Wagner mercenary group now turns against Russia, controls city's military sites

Yevgeny Prigozhin speaking inside the headquarters of the Russian southern military district in the city of Rostov-on-Don

This video grab taken from handout footage posted on June 24, 2023, on the Telegram account of the press service of Concord -- a company linked to the chief of Russian mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin -- shows Yevgeny Prigozhin speaking inside the headquarters of the Russian southern military district in the city of Rostov-on-Don.

Photo credit: AFP

The head of Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin announced Saturday that he was inside the army headquarters in Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia, and that his fighters controlled the city's military sites.

Prigozhin earlier said his forces had crossed into Russia from the Ukrainian front, vowing to topple Russia's military leadership and saying he and thousands of his fighters were "ready to die."

Russia's military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don are a key logistical base for its offensive in Ukraine.

"We are inside the (army) headquarters, it is 7:30 am (0430 GMT)," Prigozhin said in a video on Telegram. "Military sites in Rostov, including an aerodrome, are under control," he added.

He said that planes taking part in the Ukraine offensive "are leaving as normal" from the airfield.

"We took (the aerodrome) under control so that the attack aviation did not strike us, but strike Ukrainians," Prigozhin said.

He called on Russians not to believe what they were being told on state television.

Yevgeny Prigozhin shows Russian President Vladimir Putin his school lunch factory outside Saint Petersburg on September 20, 2010. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group, vowed on June 24, 2023, to "go to the end" to topple the Russian military leadership, whom he accused of launching strikes on his men, while the country's prosecutor general said he was under investigation for "armed rebellion".

Photo credit: AFP File

"A huge amount of territory is lost. Soldiers have been killed, three, four times more than what it says in documents shown to the top (leadership)."

Authorities in Rostov have urged residents to stay at home.

Russia opened a criminal case against Prigozhin, accusing him of trying to start an "armed rebellion."

In the video from Rostov, he claimed Russia's chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov "ran away from here when he found out that we are approaching the building."

He has vowed to topple Gerasimov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

A Wagner-linked Telegram channel on Saturday published another video of what it said was Prigozhin talking with two army officials in the Rostov headquarters.

Holding a rifle on his knees and wearing a cap with the Russian flag on it, the Wagner chief said:

"We came here to get the chief of General Staff (Gerasimov) and Shoigu."

"Until then, we will be here, block the city of Rostov and go on to Moscow."

He told the military officials that his mercenaries will "not interfere with them commanding troops" and said their orders in Ukraine were leading to huge losses.

"We came here to stop the disgrace in the country that we live in," Prigozhin said, before adding: "We are saving Russia."