By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
MOSCOW/BUDAPEST (Worthy News) – Nuclear-armed Russia edged closer to a coup and civil war Saturday with the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group being investigated by Russian security services for “inciting mutiny.”
Yevgeny Prigozhin accused the Russian military of launching a deadly missile strike on his troops on Friday but did not provide evidence.
He said the “evil” in Russia’s military leadership must be stopped and vowed to “march for justice.”
Prigozhin claimed he was not attempting a military coup, but security in Moscow was tightened as concerns rose about a dramatic escalation of infighting.
Embattled Russian President Vladimir Putin was aware of the situation and receives “constant” updates, the Kremlin said.
Senior Russian generals called on Wagner fighters to stand down, saying they are playing “into the enemy’s hands.”
In a sign of infighting at the top, Russia’s state-run Channel 1 interrupted regular programming to broadcast an “emergency news bulletin”.
The announcement included official statements about Prigozhin and Wagner and said that Prigozhin’s video of the alleged strike “was fake” and that the defense ministry denied attacking Wagner.
The emergency announcement also said that FSB – Russia’s domestic intelligence agency – had launched a criminal case against Prigozhin and that President Putin was being kept informed.
Prigozhin’s Wagner Group described itself as a private military company after it was first identified in 2014 when was backing pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.
Wagner was a secretive organization, operating mostly in Africa and the Middle East, and was thought to have had only about 5,000 fighters – mostly veterans of Russia’s elite regiments and special forces.
Since then it has grown considerably and fought alongside the Russian army in Ukraine – especially in the east of the country. Britain’s broadcaster BBC quoted the British Ministry of Defense as saying that Wagner “commands 50,000 fighters in Ukraine.”
The Defense Ministry said Wagner began recruiting in large numbers last year as Russia “had trouble finding people” for the regular army.
The group was heavily involved in Russia’s claimed capture of the city of Bakhmut – an area that saw the bloodiest battles since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.
Yet Wagner chief Prigozhin, an outspoken dollar millionaire, attacked Russia’s military leaders with expletive-ridden insults in a rift that critics say weakened the country’s military.
Prigozhin accused them of not providing him with munitions in the key battle for the eastern city of Bakhmut.
A video in May showed him standing in front of the bloodied bodies of his slain troops yelling obscenities at defense minister Sergei Shoigu and the chief of the general staff, Gen Valery Gerasimov. He called them weak and incompetent, blaming them for the carnage.
“They came here as volunteers and they died to let you lounge in your mahogany offices. You are sitting in your expensive clubs, your children are enjoying good living and filming videos on YouTube,” he said in a video message. “Those who don’t give us ammunition will be eaten alive in hell!”
He even made what commentators saw as a thinly veiled jab at Russian President Vladimir Putin as an oblivious “granddad” thinking the invasion was going well.
On Friday, Prigozhin appeared to take a step too far. He accused Shoigu of ordering a rocket strike on the field camps for his mercenary troops, with a huge number of casualties, and said he would move to punish him.
Russian authorities hit back, with the country’s top counterterrorism organization launching a criminal inquiry against Prigozhin.
They accused Prigozhin of trying to start a “civil conflict” and called for his detention.
The developments were expected to worry the West which imposed sanctions on Russia, over its invasion of Ukraine. Russia also has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and instability within the top of the country would raise questions about the way those weapons are handled.
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