In a significant development in the ongoing turmoil within Russia's military circles, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the private military company (PMC) Wagner, claimed to have taken control over all military sites in the city of Rostov-on-Don.
Prigozhin, in a video released on social media, demanded that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russia's top general Valery Gerasimov meet him in the southern Russian city. He announced that his group had seized the headquarters of the Southern Military District, located in Rostov-on-Don.
The claim escalated the tension that began with Prigozhin's allegations of the Russian military striking Wagner's units, which has since led to him being charged with the organization of an armed coup.
In another video posted on the pro-Wagner Telegram channel "Razgruzka Wagnera" ("Wagner's combat vest"), Prigozhin was seen seated between two senior Russian generals, one of whom was Army Lieutenant-General Vladimir Alekseyev. Interestingly, Alekseyev had earlier issued a video urging Prigozhin to reconsider his efforts to overthrow the military leadership.
Prigozhin warned that unless Shoigu and Gerasimov agreed to meet him, he and his forces would blockade the city of Rostov and head towards Moscow. He seemed to imply that an armed convoy was already making its way to the Russian capital, a claim that local officials appeared to corroborate by advising residents to steer clear of the main motorway linking the southern part of European Russia with Moscow.
Russian authorities, meanwhile, have accused Prigozhin of inciting an armed revolt after he claimed that the military leadership had killed a large number of his fighters in an airstrike without providing any evidence to support his allegations.
The Federal Security Service (FSB) has opened a criminal case against Prigozhin for armed mutiny, a crime that carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
This crisis, with many details still unclear, represents one of the most serious domestic challenges that President Vladimir Putin has faced since he ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February of the previous year, which he referred to as a "special military operation."