Head of Mercenary Group Urges Armed Rebellion in Russia

by Ryan Lee
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On Friday, the leader of the private military contractor known as Wagner made a public call for an armed rebellion in Russia, with the aim of removing the country’s defense minister from power. In response, Russian security services promptly initiated a criminal investigation into Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner.

Prigozhin has been highly critical of Russia’s military leadership, particularly regarding their handling of the conflict in Ukraine. He has a longstanding feud with the Defense Ministry and has openly expressed his dissatisfaction with their actions. Notably, he accused Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu of ordering a rocket strike on Wagner’s field camps in Ukraine, where his troops are fighting on behalf of Russia. Prigozhin declared that his forces would retaliate against Shoigu through an armed rebellion, urging the army not to resist.

The Defense Ministry vehemently denied any involvement in the alleged rocket attack. Consequently, the National Anti-Terrorism Committee, a division of the Federal Security Services (FSB), launched an investigation into Prigozhin for inciting an armed rebellion. The FSB called upon Wagner’s contract soldiers to apprehend Prigozhin and refuse to comply with his “criminal and treacherous orders.” They condemned his statements as a betrayal of Russian troops and accused him of instigating armed conflict within Russia.

Amid these developments, riot police and the National Guard have been deployed to bolster security at critical facilities in Moscow, including government agencies and transportation infrastructure.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, 62 years old, has a complex background. He has a criminal record, having been convicted of robbery and assault in 1981, resulting in a 12-year prison sentence. After his release, he ventured into the restaurant business in St. Petersburg during the 1990s. It was during this period that he forged a connection with Vladimir Putin, who was then the city’s deputy mayor. Leveraging this connection, Prigozhin established a catering business and secured lucrative government contracts, earning him the moniker “Putin’s chef.” Over time, he expanded his interests to include media ventures and an infamous internet “troll factory,” leading to his indictment in the United States for interference in the 2016 presidential election. In January, Prigozhin openly admitted to founding, leading, and financing the enigmatic Wagner company.

Wagner first emerged in eastern Ukraine shortly after the outbreak of the separatist conflict in April 2014, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. While Russia denied direct military involvement in the region, Wagner operated as a private contractor, allowing Moscow to maintain plausible deniability. Notorious for their brutality, Wagner personnel have also been deployed to Syria, where they supported President Bashar Assad’s government, and fought alongside the forces of commander Khalifa Hifter in Libya. The group has conducted operations in other countries, including the Central African Republic and Mali. Prigozhin has reportedly exploited Wagner’s deployments to secure lucrative mining contracts, particularly in Africa, and there have been allegations linking the group to the unsolved killings of Russian journalists in the Central African Republic in 2018.

Wagner’s reputation has been marred by allegations of human rights abuses throughout Africa, including torture, extrajudicial killings, and destabilizing activities. The European Union, as well as U.N. experts, have accused the group of serious human rights violations in various countries. Several videos have emerged showing purported Wagner contractors engaging in gruesome acts, contributing to their fearsome reputation. Russian authorities have largely ignored calls for investigations into these incidents.

Wagner’s significance in the Ukrainian conflict has grown as regular Russian troops faced setbacks and heavy casualties. Prigozhin personally recruited fighters from Russian prisons, promising pardons upon completion of a six-month tour of duty with Wagner. In May, he claimed credit for capturing the salt-mining town of Soledar in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, accusing the Russian Defense Ministry of attempting to steal Wagner’s achievements. He has frequently criticized the Russian military leadership, including Defense Minister Shoigu, for alleged incompetence. Prigozhin’s criticisms, unheard of in Russia’s tightly controlled political system, have raised eyebrows and prompted speculation about internal power struggles. The U.S. estimates that Wagner had approximately 50,000 personnel engaged in the Ukrainian conflict, consisting of both contractors and convicts. It is believed that nearly half of the 20,000 Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine since December were affiliated with Wagner. The group reportedly spends around $100 million per month on its operations. In December, the United States accused North Korea of violating U.N. Security Council resolutions by supplying weapons to Wagner. Both Wagner and North Korea denied the allegations.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about armed rebellion

Who is calling for an armed rebellion in Russia?

The head of the private military contractor Wagner is calling for an armed rebellion in Russia. His name is Yevgeny Prigozhin.

What led to the criminal investigation into Yevgeny Prigozhin?

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of Wagner, made public statements urging an armed rebellion and accusing the Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu of ordering a rocket strike on Wagner’s field camps in Ukraine. These statements prompted a criminal investigation into Prigozhin’s actions.

What is the reputation of Wagner and its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin?

Wagner, the private military contractor, has faced allegations of human rights abuses in various countries, including Central African Republic, Libya, and Mali. Yevgeny Prigozhin, its leader, has a controversial background and has been involved in multiple ventures, including a catering business and an internet “troll factory.” He has also faced indictments in the United States for interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Where has Wagner operated besides Ukraine?

Wagner has been involved in conflicts in Syria, fighting alongside President Bashar Assad’s government forces, and has also conducted operations in Libya, the Central African Republic, and Mali. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of Wagner, has reportedly used deployments to these countries to secure lucrative mining contracts.

What is the response of the Russian government to the situation?

The Russian security services immediately opened a criminal investigation into Yevgeny Prigozhin’s actions. The Federal Security Services (FSB) condemned his statements, calling them a betrayal of Russian troops and an attempt to incite armed conflict within Russia. Security measures have been heightened in Moscow, with riot police and the National Guard deployed to key facilities.

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