Thursday, July 18, 2024

Putin ‘flees Moscow’ as Wagner troops advance in rapid onslaught

The whereabouts of the Russian leader remained unclear, but reports said his plane was briefly seen flying towards St Petersburg.

• June 24, 2023
Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin

President Vladimir Putin has reportedly left Moscow as Wagner paramilitary fighters intensified their onslaught across Russia to seize control of the country.

Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said Mr Putin made a mistake when the Russian president condemned the private military group and threatened to punish its members for armed rebellion. 

TASS, Russia’s main government-run outlet, reported that Putin fled to St Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, on Saturday.

East European news outlet Nexta also reported that Putin’s plane took off from Moscow and disappeared from the radar. It was heading towards St Petersburg at about 2:16 p.m. local time. The flight suddenly disappeared from the radar, reports said.

A spokesman for the Kremlin denied Putin had fled, but most Russians believed the news agency. The contradictory report also indicates that there’s a breakdown of command in Russia, as it is extremely rare for the statement of the state-run TASS to contradict that of the Kremlin.

Wagner fighters continue to advance through the country after seizing the southern city of Rostov with little resistance overnight.

The raging mutiny and coup came after Mr Prigozhin said Putin authorised the bombing of his men who were beating back Ukrainian troops in Bakhmut, Ukraine.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said his forces would aid Russia put down the rebellion by the Wagner Group, a private military contract, which now seems to be the biggest threat to Mr Putin’s over two decades in power.

The Wagner fighters have reportedly entered the Moscow region as of mid-afternoon local time, just hours after seizing the southern Rostov city and taking over a federal defence ministry headquarters there with no serious resistance. It was unclear whether or not Mr Prigozhin will descend on the Kremlin immediately if his fighters are able to enter Moscow’s city centre, where Russian troops are said to be divided about whether or not they should ally with Wagner or continue supporting Mr Putin’s regime. 

United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said NATO and its allies are closely monitoring the situation in Russia, without expressing any further details about the alliance’s strategy. Ukrainian forces are already seeking to enter Russia, but are still says to be meeting resistance from scattered Russian troops still on the frontlines. 

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