Moscow, June 24 (EFE).- The head of Russian mercenary group PMC Wagner that has rebelled against the defense ministry, Yevgeny Prigozhin, on Saturday claimed to have seized control of the army headquarters in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don.
“We are inside the (army) headquarters, it is 7:30 am (04:30 GMT). Military sites in Rostov, including an aerodrome, are under control,” the Wagner chief said in a video on Telegram.
He claimed that warplanes were flying normally from the base for combat missions, and that the only thing they were blocking was the possibility of fighter jets bombing the Wagner units.
The Wagner chief claimed that he had confirmed that a “large part of territory” had been lost by the Russian side in the Ukraine conflict and “three to four times” more Russian soldiers had been killed than documented by the government.
Prigozhin said that Russian military’s chief of general staff Valery Gerasimov, who he had declared as one of the targets of the rebellion along with the defense minister, had fled the Rostov military HQ as Wagner forces approached.
Earlier on Saturday, the head of the mercenary force had claimed that they had shot down a Russian military chopper attempting to attack them.
In an extraordinary development late on Friday, Prigozhin claimed that his troops had been attacked in a missile strike by the defense ministry and went on a tirade against the military establishment, blaming it for the death of Russian soldiers during the war and vowing to punish the leadership.
He later claimed that his forces had crossed the Ukrainian border into Russia and were on the move in what he called a “march of justice” and not a coup.
Soon after, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) announced that it was opening a criminal case against the Wagner chief for inciting rebellion.
“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 FSB press office said.
The FSB went on to denounce the claims about Russian army missiles strikes on Wagner PMC units as false and an “informational provocation,” while calling on the mercenaries to not comply with Prigozhin’s orders.
Prigozhin has insisted that Wagner had no conflict with anyone except the “criminals” who he were responsible for the death of “nearly 100,000 Russian soldiers”: Russian defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Gerasimov.
Later, the Russian defense ministry urged the rebel Wagner soldiers to return to their barracks and offered security to those complying with the directive.
“You have been deceived and dragged into the criminal adventure” of Prigozhin and into participating in an armed rebellion, the ministry said in a Telegram statement.
It claimed that many of the mercenaries had already realized their mistake and sought help in returning to their areas of permanent deployment, adding that this help had been provided.
Meanwhile Rostov governor Vasily Golubev warned residents of the area to remain indoors.
Armored vehicles had been deployed in Rostov-on-Don before the news of Wagner taking over the army HQ trickled in.
Security forces have blocked the main road out of regional capital Rostov-on-Don, with media reporting the deployment of armored vehicles.
Russian social media platform VKontakte blocked the page of Prigozhin, where the audios declaring the rebellion against the Russian defense ministry had been posted. EFE