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Wagner Group rebellion challenges Putin’s rule over Russia

The Kremlin says Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin will now go to Belarus and Wagner fighters would not be prosecuted.

What to know about the situation in Russia

  • Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said Saturday he had ordered his forces to turn back and return to their bases, seemingly abandoning an armed rebellion that had them heading toward Moscow. In a post on Telegram, Prigozhin said the move was done to avoid bloodshed.
  • Tass, a media outlet run by Russia's government, reported the criminal case against Prigozhin would be dropped. In a Telegram post , the news agency reported that Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, also said Prigozhin would "go to Belarus" and that Wagner fighters would not be prosecuted.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin had accused mercenary Prigozhin of "treason" and vowed to crush the growing armed rebellion.
  • Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group and once a confidant of the Russian leader, claimed that he and his fighters had taken Rostov-on-Don, where the Russian military headquarters overseeing the war in Ukraine is based.
  • Prigozhin on Friday accused Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu of ordering a rocket strike on Wagner’s camps in Ukraine, and vowed to punish “those who destroyed our lads.”

Former U.S. ambassador to Russia says Putin weakened despite end of rebellion

Putin appeared relatively unscathed in the aftermath of a failed attempt to upend Russia’s military, but a former U.S. ambassador to Russia says he may never be the same.

Win or lose, the attempt by Prigozhin to change military leadership to his liking would have likely seen Putin remain as the country’s top leader, said Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia under then-President Barack Obama.

Nonetheless, the attempted coup watched around the world left the leader with less power, McFaul said on NBC Nightly News Saturday.

“I don’t think he’s mortally weakened,” said McFaul, also a former Obama adviser who specialized in Russia. “I think he can survive this. But he is much weaker today than he was just 24 hours ago.”

Even if factions — private troops against government soldiers — may have been fighting in part for Putin’s allegiance, the fracturing of military might amid a war in Ukraine undermines some of the presidents power base, the former ambassador said.

“Just think about it,” McFaul said. “These armies used to be fighting together with each other against the Ukrainian army. They were threatening to fight each other inside Russia.”

Putin’s inability to prevent the rebellion could draw questions about his leadership skills and popularity among government influencers.

“No matter how the dust finally settles, I think Putin emerges from this a much weaker leader inside Russia,” McFaul said.

Yevgeny Prigozhin and Wagner fighters greeted with cheers as they leave Rostov-on-Don


Blinken assures Ukraine's foreign minister U.S. support is steady

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured Ukraine's foreign minister that America's support for his nation is unwavering.

Blinken spoke with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Saturday about the aftermath of the Wagner rebellion.

The repercussions of the apparent retreat for Ukraine weren't clear, but Blinken's spokesperson, Matthew Miller, reiterated that the United States, Ukraine's biggest underwriter during the war, will remain undeterred.

"Support by the United States for Ukraine will not change," Miller said. "The United States will stay in close coordination with Ukraine as the situation develops."

Blinken also reiterated support for Ukraine in a call with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan.

Analysis: Putin can’t do without the Wagner Group

The most interesting thing about Prigozhin’s apparent retreat is that Putin, widely perceived as a strongman with a low threshold of pain for disloyalty, has permitted Prigozhin to flourish and to criticize the Kremlin in the first place.

After all, a startling number of Putin’s political adversaries — many without the high profile of Prigozhin — have succumbed to poison or fallen to their deaths from tall buildings, and it is intriguing to speculate why Putin has suffered Prigozhin and his antics. 

A compelling explanation is that Putin can’t do without the Wagner Group, Prigozhin’s army. With poor middle-level leadership and an inability to integrate all their capabilities into a coherent and cohesive force, the invasion by Russia's army has been reduced to defending static positions and reverting to the Russian default instrument of battlefield power: bombardment. 

As Ukrainian forces probe Russia’s defenses to find spots weak enough to exploit in a counterattack, one is driven to a conclusion that Putin may have already considered: a negotiated settlement that legitimizes Russian occupation of Crimea and Donbas.

But even to accomplish this, Putin seems to require Prigozhin’s services, and that alone, plus Putin’s forbearance of Prigozhin’s bravado, may have been the impetus for Prigozhin to flex his muscles.

Putin may look weaker now than ever before, but he has at his disposal the ability to make wealthy anyone he favors. Prigozhin’s announcement that his forces will not be marching on Moscow, may be at least partially the result of this consideration. It is also possible that some position of authority may have been included in the package.

Whatever the motivation for Prigozhin to halt the assault on Putin’s authority, it is likely that it is only a temporary cessation of internal hostilities.

Video shows explosion at oil depot in Voronezh, Russia


Ukrainian officials report progress in counter-offensive

Ukrainian officials on Saturday reported progress in their counter-offensive in the war against Russian forces.

Hanna Maliar, one of several Ukraine deputy ministers of defense said in a Telegram message "there is progress in all directions," noting that troops in the east of Ukraine launched an offensive in several directions, according to a translation

Maliar added that "the enemy tried to advance" in the direction of different areas in the east, "but he failed," referring to the Russian military.

In the south, Mailar added: "Heavy fighting continues in all directions of the offensive. The enemy is on the defensive, making great efforts to stop our offensive actions. At the same time, the enemy is suffering significant losses in personnel, weapons and equipment.”

Separately, the Commander of the Third Separate Assault Brigade, Andrii Biletsky, said in a Telegram message that Ukrainian soldiers defeated Russian soldiers in the direction of the eastern city of Bakhmut. He said there were 30 killed on the Russian side, plus "dozens of wounded and dozen of prisoners."

Russian state media says criminal case against Prigozhin will be dropped

Tass, a media outlet run by Russia's government, reported Saturday afternoon that the criminal case against Prigozhin would be dropped.

In a series of Telegram posts, the news agency reported that Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, also said Prigozhin would "go to Belarus" and that Wagner fighters would not be prosecuted.

Peskov also said he was unaware of any leadership changes in Russia's military and confirmed that Belarus' Lukashenko participated in the talks that led to Prigozhin halting his troops.

Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Yevgeny Prigozhin.Mikhail Svetlov / Getty Images file

House Armed Services chair: 'Both Prigozhin and Putin are murderous thugs'

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a tweet that he was still "closely monitoring the situation in Russia" after Prigozhin said he ordered his forces to retreat.

And regarding the clash between Moscow's military and the Wagner mercenary group, he didn't mince words:

"Both Prigozhin and Putin are murderous thugs that have instigated aggression towards the west," Rogers wrote. "We must continue to work with our NATO allies to deter Russian aggression.”

A history nugget on coups in Russia

Putin may still be in power, but coups can have consequences even if they fail.

As Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, noted on Twitter, a Soviet leader also faced down a coup effort only to be out of power months later. Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union before it broke apart, survived a coup attempt in August 1991. Just a few months later, Gorbachev resigned.

"Putin will likely survive, for now," Daalder wrote. "But the last 24 hours raise serious questions about his hold on power. Watch this space."

U.S. officials continue to monitor but no comment on apparent Wagner retreat

U.S. officials said Saturday that the administration would continue to monitor the situation in Russia, but they declined to comment on the apparent retreat of Wagner forces.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan canceled a pre-planned trip to Copenhagen Friday in light of the developing situation, said one official. Sullivan was supposed to go to Denmark to attend international talks about the war in Ukraine but participated virtually this morning instead, the official said.

Sullivan was at the White House earlier today for a briefing with Biden on Russia. He then traveled to Camp David with the president this afternoon.

Rubio warns China, says Russia is now 'significantly weaker & more vulnerable'

After Prigozhin said he had ordered his forces to turn back, seemingly abandoning the armed rebellion, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., warned China that Russia was "significantly weaker & more vulnerable than ever."

"Beyond the impact on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine the biggest consequence of the last 24 hours is that China’s junior partner in their anti-U.S. coalition is significantly weaker & more vulnerable than ever," tweeted Rubio, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Russian and Chinese leaders signed a set of economic agreements in Beijing last month, despite disapproval from the West as the war in Ukraine dragged on.

Belarus says Lukashenko helped broker deal with Prigozhin

The press office of Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, said Saturday that he helped broker a deal with Prigozhin to stop his march on Moscow.

The message, posted to Telegram and the president's official website, said that Lukashenko spoke with Putin and then held talks with Prigozhin. Moscow has not confirmed or commented on Lukashenko's involvement.

"Negotiations continued throughout the day. As a result, they came to agreements on the inadmissibility of unleashing a bloody massacre on the territory of Russia," the post said. "Yevgeny Prigozhin accepted the proposal of the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko to stop the movement of armed persons of the Wagner company on the territory of Russia and take further steps to de-escalate tensions."

Lukashenko's press office also said that there was a proposal that would include promises for Wagner soldiers.

"At the moment, an absolutely profitable and acceptable option for solving the situation is on the table, with security guarantees for the Wagner PMC fighters," the post said.

Analysis: Putin's appeal to history signals seriousness of the rebellion

KYIV, Ukraine — Russian President Vladimir Putin is a man with a strong sense of history, writes NBC News foreign correspondent Raf Sanchez. And his speeches are often laced with references to the past.

This morning before the stand-down, facing an armed rebellion by the Wagner mercenary group, Putin reached back over a century to find a historical parallel.

“The actions splitting our unity are a betrayal of our people,” he said. “It’s a stab in the back of our country and our people. It was such a blow that was dealt to Russia in 1917 when the country was fighting in World War I, but its victory was stolen.”

He was referring to the chaotic period during the Russian Revolution. The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, had seized control of Moscow but found themselves simultaneously fighting World War I against Germany and a bitter civil war against their fellow Russians.

School boys march in protest through Petrograd during the Russian Revolution
School boys march in protest through Petrograd during the Russian Revolution, in 1917.Keystone / Getty Images

Desperate to focus their forces on the fight inside Russia, the Bolsheviks agreed to a punishing treaty with Germany. They surrendered vast swaths of land — including much of Ukraine — in return for peace. 

His reference to such a bitter period of Russian history may give a sense of how deeply Putin fears the costs of internal division.

 

Medvedev sounds alarm over control of nuclear arsenal: 'The world will be brought to the brink of destruction'

Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president and the deputy secretary of the country’s Security Council, condemned the incident as "a well-thought-out and planned operation, the purpose of which is to seize power in the country."

“Taking into account the high preparedness of the scheme, the professional coherence of actions, the high-quality control of the movement of troops, we can talk about the presence of a well-thought-out military plan and the participation in the rebellion of persons who previously served in the elite units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, and quite possibly foreign specialists," Medvedev told the state media outlet RIA, according to a translation.

He warned of the threat of the mercenary group controlling the country's more than 4,000 nuclear warheads.

“In the history of mankind, there has never been such a thing that the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons was under the control of bandits. Such a crisis will obviously not be limited to one country. The world will be brought to the brink of destruction,” he said. “We will not let things go like this. No matter how much crazy criminals and their fans would like it.”

Medvedev earlier called for Russians to unite around Putin to “save” the country.

GOP presidential candidate Will Hurd: U.S. should establish no-fly zone in Ukraine

Retired CIA officer and former Texas congressman Will Hurd, who jumped into the presidential race on Thursday as a long-shot candidate for the Republican nomination, said in a series of tweets that the U.S. and its allies "should help Ukraine establish a no-fly zone right now to protect against the increasing instability of a Russian civil war."

"Ukraine is not a territorial dispute and Vladimir Putin is a war criminal. It shouldn’t be hard to admit this. Even the villainous Prigozhin knows this," Hurd said.

Why did the Wagner mercenaries turn on Russia's military?

Before Putin's speech last night, Yevgeny Prigozhin, chief of the Wagner mercenary group, had been careful to say that he was leading his uprising against Russia's armed forces — but not against Putin himself, said Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia.

For a long time in the lengthy war in Ukraine, Prigozhin had been extremely bluntly, even crudely, critical of Russia's conventional armed forces — in particular, of Valery Gerasimov, the leader of Moscow’s military, and Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu — accusing them of conducting the war very poorly and attacking members of the Warner group, McFaul told NBC News.

It appears Prigozhin had been planning this uprising for a long time because he wanted to overthrow the two generals, not the Putin regime, McFaul continued. It did not appear to be "an off the cuff decision made on a whim yesterday."

McFaul said the mercenaries "marched into Rostov-on-Don," a city in southern Russia, on Saturday morning with no resistance whatsoever," noting that they are well-equipped and well-armed.

Moments after McFaul spoke to NBC News, Prigozhin said Saturday that he was ordering his forces to turn back and return to their bases, seemingly abandoning the rebellion that was headed toward Moscow. 

Zelenskyy calls armed rebellion 'complete chaos,' urges increased support for Ukraine

In a video posted on Telegram, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the armed rebellion "complete chaos," alleging that it shows "the masters of Russia do not control anything," according to a translation.

Zelenskyy urged more support for Ukraine, framing it as "support for your defense, everyone in the free world."

"Ukraine will definitely be able to protect Europe from any Russian forces — and it does not matter who commands them. We will protect," he said.

He castigated Putin as "the man from the Kremlin" and said he "is obviously very afraid and probably hiding somewhere, not showing himself. I am sure that he is no longer in Moscow."

Putin's spokesperson earlier told state news agency RIA that the president was working inside the Kremlin.

