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Russian strongman Yevgeny Prigozhin threatened to attack Russian forces in retaliation for what he said was an airstrike against his own paramilitaries, as he unleashed his most vitriolic tirade against his country’s military rulers nowadays.
Prigozhin, founder of the notorious Wagner mercenary group, said in a video on Friday that a “huge number” of fighters had been killed in the alleged airstrike and that Wagner would “respond to this wrongdoing” by launching a “march of the justice” against the Russian army.
In response, the FSB, Russia’s main security service, “launched a criminal investigation into calls for an armed uprising,” Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee said, according to state news wire Ria Novosti. “We demand an immediate halt to these illegal actions.”
The Russian Defense Ministry dismissed Prigozhin’s claims as an “informational provocation”. Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, said the Russian leader was aware of Prigozhin’s statements and that “all essential steps are being taken”, without giving further details, according to Ria Novosti.
The threat comes just hours after Prigozhin accused the Russian military of tricking Putin into invading Ukraine in a separate tirade, signaling a new, more aggressive phase in the strongman’s offensive against the Kremlin war planners.
“The evil brought by the country’s military rulers must be stopped. Those who destroyed our boys today and ruined the lives of tens of thousands of our soldiers will be punished,” Prigozhin said.
Without explaining what specific actions Wagner would take, Prigozhin added, “I ask that no one resist. We will consider anyone who resists a threat and destroy them immediately.
He claimed that “presidential power, government (and) other structures” would function normally, while Wagner “deals with the people who destroy Russian soldiers and return to the front”.
Prigozhin, who has emerged as one of the crucial leaders of Russia’s invasion since Wagner played a prominent role on the front lines, has been embroiled in a months-long feud with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, whom Prigozhin accused of sabotaging the war effort with Valery Gerasimov, Russian Chief of Staff.
He claimed that Shoigu ordered the alleged airstrike in secret and then “ran off like a female dog to avoid explaining why he sent helicopters to destroy our boys”.
In his earlier video from Friday, Prigozhin claimed the Russian Defense Ministry concocted false pretenses to entice Putin to invade Ukraine and said Moscow could have avoided war altogether.
Prigozhin claimed Russia faced no immediate threat from Ukraine when Putin began his full-scale invasion last year and accused senior military brass of misleading the president to their own personal gain.
Prigozhin’s regular rants, in which he claims Russia is at risk of losing the war after Ukraine launched a counteroffensive earlier this month, had indicated that elite infighting was growing increasingly fierce. as Moscow’s war effort continued to struggle.
Although Prigozhin notably refrained from personally criticizing Putin and backed the war’s aims, the video was the first time he publicly questioned Russia’s justification for the full-scale invasion.
“There was nothing extraordinary on February 24,” Prigozhin said, referring to the day Putin ordered the invasion in 2022. “The Defense Ministry is trying to deceive the president and society by saying that Ukraine was going mad with aggression and planning to attack us with the whole NATO bloc.
Instead, Prigozhin claimed that Shoigu convinced Putin that war was necessary so “a bunch of bastards could rule the roost and show what a strong army they have”, then botched the invasion with “planning incompetent”.
“For some reason this bunch of idiots thought they were so smart that no one would understand what they were doing or stop them on the way to Kiev,” he added.
In a country where “discrediting the armed forces” is punishable by 15 years in prison, Prigozhin, who has known Putin since his days in St Petersburg in the early 1990s, was widely believed to have the Russian president’s approval for his attacks on the army.
Prigozhin’s diatribe about war failures notably absolved Putin himself or the FSB security service, which played a much bigger role in planning the invasion than the army.
Putin admitted earlier this month that he personally pardoned convicts so they could be released to fight in Ukraine – a recruiting technique pioneered by Prigozhin when he raised an army of prisoners to fight in Ukraine. Bakhmut’s “meat grinder” in eastern Ukraine.
However, after Russia captured the city last month, Putin backed Shoigu’s efforts to bring irregular units such as Wagner under military control.
Since then, Wagner’s troops have been absent from the front lines, and Prigozhin has questioned their return.
He said the Russian military continued to lie to Putin about the success of the Ukrainian counter-offensive and warned it risked bringing the country to ruin on the battlefield.
“What they are telling us is a total fraud. We will only see the truth in the face when ( . . . ) this bunch of bastards realize that they have already taken over a huge chunk of territory and declare that they are regrouping somewhere else,” he said. “The enemy penetrates our defenses all the more deeply.”