Prigozhin aimed to capture Russian generals, says WSJ

Published June 29, 2023
Founder of Wagner private mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin speaks inside the headquarters of the Russian southern army military command center, which is taken under control of Wagner PMC, according to him, in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia in this still image taken from a video released on June 24. — Reuters
Founder of Wagner private mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin speaks inside the headquarters of the Russian southern army military command center, which is taken under control of Wagner PMC, according to him, in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia in this still image taken from a video released on June 24. — Reuters

WASHINGTON: Wagner army chief Yevgeny Prigozhin aimed to detain the heads of the Russian military in last week’s mutiny, but they discovered his planned rebellion early and avoided capture, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday. The newspaper cited Western officials saying that Prigozhin sought to seize arch-rivals Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defence minister, and chief of staff General Valery Gerasimov while they were on a visit to the south.

But the Russian domestic security service FSB learned of the plan and Shoigu and Gerasimov changed their travel, the Journal said, citing unnamed officials.

That forced Prigozhin to move early, and on Friday his Wagner forces seized control of the headquarters of the Russian Southern Military District in Rostov-on-Don, a key logistics and command centre for the war on Ukraine.

US officials have told media that they knew days ahead about the planned uprising, in which Prigozhin sent a column of forces from his privately-run army toward Moscow before giving up as President Vladimir Putin branded the group “traitors.” Also citing unnamed US officials, the New York Times reported that senior Russian General Sergei Surovikin knew in advance of Prigozhin’s mutiny plans.

Poland says Wagner troops ‘threat’ to region

The advance knowledge by top military officials could have prevented potential allies of Prigozhin and Wagner from joining the revolt, contributing to its failure.

Russian National Guard Commander Viktor Zolotov said on Tuesday that there were leaks from Wagner about the revolt, and alleged that Western agents could have been behind it, according to Russian state media.

‘Threat’ to region

The presence of Wagner troops in Belarus could pose a potential “threat” to the countries of the region, Polish President Andrzej Duda said during a visit to Ukraine.

“It is difficult for us to exclude today that the presence of the Wagner Group in Belarus could pose a potential threat to Poland, which shares a border with Belarus, a threat to Lithuania… as well as potentially to Latvia,” Duda told reporters in Kyiv.

Following a rebellion by the mercenary group, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered that Wagner lose its heavy weaponry, and that its fighters either join the regular armed forces or accept exile in Belarus.

“The question arises: what is the purpose of this relocation?” said the Polish president.

“What are the real intentions of the Wagner Group forces, in other words, the Russian army, precisely in Belarus? “Is it a form of potential threat precisely towards our countries, towards Nato countries, towards Poland?” Duda added, speaking next to his Lithuanian and Ukrainian counterparts.

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday it was still too early to draw conclusions from the move to Belarus of Prigozhin and, likely, some of his forces.

But he vowed that the alliance was ready to defend its members.

Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2023

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