The PMC (Private Military Company) Wagner Center Logos on the building in St. Petersburg, Russia, 02 June 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/ANATOLY MALTSEV

Wagner mercenaries advance toward Moscow as Russian forces battle internal rebellion

Moscow, June 24 (EFE).- The Wagner private mercenary group, which launched an armed rebellion against the Russian military leadership and claimed control of the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, Saturday entered the Lipetsk province on its way to Moscow, according to the regional governor.

A guard gestures at the entrance to the PMC Wagner Center building, headquarters of the Wagner Group in St. Petersburg, Russia, 03 February 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/ANATOLY MALTSEV

Governor Igor Artamonov said a convoy of Wagner fighters, tanks, and armored vehicles was approximately a six-hour drive from Moscow. The region is 340 km south of the Russian capital.

“The Wagner group’s military equipment is advancing through the territory of the Lipetsk region,” Artamonov wrote on his Telegram channel.

In anticipation of the possible arrival of the Wagner columns, Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, declared Monday a non-working day in the capital.

Governor Artamonov reassured the public, stating that local authorities were taking all necessary measures to ensure the safety of the population and that critical infrastructure in the region was functioning normally.

“We have been at the operational command post with the team and representatives from all institutions since last night. Everyone is working accurately and in coordination,” he said.

Artamonov urged residents to stay at home and avoid using any means of transportation.

In preparation for the potential arrival of the Wagner columns, armed police with machine guns have been deployed by the Moscow authorities at the entrance to the M-4 highway in the capital.

The M-4 highway passes through Rostov-on-Don, the city that Wagner claims is under their control, before reaching Moscow.

Russian newspaper Vedomosti posted several photos on Telegram, showing police officers wearing bulletproof vests and carrying machine guns near Lípetskaya Street, at the entrance and exit of the M-4 highway. A helicopter was also seen flying in the area.

The independent news portal Meduza reported geolocating images of a Wagner column near the town of Krasnoye in the northwest of the Lipetsk region, approximately 400 km south of Moscow.

The military-related information Telegram channel, Rybar, reported that 150 to 400 combat vehicles were moving toward Moscow.

Rybar noted that the main checkpoints of the Russian police were located near the bridge over the Oka River, 85 km south of the Russian capital.

Russian media and social networks have shown photos of various obstacles created on this highway, including blockades with Kamaz trucks and other large vehicles, as well as huge trenches across the road.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group, previously claimed that his fighters had seized control of key military facilities in the Russian cities of Rostov and Voronezh.

This rebellion added a new dimension to the months-long tension between the Russian leadership and Wagner, escalating the internal conflict into an open revolt amidst the Russia-Ukraine war.

Prigozhin stated that he was fighting for justice against Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, the commander of Russia’s invasion forces.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to quell the rebellion, referring to it as an act of treason.

“Those who organized and prepared the military rebellion have betrayed Moscow and will answer for it,” Putin said in a televised address to the nation.

He described the rebellion as “a deadly threat to our statehood” and promised “tough actions” to bring it to an end.

Pointing to the historical consequences of internal divisions, Putin drew parallels with the disintegration of the state and the loss of territories during the First World War in 1917.

“We will defend our people and our state from any threat, including internal treason, for that is precisely what we are facing now.”

Prigozhin rejected Putin’s claim, saying his rebellion against the Russian defense ministry was not treason and that his paramilitary group would refuse to surrender.

“On the subject of betraying the motherland, the president is deeply mistaken,” Prigozhin said in an audio message released by his press service. EFE