"He knows what he is afraid of, because he himself created this threat," Zelenskyy said of Putin. "All evil, all losses, all hatred — he spreads it himself. And the longer he can run between his bunkers, the more you will lose... you who connected with Russia."

"The longer your troops stay on Ukrainian soil, the more destruction they will bring to Russia. The longer this person is in the Kremlin, the more disasters there will be," he added.

Prigozhin says he has ordered mercenaries to turn back to avoid bloodshed

Mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin says he has ordered his forces to halt their advance on Moscow and turn back in order to avoid "spilling Russian blood."

Claiming his fighters had made it just over 120 miles from Moscow without any bloodshed, Prigozhin said in audio posted to Telegram: "Understanding all the responsibility for spilling Russian blood we turn back our columns to our field camps, according to the plan."

It follows an announcement from Belarus that the Russian ally and neighbor had negotiated a deal to de-escalate the crisis. Neither the Kremlin or Prigozhin have commented on the claim.

Yevgeny Prigozhin speaks inside the headquarters of the Russian southern military district in Rostov-on-Don, Russia
Yevgeny Prigozhin. @concordgroup_official / Telegram

Russian Foreign Ministry: 'Rebellion plays into the hands of Russia's external enemies'

In a strongly worded statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the armed mercenary revolt as an attempt to oust Putin and serve foreign interests that they claim has led to "sharp rejection in the Russian society."

“The adventuristic aspirations of the conspirators, in fact, are aimed at destabilizing the situation in Russia, destroying our unity, and undermining the efforts of the Russian Federation aimed at ensuring reliable international security. Thus, the rebellion plays into the hands of Russia’s external enemies," the foreign ministry said.

"We warn the Western countries against any hint of possible use of the domestic Russian situation to achieve their Russophobic goals. Such attempts are futile and will not find a response either in Russia or among sensible political forces abroad. We are convinced that in the near future the situation will find its solution, worthy of the age-old wisdom of the Russian people and the Russian State."

The ministry pledged that Russia "will continue its sovereign course to ensure its security, protect its values, strengthen its prestige in the international arena, and form a just multipolar world order."

Mercenary rebellion like a mafia takeover, U.S. official tells NBC News

A senior U.S. official said that the best way to see what’s happening now in Russia is an attempted mafia takeover, writes NBC News’ chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel.

Prigohzin is a capo, a good earner and, until now, a loyal soldier who has risen through the ranks by doing important and dangerous and special tasks for the boss, President Vladimir Putin, and who now appears to be making a play to take over himself.

Chairman of Joint Chiefs Milley cancels trip to Middle East to monitor situation in Russia

WASHINGTON — The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley   canceled his trip to the Middle East because of the situation in Russia, according to his spokesperson Colonel Dave Butler. Milley was supposed to leave DC today and travel to Israel and Jordan or meetings with his counterparts.

Milley also spoke with Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi today by phone. They discussed the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and exchanged perspectives and assessments. Milley reaffirmed support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.


Miami Mayor and GOP presidential candidate: 'Pray for the well-being' of Russia

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who mounted a long-shot bid this month to become the Republican presidential nominee, urged solidarity with Russia in a tweet.

“All peace-loving people around the world should pray for the well-being of the freedom loving-people of Russia," Suarez tweeted. "The next few days will be crucial. Please pray for God to protect the innocent.”

Firefighters work on extinguishing a fire at a fuel depot after reports of an explosion in Voronezh

Firefighters work on extinguishing a fire at a fuel depot after reports of an explosion in Voronezh, Russia
Andrey Arxipov / Kommersant Publishing House via AP
Firefighters work on extinguishing a fire at a fuel depot after reports of an explosion in Voronezh, Russia
Andrey Arxipov / Kommersant Publishing House via AP

Moscow's mayor asks residents to refrain from travel, declares Monday non-working day

Moscow's mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, said in a message posted to Telegram that a “counter-terrorist operation” is underway in the city and that city services are on “high alert," according to a translation.

He called for residents to "refrain from traveling around the city as much as possible" and said traffic could be blocked in certain areas.

He added that he has declared Monday a non-working day except for key services and the military.

Biden speaks with leaders from France, Germany and U.K. about Russia

Biden spoke with President of France Emmanuel Macron, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany and U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak by phone today to discuss the situation in Russia, the White House said.

They all affirmed their unwavering support for Ukraine during the call.

Ukraine Defense Ministry suggest now would be a good time for Russian soldiers to go home

The Ukraine Ministry of Defense recommended Russian soldiers leave Ukraine and address the revolt at home, but the ministry didn't care which side they aided — whether the Russian state or the Wagner Group.

In a fairly glib tweet on Saturday, the Defense Ministry said it was curious why Russian soldiers "are still sitting in muddy trenches." Their efforts, the ministry suggested, could be better used at home.

"That would be far safer than confronting the Ukrainian army," it said in a tweet.

Harris, Blinken and several other officials have been briefed on Russia

Vice President Kamala Harris attended Biden's briefing by the administration's national security team on the latest developments in Russia this morning, the White House said.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, Director of the CIA Bill Burns, and U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield also participated in the briefing.

Biden and Harris will continue to be briefed throughout the day, the White House added.

Ukrainian commander says his forces have liberated territory held since 2014

Ukrainian forces have liberated territory near the territories near the city of Krasnohorivka in the eastern Donetsk region that has been held by pro-Russia separatists since 2014, a Ukrainian commander said Saturday.

Oleksandr Tarnavskyi made the annoucnement on his Telegram channel, adding, "the movement of our forces continues."

NBC News could not independently verify his claim.

Mass events canceled in Tambov as Wagner moves forward

Mass events, including high school graduation parties, were canceled in the Russian region of Tambov, the country's Education Ministry said Saturday.

Such parties were postponed until July 1 in Moscow, the region around the capital and “a number of other regions where additional anti-terrorist measures have been introduced,” the ministry said in a statement.

Tambov is east of Lipetsk, where Gov. Igor Artamonov earlier confirmed Wagner mercenary group equipment was on the move.

Erdogan: Turkey 'ready to do our part' to resolve conflict 'in a calm and peaceful manner'

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke with Putin by phone, according to a tweet from his office.

"President Erdoğan underscored the importance of acting with common sense," the office tweeted. "It was stressed during the call that no one should take it upon themselves to take action in the face of the situation in Russia. In this sense, we as Türkiye stand ready to do our part in order for the incidents to be resolved in a calm and peaceful manner, President Erdoğan noted."

Rep. Connolly says situation in Russia may be the 'unraveling' of Putin

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., called the capture of Rostov-on-Don a "significant development."

