Vladimir Putin faces the “biggest challenge” to his leadership in decades after the head of Russia’s mercenary group Wagner launched an armed uprising.
The militia revolted on Friday. Their leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said he wanted to punish Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and army chief Valery Gerasimov for firing rockets at his troops.
Putin vowed to crush the uprising – calling it a “stab in the back” – and warned that anyone involved in the “rebellion” would face “inevitable punishment”.
The Kremlin has denied reports that it fled the capital while several planes linked to the president were seen approaching Wagner troops.
Prigozhin, whose forces have led the Russian advance into Ukraine, claimed to have taken the headquarters of Russia’s Southern Military District in Rostov without firing a shot.
Western allies have said they are closely monitoring the situation in nuclear-armed Russia.
The British Ministry of Defense said of the uprising: “This represents the greatest challenge to the Russian state in recent memory.”
Putin’s rise to power may depend on mustering enough loyal troops to fight the mercenaries at a time when most of Russia’s military is stationed in Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “Russia’s weakness is obvious.” Complete weakness. And the longer Russia keeps its troops and mercenaries on our land, the more chaos, pain and problems it will have later.”