the Kremlin could go to great lengths to hold onto power. It has also been speculated for weeks that Russian President Vladimir Putin could face a coup due to the failures in Ukraine.
This is a developing story.
Author Experience and Expertise:
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.