Fighters from the Wagner mercenary group entered the city in southern Russia on Saturday morning. "This could very well be the unraveling of the Putin regime," Connolly said on MSNBC. "This is certainly the biggest existential threat he’s faced in his 23 years in rule."

Connolly, a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and a former head of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, said that Putin created the Wagner paramilitary group and gave it "enormous latitude."

"He is now four, five hundred kilometers from Moscow, and seems to be intent on taking out senior leadership in the Russian military and the Defense Department and the intelligence community," Connolly said. "This is a real, serious threat to the continuation of Putin’s regime."

Members of Wagner group inspect a car in a street of Rostov-on-Don, Russia
Members of Wagner paramilitary group inspect a car in a street of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Saturday.Stringer / AFP via Getty Images

Analysis: Putin's divide and rule approach backfires

No one knows how the next 24 hours, several days or weeks will play out in Russia, writes NBC News' chief international correspondent Keir Simmons:

We know that President Vladimir Putin has an enormous power base in the officials he has known for decades and placed in positions of power.

Many of them owe their influence, in one way or another, to Putin. But many of those people also know Wagner group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin well. Kremlin officials have talked to me at length about their personal experiences working with him — so this is a fight between brothers.

For decades, Putin has taken a divide and rule approach and successfully managed warring factions, but that strategy is now backfiring.

This is a battle for who controls the Russian military and ultimately the Russian state. But the most important aspect of it, for the world, may be that this is therefore a battle for control of the country’s more than 4,000 nuclear warheads. That is one of the reasons why what is happening now in Russia is so profoundly important for the world.

Neighboring Latvia closes its borders to Russians

Latvia has closed its borders to Russians, the country's president-elect tweeted Saturday.

Edgars Rinkevics said his government was closely following the developing situation in neighboring Russia and "exchanging information with allies."

"Border security has been strengthened, visa or border entry from Russians leaving Russia due to current events won’t be considered," he added.

This uprising likely won't last too long, military analyst says

Ukrainians are sharing memes about the Russian infighting, but this Wagner situation is likely to be short-lived, said Kevin Baron, a military analyst and executive editor of Defense One.

“This is a civil war in the making, or at least an uprising," Baron said in an interview on "The Saturday Show with Jonathan Capehart."

But it's only "good news" for Ukraine in the "short term" as "Russia now has something else occupying its time in a big way," Baron said.

Who is in charge of nukes is key concern, recent U.S. Central Command chief says

Who remains in charge of Russia's nuclear command and control system will be the main concern for senior defense officials, said Gen. Frank McKenzie, who led U.S. Central Command before retiring in 2022.

"That's the one thing that could affect us badly if there was a problem with that," he said. "I think everybody's going to be very interested in assuring Russian nuclear command and control and aside from that, is Putin still calling the shots?"

McKenzie said that the U.S. and its allies would likely prefer Putin to remain in control of Russia, as he is a known actor. If the state around him were to collapse, however, it could be detrimental for the region and the world.

Russia controls nearly 6,000 nuclear warheads as of 2022, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

But McKenzie said that the Russians maintain powerful security systems to keep their stockpiles safe and to assure the weapons cannot be used if captured.

"The Russians actually have a pretty good permissive action link system, or PAL," the retired general said, referring to a security system that prevents unauthorized arming or detonation of nuclear devices. "So grabbing a nuclear weapons storage depot doesn't mean you're going to be able to deploy nuclear weapons. It's far more complex and protected than that."

Armored personnel carrier and police officers guard highway at entrance to Moscow

An APC and police officers guard the highway at the entrance to Moscow
AP

Biden monitoring situation in Russia

President Joe Biden was briefed again this morning on the latest developments in Russia, a White House official said.

The White House continues to monitor the situation, the official said.

Prigozhin defends cash piles found in St. Petersburg office

Yevgeny Prigozhin has defended his paramilitary group after Russian media reported that piles of cash were found in Wagner's St. Petersburg office when it was raided earlier on Saturday.

Prigozhin confirmed reports that cash was kept in a small truck and "two more minibuses" but he said in a Telegram post that it was used "for salaries, compensations for the families of those killed, etc."

Prigozhin said that his company had used only cash since it was founded.

"When we were engaged in Africa, Ukraine, when we caused hell in America, cash raised no questions. Now they came with searches — nothing happened, cash was found," he said.

Putin will be weakened by this revolt, national security analyst says

This revolt is the “most serious challenge” that Putin has faced in his more than two decades at the helm of the Russian government, and whatever the outcome, he will emerge in a weaker position, said Evelyn Farkas, national security analyst and executive director of the McCain Institute.

“His monopoly on military force is being challenged by a militia that he enabled and there’s about to be a military clash on the outskirts of the capital city,” Farkas told NBC News. “This is as serious as a heart attack, and even if Putin manages to maintain control, if he manages to squash this rebellion, he will be much weaker.”

Russia's President Vladimir Putin delivers a video address from the Kremlin
Russia's President Vladimir Putin delivers a video address from the Kremlin, on Saturday.Gavriil Grigorov / AFP via Getty Images

Farkas predicted that Putin would be able to end the situation with Wagner because he controls Russia's national guard, military and intelligence services, and it’s unlikely they’ll turn against him.

“If Putin prevails, he will take harsh retribution, lots of people will go to jail, people may lose their lives,” Farkas said. “Russia has a sham system of justice.

"This is going to be really nasty.”

U.S. Rep. Auchincloss: 'Russia is divided and demoralized'

Rep. Jake Auchincloss, D-Mass., a former Marine, issued a statement on the situation in Russia, suggesting that Putin was in trouble.

“It’s unclear how the Wagner uprising ends, or even how the West should want it to end," Auchincloss said. "But here’s what is clear: Russia is divided and demoralized. Ukraine is united and on the attack.”

Map: reported Wagner activity

Prime Minister Trudeau: Canadian officials 'in contact with our allies'

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that he has "been briefed on the events unfolding in Russia."

"The Incident Response Group will meet today to discuss the latest developments," Trudeau tweeted. "We’re in contact with our allies and will continue to monitor the situation closely."

The Canadian government has said that it supports "Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea and its support for insurgents in eastern Ukraine."

German government's crisis team discusses developments in Russia

The German government's crisis team held a meeting to discuss developments in Russia, the country's Foreign Ministry said in a statement Saturday.

"We have been observing developments in Russia very closely since yesterday evening and are in close contact with our international partners," Baerbock said in a separate post on Twitter.

She also advised German nationals in Russia to observe government travel instructions.

'Consequences for Ukraine are difficult to predict,' says Kyiv Parliament member

Kira Rudik, a member of Ukraine's Parliament, said Saturday that Russia could end any situation quickly so “there should not be too many expectations” that the Wagner mercenary group would achieve its goals.

