Update(1815ET): There are now widespread reports and circulating footage of additional armored vehicles deployed by military police units in key parts of Russia, including in Moscow and Rostov regions, with TASS saying they have been ordered to protect government buildings, as speculation that Wagner's Prigozhin is making real moves against Russian leadership tonight.
The Washington Post is meanwhile recapping the following of reports that authorities are seeking his arrest:
Russia’s Federal Security Service late Friday announced a criminal case against Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeniy Prigozhin, accusing him of “incitement to armed rebellion” after he declared an open conflict with Russia’s military leadership and called on Russians to join 25,000 Wagner fighters against Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and other top commanders.
Footage like the below is widely circulating as beefed up military security deployments have been observed in various places:
BREAKING: Russia on high alert, military vehicles reportedly deployed in Rostov-on-Don pic.twitter.com/NjpO4ceTHy— Insider Paper (@TheInsiderPaper) June 23, 2023
Russian media has confirmed--
"Security measures have been strengthened in Moscow, all the most important facilities, state authorities and transport infrastructure facilities have been taken under enhanced protection," law enforcement agencies told TASS.
Locals in Moscow publish lots of clips of military equipment on the roads. pic.twitter.com/wTXIsvWsbz— Mike (@Doranimated) June 23, 2023
There are claims circulating that the FSB is even calling on Wagner Group's own fighters to arrest Prigozhin and bring him in to authorities.
An FSB statement has urged Wagner forces to no longer follow his orders.
BREAKING: Russia's FSB intelligence agency says statements by Wagner Group's Prigozhin are calls for the start of an armed civil conflict in the country— The Spectator Index (@spectatorindex) June 23, 2023
And further confirmation of the seriousness of the overnight situation...
#Breaking Russian General Surovikin issues an appeal to Wagner fighters:— Michael A. Horowitz (@michaelh992) June 23, 2023
“We are of the same blood, we are warriors, the enemy is waiting for the internal political situation in the country to worsen, you can’t play into the hands of the enemy” pic.twitter.com/XFevidiXvh
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Update(1641ET): After months of unchecked, ultra-provocative statements from Prigozhin aimed at both top military commanders as well as Kremlin decision-makers, it seems the Wagner chief may have finally crossed Putin's lines. It's being reported in Russian state sources that the Russian president has been briefed on the earlier audio tirade made by Prigozhin, which essentially declared war on the defense ministry. The Wagner statement had been circulated widely after it was posted on Telegram late at night local time.
And now Prigozhin finally appears to be in hot water, under formal investigation for mutiny, per the statement in TASS:
Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee on Friday demanded that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the private military company Wagner, stop unlawful actions and said the Russian Federal Security Service started a mutiny investigation in connection with his recent statements.
"The statements that are being spread on behalf of Yevgeny Prigozhin are absolutely unfounded. In connection with these statements, the Federal Security Service of Russia has started an investigation into a call for an armed mutiny. We demand that unlawful actions be stopped immediately," the committee said in a statement.
He's now saying the audio remarks were merely a call to justice and "march for justice", denying it is a coup attempt targeting military leadership - so there may be a Wagner attempt underway to walk back the comments.
No, this is not likely to turn into a civil war. It is what in Russia is called ‘razborki’ (gangland warfare)— Dmitri Alperovitch (@DAlperovitch) June 23, 2023
And it looks like one gang is about to get totally crushed because the other has all the weapons and the security services on their side https://t.co/ZiiiwNm7BK
Earlier in the day, hours before the remarks saying the country's military leadership "must be stopped" - Prigozhin had in a surprising turn gone after the very decision to go to war in the first place.
"The Armed Forces of Ukraine were not going to attack Russia with the NATO bloc," Prigozhin had said via his press service in words widely reported also in the West. "The Russian Defense Ministry is deceiving the public and the president."
This latter part of Friday's angry denunciations may prove to finally be Prigozhin's downfall. There are now unverified reports that Moscow is taking extra measures to strengthen security and that the FSB is on high alert.
SECURITY SERVICES IN MOSCOW PUT ON HIGH ALERT: BBC
As for what happens next, at the very least the Kremlin will want to do something concerning the ongoing embarrassment and scandal, reflected in Western media headlines, which can present a narrative of a fracturing of Russian forces...
BREAKING: The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group appears to be threatening an armed rebellion against Russia’s military leadership. https://t.co/S2g5wOhKGh— ABC News (@ABC) June 23, 2023
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There are breaking reports that Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has finally completely broken off relations with the Russian military, and essentially "declared war" on the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD).
According to a prominent translator who has examined freshly released audio of Prigozhin's fiery message on Telegram, the Wagner leader begins with: "PMC Wagner Commanders’ Council made a decision: the evil brought by the military leadership of the country must be stopped. They neglect the lives of soldiers. They forgot the word “justice”, and we will bring it back."
Audio. pic.twitter.com/hnuu42JhmY— Dmitri (@wartranslated) June 23, 2023
It comes amid unverified reports that the regular military launched an attack on a Wagner encampment after months of soaring tensions, which the Russian MoD has just denied.
All of this has quickly given way to reports from the region that Prigozhin is ready to lead a full-on "coup" against top leadership, military brass in particular.
The translation of the Wagner founder's words continue as follows:
Those, who destroyed today our guys, who destroyed tens, tens of thousands of lives of Russian soldiers will be punished. I’m asking: no one resist. Everyone who will try to resist, we will consider them a danger and destroy them immediately, including any checkpoints on our way. And any aviation that we see above our heads.
I’m asking everyone to remain calm, do not succumb to provocations, and remain in their houses. Ideally, those along our way, do not go outside. After we finished what we started, we will return to the frontline to protect our motherland.
⚡️Prigozhin accuses Russian army of attacking Wagner, threatens to respond.— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) June 23, 2023
Wagner Group Chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said Russian Defense Ministry attacked the group's bases in the rear.
"We have 25,000 (soldiers), and we're going to respond," he said. https://t.co/1xk7oeGQBK
And more from Prigozhin, suggesting he could indeed have his sights set on an actual political coup:
Presidential authority, Government, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Rosgvardia, and other departments will continue operating as before. We will deal with those who destroy Russian soldiers. And we will return to the frontline. Justice in the Army will be restored. And after this, justice for the whole of Russia."
One question remains after this: how long will he last?
Below is FT's Moscow bureau chief on the shocking declaration...
We published this story about what Prigozhin accused the Russian MOD of this morning 40 minutes ago. In that time, he has now claimed the Russian army bombed a Wagner camp and appears to have declared war on the MOD. Just pure madnesshttps://t.co/oj11forhyR— max seddon (@maxseddon) June 23, 2023
At this point, the Wagner boss should certainly avoid staying in tall buildings and near windows.
Currently, Russian state-run RT has the following military statement pinned at the top of its homepage: Wagner chief spreads misinformation — MOD
"All messages and video distributed on social networks on behalf of [Yevgeny] Prigozhin about the alleged strike by the [Russian military] on the camps of PMC Wagner in the rear areas do not correspond to reality and are an informational provocation," the defense ministry said in the statement.
"Armed Forces of the Russian Federation continue to carry out combat missions on the line of contact with the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the area of the special military operation," the MoD added.
⚡️#BREAKING There are 25 thousand of us and we are going to figure out why there is chaos in the country — Prigozhin— War Monitor (@WarMonitors) June 23, 2023
“Everyone who wants to join. We need to end this mess."