Did He Escape Assassination?

Photo by Ye Jinghan on Unsplash

Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, reportedly left Moscow in his presidential aircraft in an attempt to escape assassination as the Wagner Group, a group of mercenaries, continued their approach towards Moscow on Saturday.

There’s uncertainty surrounding Putin’s current location after his aircraft was seen departing from Moscow and heading towards St. Petersburg, then suddenly vanishing from radar, as per Flight Radar. Despite these claims, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson, reassured reporters that the president was still in the capital working at the Kremlin.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov stated his forces would be aiding Russia in quelling the rebellion incited by the Wagner Group, a private group that has seized control of a Russian city and has made inroads into another. This presents the most significant challenge Putin has faced during his extensive tenure as president.

A power struggle has unfolded between the Wagner Group, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a former ally of Putin, and Russian forces.

Prigozhin’s seasoned private military force took over Rostov-on-Don, a city near the Ukrainian border with almost a million residents and a major logistics center for Russia’s invasion efforts. They are quickly advancing northwards toward Moscow through western Russia.

Reports also suggest the Wagner Group passed through Voronezh, a city about 385 miles from Moscow. Confrontations escalated as Russian military helicopters targeted a column of rebel mercenaries journeying through Voronezh.

Amid this, Moscow experienced heightened security measures, with sandbags blocking crucial roadways. Red Square, the city’s central square, was sealed off with metallic barriers. Video footage shared on Twitter showcased the escalating violence, including an attack on what seemed to be a rebel convoy heading toward Moscow on the M-4 highway.

In a televised speech, Putin compared Prigozhin’s aggressive actions to the Bolshevik revolution and the civil war that started over a century ago in Russia. He spoke out against those who had chosen to rebel and vowed that they would be punished accordingly.

Responding to Putin’s remarks, Prigozhin denied any acts of betrayal. He emphasized his patriotism and criticized the Russian military’s handling of the ongoing war against Ukraine.

Previously, Prigozhin claimed that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered a missile strike against a Wagner camp in Ukraine, killing 2,000 of his troops. In retaliation, Prigozhin threatened that his forces would bring Shoigu to account, warning other Russian forces not to intervene and vowing to eliminate any who attempted to halt their progress.

Prigozhin also called for Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff, to meet him in Rostov amid urgent messages being exchanged.

As Putin deals with the Wagner Group at home, many of his forces are stationed at the front and in southern Ukraine. Compounding the crisis, Kyiv has just launched its most significant counteroffensive since the war began in February 2022.

Prigozhin, who has served time in prison, commands a private army of thousands of fighters, many of whom were recruited from Russian jails. He’s been at odds with top Russian military officials over the ongoing conflict, which has lasted over 16 months.

Despite the growing opposition, Prigozhin maintains that the Russian public supports his cause over Putin’s. He highlighted that his forces managed to take Rostov without resistance and claimed that locals were showing their support by offering food and drinks to his men.