"Even if that happens, the consequences for Ukraine are difficult to predict," Rudik told NBC News. "Let’s make it clear: There’s no good guys there. It is a group of Russians who did not agree with another group of Russians on the best way to kill us, Ukrainians. So, we are watching and cheering for both sides."

The more missiles, helicopters, tanks and soldiers that are destroyed in this tussle would mean there's less that can be used against Ukraine, Rudik said.

Members of Wagner group stand guard in a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia
Members of Wagner mercenary group stand guard in a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Saturday. Stringer / AFP - Getty Images

Iran supports the rule of law in Russia, foreign ministry says

Iran supports the rule of law in the Russian Federation and considers the latest developments there an internal Russian matter, Iranian state media quoted Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani as saying on Saturday.

Residents told to stay home as Wagner moves through Lipetsk region

Residents in Russia's Lipetsk region were advised not to leave their homes because a Wagner mercenary group column was moving across the area, the region's governor said Saturday.

"Law enforcement agencies and authorities, including those in municipalities, are taking all necessary measures to ensure the safety of the population," Igor Artamonov said in a Telegram post, adding, "I remind you that residents are strongly advised not to leave their homes and refuse to travel by any means of transport." 

Artamonov said the situation was under control in the region, which is around 270 miles south of Moscow and 465 miles north of Rostov-on-Don.

Belarus reaffirms alliance with Russia

Belarus said Saturday that it remained an ally of Russia and that internal disputes were “a gift to the collective West.”

The country's Security Council said it could not “remain aloof from the events that are taking place in the south of Russia” and warned rebellion “could lead to disaster.”

The statement called for a “voice of reason” and a return to unity, for the “future of the Slavic world.”

“What is happening is not worth the consequences, the losses that emotional decisions and illegal actions can lead to,” it said. “The interests of the people, the lives of ordinary citizens, the integrity of Russia are at stake.”

Head of Russian militant group supports the revolt

The commander of the so-called Russian Volunteer Corp threw his support behind Yevgeny Prigozhin Saturday, calling it a "unique chance" to determine Russia's fate.

Without mentioning Prigozhin by name in a post on Telegram, Denis Kapustin, a white nationalist with neo-Nazi views, called what's been happening in Russia "a new time of troubles."

The Russian Volunteer Corp was allegedly behind a daring cross-border incursion into Russia's Belgorod region last month, exposing the vulnerability of Russian defenses on its own territory.

The group, which supports Ukraine in the war, has been open about wanting to topple Vladimir Putin's regime and rebuild a new Russia.

Members of Wagner group detain a man in the city of Rostov-on-Don
Members of Wagner Group detain a man in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Saturday.Stringer / AFP via Getty Images

Blinken speaks to G7 and E.U. about situation in Russia

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that he had spoken with his counterparts in the G7 and Josep Borrell, the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy.

"The United States will stay in close coordination with Allies and partners as the situation continues to develop," Blinken tweeted.

The G7, or Group of Seven, includes the governments of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Borrell acknowledged the call earlier in the day and said that he was coordinating within the E.U. ahead of the economic union's Foreign Affairs Council meeting on Monday.

"I am coordinating inside the European Union and have activated the crisis response centre," the foreign dignitary said on Twitter.

'A very dangerous time,' senior U.S. military official tells NBC News

A senior U.S. military official told NBC News late Friday that it was "a very dangerous time" for Russia and the outcome would depend “on how the military acts.“

The official added that the next 72 hours were "critical."

Russian police patrol Wagner HQ

While Wagner mercenary fighters roll on with their rebellion, Russian police have targeted its headquarters in St. Petersburg.

Image: RUSSIA-UKRAINE-CONFLICT-WAGNER
OLGA MALTSEVA / AFP - Getty Images

Erdogan expresses support for Putin

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Moscow on Saturday to express his support for his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin’s information service said Saturday.

“At the initiative of the Turkish side,” Putin and Erdogan discussed the ongoing rebellion and Erdogan “expressed full support for the steps taken by the Russian leadership,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

The recently re-elected Turkish president has previously considered himself an intermediary in Russia’s war on Ukraine. He has long nurtured close relations with Putin and has previously described Russia and Turkey as having a “special relationship.”

Trump criticizes aid to Ukraine

Writing on his website Truth Social as the events unfold in Russia, former President Donald Trump appeared to criticize aid to Ukraine.

In a post that sought to blame President Joe Biden for a myriad of foreign issues, Trump suggested corruption was to behind assistance to Ukraine.

"Why hundreds of billions of dollars are given, without any control, to Ukraine," Trump wrote.

Biden has made continued aide to Ukraine top priority and has traveled to the war-torn country to underscore U.S. support. Trump, who is running to return to power, has promised to end the war immediately, suggesting he would withdraw aid and force a negotiated agreement.

Rostov-on-Don residents were urged to stay inside for safety reasons

Residents of Rostov-on-Don were warned on Saturday about the possible passage of military equipment through the streets and urged not to leave their homes for security reasons.

The head of city administration, Alexei Logvinenko, addresssed this on Saturday in his Telegram channel.

Prigozhin has said he was able to enter he city without firing any weapons.

Wagner chief says his forces took military HQ without firing a shot

The head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said his forces did not fire a shot when they they took control of Russia's military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don.

“We were hit, first with artillery, then with helicopters,” he said in an audio message released on his social media channels. “We went without a single round fired, we didn’t touch a single conscript. We didn’t kill a single person on our way.”

He added that the Wagner group had the widespread support of the Russian people in what he termed a “march of justice” against the country's military leadership.

Emergency workers distribute water on clogged Russian highway

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Rescue workers distribute water to people who cannot drive along blocked highway "Don" because of the movement of military convoys in the Rostov region. AP

Putin is working inside the Kremlin today, spokesman says

Russian President Vladimir Putin remained in Moscow working inside the Kremlin, spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told state news agency RIA.

Peskov's comments countered rumors from a number of Telegram channels that Putin might have left Moscow for one of his residences in another region.

Video shows explosion at Russian oil facility as revolt continues

A video posted on social media that was verified by NBC News shows a massive explosion on Saturday at an oil facility in Voronezh, a city in southwest Russia that is along the route to Moscow.

The Telegram channel for the government of the Voronezh region said that more than 100 firefighters and 30 vehicles were at the scene extinguishing the fire. There appeared to be no victims.

The government did say that it was conducting "a counter-terrorist operation" in Veronezh and Moscow regions as the Wagner Group claims it is marching toward Moscow. "The reason for such measures was an attempted military rebellion," the statement said.

Veronezh is not far from Rostov and Ukraine's border, where the mercenary fighters began their armed rebellion.

