Mutinous Russian mercenary fighters barrelled towards Moscow on Saturday after seizing a southern city overnight, with Russia’s military firing on them from the air but seemingly incapable of slowing their lightning advance.
Facing the first serious challenge to his grip on power of his 23-year rule, President Vladimir Putin vowed to crush an armed mutiny he compared to Russia’s Civil War a century ago.
Reuters saw troop carriers and a flatbed truck carrying a tank careening past the city of Voronezh more than halfway to Moscow, where a helicopter fired on them. But there were no reports of the rebels meeting any substantial resistance on the highway.
Russian media showed pictures of small groups of police manning machine gun positions on Moscow’s southern outskirts Authorities in the Lipetsk region south of the capital told residents to stay home.
Sobyanin also said in a statement that Monday would be a non-working day – with some exceptions – in order “to minimise risks”. There was an increased security presence on the streets and Red Square was blocked off by metal barriers.
More than 100 firefighters were in action at a fuel depot ablaze in Voronezh. Video footage obtained by Reuters showed it blowing up in a fireball shortly after a helicopter flew by. Prigozhin accused Russia’s military of hitting civilian targets from the air as it tried to slow the column’s advance.
Prigozhin said his men were on a “march for justice” to remove corrupt and incompetent commanders he blames for botching the war in Ukraine.
“We are fighting for the lives and security of our people, for our sovereignty and independence, for the right to remain Russia, a state with a thousand-year history,” he said.
“All those who deliberately stepped on the path of betrayal, who prepared an armed insurrection, who took the path of blackmail and terrorist methods, will suffer inevitable punishment, will answer both to the law and to our people.” (BBC)