Wagner rebellion 'stab in the back' to Russia, says President Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin

A screen grab taken from footage released by the Russian presidential press office on June 24, 2023, shows Russian President Vladimir Putin making a statement in Moscow. President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation, the Kremlin said on June 24, 2023, as Russia faced a rebellion by the Wagner mercenary group that has vowed to topple Moscow's military leadership.

Photo credit: AFP

President Vladimir Putin on Saturday said an armed mutiny by Wagner mercenaries was a "stab in the back" and that the group's chief Yevgeny Prigozhin had betrayed Russia, as he vowed to punish the dissidents.

Putin spoke to his nation after a night of uncertainty that saw Wagner fighters cross into Russia from occupied Ukraine, with Prigozhin vowing they were "ready to die" to unseat Moscow's army leadership.

Prigozhin said his fighters control key military sites in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don.

"This is a stab in the back to our country, to our nation," Putin said.

"We have been faced with exactly betrayal. Extravagant ambitions and personal interests led to treason," he said referring to Prigozhin, who has been known as "Putin's chef" for his catering companies supplying the Kremlin.  

Putin said those rebelling will be punished and that authorities have "received the necessary orders" to do so, with Moscow declaring an "anti-terror operation regime."

"All those who consciously stood on the path of betrayal, who prepared an armed rebellion, stood on the path of blackmail and terrorist methods, will suffer inevitable punishment, before the law and before our people," Putin vowed.

Urged Russians to unite

He described the Wagner attempt to unseat Russia's top generals as a "deadly threat to our statehood and to us as a nation" and urged Russians to unite.

Putin said the Wagner mutiny came as Russia's Ukraine offensive was deciding "the fate of our people", comparing the timing to the 1917 revolution which happened as Russia fought in the First World War.

"But victory was stolen (then)," he said. "And in the end, the tragedy of the (Russian) Civil War."

"We will not let this repeat itself. We will protect our people, our statehood from any threats. Including from internal betrayal," he said. 

Putin acknowledged a "difficult" situation was unfolding in Rostov-on-Don, where Wagner has taken control of key military sites.

"There will be decisive measures taken on stabilising the situation in Rostov-on-Don," Putin said.

"It remains difficult and the work of civil and military authorities in fact is being blocked."

Prigozhin said he is inside the army HQ in Rostov and that his fighters control a military airfield.

Putin, who rarely delivers gives unscheduled speeches, appeared stern and wore a dark suit.

"As President of Russia and Commander-in-Chief, as a citizen of Russia I will do everything to defend the country, protect the constitutional order, life, safety and freedom of citizens," he said.