Head of Russian foreign intelligence agency says armed rebellion is a unjustifable crime

The head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergey Naryshkin, said on the state-controlled news agency Tass that an attempt at an armed rebellion was the most terrible crime that could not be justified.

Naryshkin said it was clear that the attempt to rock society and kindle the fire of civil war had failed.

Ukraine's foreign minister calls for more weapons

Ukraine's foreign minister made it clear that world leaders watching the internal fighting in Russia should see it as a moment to side with his country.

Dmytro Kuleba called on countries to abandon their reservations about siding against Russia and to send weapons to Ukraine.

“Those who said Russia was too strong to lose: look now,” Kuleba wrote on Twitter. “Time to abandon false neutrality and fear of escalation; give Ukraine all the needed weapons; forget about friendship or business with Russia. Time to put an end to the evil everyone despised but was too afraid to tear down.”

Adviser to Ukraine defense minister says Russia coup 'inevitable'

From Ukraine's perspective, an armed revolt in Russia was "inevitable."

Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov, told NBC News that the Kremlin had lied to the world and its own people so much that "these gigantic lies were certain to implode sooner or later."

He characterized both sides of the conflict in Russia, the government and the Wagner Group as "terrorist states."

"This will, of course, weaken the terrorist states and the winner of this situation will be Ukraine," Sak said.

But for now, he said Ukraine remained focused on its front lines, the ongoing counteroffensive and the massive missile strike that hit Kyiv overnight. He said more than 50 missiles were launched at Ukraine and at least one struck an apartment complex in the Ukrainian capital.

"Three civilians are dead and that’s not all the casualties," Sak said. We’re still trying to figure out how many more people could have died."

Oligarch-turned-dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky calls on Russians to take up arms

One of Putin’s most prominent critics, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has called for regular Russians to take up arms, saying it was the only way for Prigozhin's revolt to succeed.

Khodorkovsky said earlier on Saturday that the Wagner "rebellion" was the "strongest blow to Putin’s reputation" and urged regular Russians to help Prigozhin’s cause.

"Prigozhin will be able to survive and reach the Kremlin only if the broad masses of people receive weapons," he said on Telegram. "People can take up arms that are now literally ownerless. Take it! Will come in handy tomorrow."





Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev calls for unity around Putin

Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president and the deputy secretary of the country's Security Council, has called for Russians to unite around Putin to "save" the country.

"Division and betrayal is the path to the greatest tragedy, a universal catastrophe," Medvedev, who has been one of Putin's most trusted allies for years and an ardent war supporter, wrote on Telegram.

"We won’t allow it," he said.

Expert: Mutiny exposes weaknesses of Putin's grip on power

Wagner's mutiny has exposed the weakness of Putin’s grip on power, Keir Giles, an expert on Russia at Chatham House, an international affairs think-tank in London, said.

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin “and the forces with him, are in no position to challenge Putin’s grip on power directly, even if they wanted to. But indirectly, they have already shown the weakness of that grip,” Giles said via text message.

A standoff between Russia’s security forces and Wagner would hinge on what happens locally, given the mercenary group's close relationship with Russian military intelligence. Intelligence and other forces deployed to block moves by Wagner toward Moscow could jump either way, he said.  

Though the conflict between the Wagner group and the military would not lessen the threat to Ukraine, given Prigozhin’s general support for the war, it would give Kyiv a chance to exploit confusion among Moscow's troops, he said.

President of European Council monitoring situation in Russia

President European Council Charles Michel has been watching the situation in Russia, though he described it as an “internal Russian issue” in a post on Twitter this morning.

“Closely monitoring the situation in Russia as it unfolds. In touch with European leaders and @G7 partners. This is clearly an internal Russian issue. Our support for Ukraine and @ZelenskyyUa is unwavering,” he wrote.

The European Council is an organization composed of the heads of EU member states, as well as the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. It provides political direction to the E.U.


Russian opposition accuses Wagner chief of hypocrisy

The spokeswoman for Russia's jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Kira Yarmysh, accused Yevgeny Prigozhin of hypocrisy after he vowed to bring an end to Russian corruption with his revolt.

“Prigozhin refuses to give up and scolds corruption, while he himself is a product of corruption, and for many years was a successful consumer of this system," Yarmysh said.

A former convict turned millionaire, Prigozhin has been a prominent member of Putin's entourage and Kremlin's elite. He was known as “Putin’s chef” for catering state events through his catering business before becoming the head of the Wagner mercenary group.

Navalny is in jail and faces legal action that could keep in imprisoned for decades.

Prigozhin: Putin 'deeply wrong' about Wagner's 'treason'

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin rejected President Vladimir Putin's charges of treason on Saturday, saying he and his fighters were the true "patriots" of Russia.

Wagner would not respond to orders to surrender from Putin or the security service "because we do not want our country to continue living in corruption, deception and bureaucracy," Prigozhin said.

While Prigozhin refrained from taking aim at Putin directly, he accused top military brass of not supplying his forces in Ukraine with enough ammunition, which he said was plundered by bureaucrats.

"[They] were saving it for themselves, for the occasion that's happened today — when someone is marching to Moscow," he said.

British Prime Minister Sunak in contact with allies about situation in Russia

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has encouraged all parties in Russia to protect civilian lives, according to a spokesperson.

Sunak has spoken with British allies and will talk with President Zelenskyy.

“We’re keeping a close eye on the situation, as it’s evolving on the ground as we speak,” he told the BBC in an on-camera interview that is yet to air.

“The most important thing I’d say is for all parties to be responsible and to protect civilians, and that’s about as much as I can say at this moment.”

Voronezh regional governor denies rumors of military vehicles on roads

Video allegedly showing military vehicles heading towards Russia's Voronezh are fake, the governor of the region said on Saturday.

Voronezh is around 310 miles north of Rostov, which Wagner mercenaries claim to have taken parts of, and sits on the road to Moscow.

“A lot of unreliable information is now being published on social networks about the movement of columns of military equipment through the territory of the Voronezh region," Alexander Gusev said in a post on Telegram.

He warned against succumbing “to the informational provocations of those who are interested in destabilizing the situation in the country.”


Videos show strong military presence outside key military HQ

Videos have emerged online showing dozens of men in military fatigues surrounding a key Russian military complex in the city of Rostov-on-Don, the southern city where the headquarters for the war in Ukraine are based.

The videos, which were shared on Telegram and verified by NBC News, show troops with white armbands laying on the floor and pointing their guns toward the Southern Military District headquarters. A tank with the letter “Z” emblazoned on the side and other military vehicles are also stationed outside the compound.

Civilian onlookers nearby appeared calm as they filmed the scene on their cellphones. In one video, the man recording says: “Those in red [armbands] are ministry of defense, whites are Wagner.”

