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Russian Revolution Mk II: Mercenaries Marching on Moscow.

File photo: Yevgeny Prigozhin is a complex man with a complex history and very complex ambitions. He served a 10-year sentence for violent crimes that he committed in St. Petersburg as a young man. He worked in hard labor camps. Now he is the leader of the mysterious Wagner Group.

By Editor-June 24th, 2023.

Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned an uprising by the head of the (usually) pro-Kremlin mercenary force known as the Wagner Group against his Minister of Defence as a “stab in the back” that risked undermining Russia’s war effort in Ukraine.

The Wagner Group leader, in turn, has alleged that incompetent Russian generals are responsible for the death of thousands of his men and says that he’s not putting up with it any more.

Governments around the world are closely watching the events rapidly unfolding in Russia, where the mutiny by the mercenaries has posed the most serious challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s long rule.

Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin on Saturday said his fighters had crossed from Ukraine into the Russian border city of Rostov-on-Don, taking control of military facilities in the city, including the airfield.

“Those who organized this military uprising, who raised arms against their fellow military comrades will answer for it,” Putin shot back in a TV address to the nation on Saturday morning.

The Kremlin leader called on those participating in the rebellion to “make the only right choice: Stop taking part in this criminal activity.”

While mentioning no names, Putin’s address appeared squarely aimed at Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was formally charged with “inciting an armed revolt” by Russia’s Federal Security Bureau early Saturday.

The criminal charge came as Prigozhin — in a remarkable series of posts to social media — accused the Russian military’s top brass of carrying out lethal attacks on his soldiers and vowed to remove the Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu by force.

He said his actions were not a military coup. But in a frenzied series of audio messages, in which the sound of his voice sometimes varied and could not be independently verified, he appeared to suggest that his 25,000-strong militia was en route to oust the leadership of the defence ministry in Moscow.

Prigozhin also claims his soldiers now control several military installations in Rostov-on-Don, a key southern Russian city that serves as a logistical base for the war effort in Ukraine.

In response, authorities have introduced “anti-terrorism operations” in the capital, Moscow, and in Rostov-on-Don to restore order.

What is the Wagner Group?

Wagner Private Military Company’), is a Russian paramilitary organization. It is seen as a private military company (PMC), a network of mercenaries, or a de facto private army of Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s former close ally Yevgeny Prigozhin.

It operates in support of Russian interests, receives equipment from the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) and has used MoD installations for training. While the Wagner Group itself is not ideologically driven,various elements of Wagner have been linked to neo-Nazism and far-right terrorism, and a significant percentage of its members are former convicts, or criminals who have been released from prisons to serve as mercenaries.

It is widely speculated that the Wagner Group is used by the Russian government to allow for plausible deniability and to obscure the true casualties and financial costs of Russia’s foreign interventions. The group came to prominence during the Donbas war in Ukraine, where it helped pro-Russian separatist forces of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics from 2014 to 2015. Its contractors have reportedly taken part in various conflicts around the world, including the civil wars in African and the Middle East, often fighting on the side of forces aligned with the Russian government.

Souces: NPR, Russia Today, news agencies.