Billboard advertising Wagner on prominent display in St. Petersburg

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Policemen guard an area in front of a poster advertising the Wagner Group on the outskirts of the Russian city of St. Petersburg.AP

Zelenskyy: Mutiny reveals Russia's 'weakness'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the Wagner Group mutiny betrayed Russia's “weakness” that “no lie can hide.”

“The longer Russia keeps its troops and mercenaries on our land, the more chaos, pain, and problems it will have for itself later,” Zelenskyy said on Twitter.

In his first comments since Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin promised to avenge fighters he said had been killed by the Russian military, Zelenskyy added that Russia had used propaganda to mask the “stupidity of its government.”

The rebellion made the country's “full-scale weakness” obvious, Zelenskyy said, drawing a comparison to Russia's 1917 revolution.

Leading Putin critic: 'Anything could happen here'

American-born human rights lawyer and leading Kremlin-critic Bill Browder has told NBC News that the Wagner mutiny "is the most credible threat to Putin since the start of his regime" some 23 years ago.

Browder, a former hedge-fund manager who now lives in London, said that "loyalties are going to be tested everywhere in Russia" as elites and institutions weigh up their best chance of survival amid the country's domestic turmoil.

"Everybody in Russia is going to be looking to see who is more brutal and more powerful," Browder said by telephone. "If Prigozhin can present a credible threat to the establishment in Russia, he may succeed in getting people to switch sides."

"If you side with Putin and Prigozhin somehow prevails, you will be purged. And if you side with Prigozhin and Putin wards off this rebellion then you will be purged too," Browder said of the dilemma faced by Russian elites, adding that "anything could happen here."

Putin briefs Lukashenko on Wagner revolt

Vladimir Putin called his Belarusian counterpart and close ally President Alexander Lukashenko to brief him on the revolt by Wagner fighters on Saturday, Lukashenko's press corps said on Telegram.

Lukashenko supported the invasion of Ukraine, and has supplied weapons to Russia since early in the war. In May, Putin signed a deal to send tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, the first deployment of such warhead outside Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Rostov governor calls for calm

The governor of Russia's Rostov region advised residents to stay inside on Saturday as Wagner fighters claimed to have seized control of parts of the region.

“The current situation requires the maximum concentration of all forces to maintain order,” Vasily Golubev said on Telegram. “Law enforcement agencies are doing everything necessary to ensure the safety of the residents of the region.”

Wagner's chief Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed his forces had taken control of Rostov-on-Don, the southern Russian city where the headquarters for the war in Ukraine are based.

Ministry of defense issues appeal to Wagner fighters

Russia's ministry of defense said Wagner fighters had been “deceived and dragged into a criminal adventure” by the mercenary group's chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

In a direct appeal to Wagner employees posted to Telegram, the ministry promised to guarantee the safety of any fighters who got in touch with Russian officials, and to help them return to “their points of permanent deployment.”

European leaders monitor situation in Russia

French President Emmanuel Macron is following the situation in Russia closely, the presidential palace said Saturday.

“We stay focused on the support to Ukraine,” the Élysée said in a statement.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government is also watching the situation closely, a spokesperson at the government’s press office said Saturday.

Elsewhere Poland’s President Andrzej Duda tweeted that he had held consultations with his prime minister and defense minister, “as well as with the allies.”

Russian banks increase foreign exchange rates

Several Russian banks have sharply boosted their foreign exchange rates, meaning the value of the Russian rouble has fallen against the dollar and other currencies.

The banks included Raiffeisenbank, VTB and Gazprombank, Russia's Kommersant newspaper reported.

Chechen leader calls for revolt to be crushed

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov called for Yevgeny Prigozhin’s “vile betrayal” and revolt to be crushed.

One of the staunchest supporters of President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine, Kadyrov wrote in a lengthy post on Telegram that war was not the time to voice “personal grievances.” He was ready to employ “harsh measures” to subdue the rebellion, Kadyrov added.

Kadyrov also said his fighters had already left for the “zones of tension,” without elaborating.


Britain strongly advises citizens to leave Russia

Britain’s Foreign Office has “strongly” advised its citizens living in Russia to consider leaving by commercial routes.

“There are reports of military tensions in the Rostov region and a risk of further unrest across the country,” it said in an advisory posted to its website. “Additionally, there is a lack of available flight options to return to the U.K.”

It added that those living in in Russia should “exercise extreme caution at all times and consider the risks if they decide to leave Russia by any route.”

Moscow mayor says counterterrorism measures taken in capital

Counterterrorism measures were being put in place in Russia's capital, Moscow, to reinforce security after threats from Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, the city's mayor Sergey Sobyanin said on Saturday.

Sobyanin said city services had not been affected and that the flow of traffic around the city was as normal.

'Everything is just beginning': Ukraine's top officials react to Prigozhin's mutiny

Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny showed an "obvious" split among Russian elites, Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said on Saturday.

"Agreeing and pretending that everything is settled won’t work. ... Everything is just beginning in Russia," he said in a post on Twitter.

Andriy Yermak, Zelenskyy’s chief of staff shared on Telegram a photo of himself alongside the country's military commanders with a caption: "There will be a fire in Russia."

Meanwhile, Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said the Ukrainian formula for sustainable peace included "starting the process of Russia’s self-destruction."

Parliamentarians support Putin, speaker of Russia's Duma says

Russian deputies support Vladimir Putin, a leading supporter of the president said Saturday.

"Deputies of the State Duma, representing the interests of the citizens of the Russian Federation, stand for the consolidation of forces, support President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, our Supreme Commander-in-Chief," Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of the Russian Parliament, wrote in a post on Telegram.

He called for unity and said the Wagner mercenaries should make "the only right choice" as he urged them to follow Putin's orders because "anything else is betrayal."

Tanks and armored vehicles pictured in Rostov-on-Don and other regions

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This photo taken from video shows an armored vehicle standing in a street in Rostov-on-Don, the southern Russian city where the headquarters for the war in Ukraine is based.AP
Image:
In a sign of how seriously the Kremlin is taking the threat, security has been heightened in Moscow, Rostov-on-Don and other regions.AP

This is 'strongest blow' yet to Putin, leading critic of Kremlin says

One of Putin's most prominent critics has called the Wagner "rebellion" the "strongest blow to Putin’s reputation." Mikhail Khodorkovsky was once Russia's richest man but was jailed for 10 years and then exiled after falling out of favor with the Kremlin.

Khodorkovsky, who now lives in London, wrote on the Telegram messaging service that Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin's "rebellion, despite its half-heartedness and unpreparedness, is the strongest blow to Putin's reputation" yet. "Kremlin trolls" — meaning Russian online propagandists — were trying to claim that "everything will be OK tomorrow. Alas, they will not!" he said.

The key development, he said, was that Prigozhin, one of the main players in Russia's invasion of UKraine, had repeated "word-for-word" what the anti-war Russian opposition has been saying all along: "The purpose of the war is theft" and "the official reason for the war (NATO is preparing to attack Russia) is bullsh — that no one believes in."

Khodorkovsky urged people to help Prigozhin's cause by giving his militiamen gasoline and persuading his would-be opponents to get out of his way. "Good luck!" he wrote. "And yes, this is just the beginning. ..."

Wagner chief claims control of key military HQ city

Yevgeny Prigozhin said early Saturday that he and his fighters had effectively taken control of Rostov-on-Don, the southern Russian city where the headquarters for the war in Ukraine is based.

“We are in the headquarters, 7:30 in the morning, military objects of Rostov are under control, including aerodrome,” the mercenary chief said in a video apparently from inside the military headquarters posted to social media.

Chief of General Staff Gerasimov had “run away when he found out we were approaching the building,” Prigozhin said.

NBC News has not verified Prigozhin's claims.

Russia announces start of 'counterterrorist operation'

Russia's National Anti-terrorist Committee, which is run by the security services, has announced the implementation of a "counter-terrorist operation regime" in the regions of Moscow and Voronezh, to the capital's south.

The NAC, which is run by the head of Russia's federal security service, the FSB, said this was "to prevent possible terrorist acts on the territory of the city of Moscow, and the Moscow and Voronezh regions."

These areas sit between the capital and Rostov-on-Don, the southern city that Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin claims to have taken control of.

Prominent pro-war hawk urges Russians to 'come to your senses'

Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov, one of the country's most ardent supporters of the war in Ukraine, urged the focus to return to the battlefield.

“The enemy is there, in Ukraine,” he said in a video message recorded in a moving car. “Stop before it’s too late. Lest we lose our country. There is nothing scarier than a civil war.”

"It's a challenging time," Solovyov said from what he said was Ukraine's partially-occupied region of Zaporizhzhia.

Solovyov, who has for years encouraged an anti-Ukrainian and anti-Western sentiments on his state TV shows, warned that Russia could be lost if people don't "come to [their] senses."


Crisis 'most significant challenge to Russian state in recent times,' U.K. says

The feud between Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and Russia’s defense ministry, “represents the most significant challenge to the Russian state in recent times,” according to an intelligence briefing from the U.K.'s defense ministry.

“Over the coming hours, the loyalty of Russia’s security forces, and especially the Russian National Guard, will be key to how the crisis plays out,” the briefing posted to its Twitter feed stated on Saturday.

It added that the feud between the mercenary group and the Russian ministry of defense had “escalated into outright military confrontation.”

Graduation ceremonies, public events postponed or cancelled amid unrest

Some public events in Moscow and other cities across Russia have been postponed or cancelled, Russian state news outlet Tass reported Saturday.

Graduation ceremonies in the capital's schools and the citywide prom celebrations in Moscow's famous Gorky Park have been postponed for a week, Tass said, quoting the city's education department.

Meanwhile, all weekend public events in the Tver region, neighboring Moscow, have been canceled, the agency reported, citing local authorities.

Russia's western Kaliningrad region has also announced that all mass events were canceled until Monday "for security reasons," the authorities there said.


Putin says organizers of the ‘rebellion’ betrayed Russia

President Vladimir Putin called unrest overnight “a betrayal of his country and people.”

“Everything that weakens Russia should be thrown aside,” the Russian leader said in a televised address to the nation exactly 16 months after he announced the invasion of Ukraine.

He added that the action against what he called “rebels” will be tough, and the army and law enforcement had received “the necessary orders.”

“Russia will react harshly,” said Putin, wearing a sober black tie and suit.

Putin decries ‘armed mutiny’ and vows mercenaries will face justice

Russian President Vladimir Putin has labeled Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mercenary revolt an “armed mutiny” and vowed to put down the effort.

Calling the Wagner rebellion a treasonous “stab in the back” of Moscow’s troops, Putin minced no words as he addressed the nation about the man who was once his caterer.

The Russian leader admitted the situation in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don was complicated but said that the state “will defend itself and repel” the effort.

Mercenary chief claims control of military HQ in southern city

Yevgeny Prigozhin said early Saturday that he and his fighters had effectively taken control of Rostov-on-Don, the southern Russian city where the headquarters for the war in Ukraine are based.

In a video posted to his social media, Prigozhin threatened to blockade the city and head for Moscow unless Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff, come to see him in Rostov.

NBC News has not verified the claims, but video posted to social media shows armored vehicles on the city’s streets.

Image: RUSSIA-UKRAINE-CONFLICT-WAGNER
This video grab taken from handout footage posted on Saturday shows Prigozhin speaking inside what appears to be the headquarters of the Russian southern military district in the city of Rostov-on-Don.HANDOUT / AFP - Getty Images

Russian defense ministry appeals directly to Wagner fighters

Russia’s defense ministry issued a direct appeal to Wagner mercenaries, urging them to abandon a revolt that appeared to have moved into the southern Russian city of Rostov.

“You were tricked into Prigozhin’s criminal gamble and participation in an armed insurgency,” the ministry said in a post on Telegram early Saturday.

“We guarantee everyone’s safety,” it added.

What is the Wagner Group? A look at the mercenary group led by man accused of ‘armed mutiny’ in Russia

Prigozhin was once a catering business owner so known for government events he was called “Putin’s chef”

Prigozhin, 61, is a Russian oligarch who has been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department — including in 2019 for efforts to influence the 2018 U.S. presidential election, and also previously for the 2016 election.

The Wagner Group, which Russia calls a “private military company” had been founded in 2014 but it wasn’t until September of 2022 that Prigozhin admitted that he founded it, Reuters has reported. He previously denied it.

One of the wealthiest men in Russia, Prigozhin financed the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg-based internet troll farm. He was among 13 Russians and three Russian companies indicted in the U.S. in 2018 on criminal charges related to election interference activities.

Read the full story here.

Prigozhin aiming to oust defense chief, not Putin, U.S. official says

A senior U.S. military official told NBC News he does not believe Prigozhin is attempting a coup against Putin at this stage but is instead trying to remove Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

Wagner’s troop strength is difficult to estimate. A number that is often used (and sometimes used by Wagner) is 25,000, although other estimates are as high as 50,000 and as low as 15,000.

Prigozhin claims he and his troops have reached Rostov-on-Don

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner private military contractor who called for an armed rebellion aimed at ousting Russia’s defense minister, confirmed in a video that he and his troops have reached Rostov-on-Don.

The city is home to the Russian military headquarters that oversees the fighting in Ukraine.