Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin has began an “invasion” of his own country with speculation Russian leader Vladimir Putin may have upped and left – as his plane disappeared from radar.
The mercenary group occupied the city of Rostov-on-Don overnight and are reportedly now taking up positions near Voronezh, roughly 300 miles away from Moscow, in a possible coup.
And in an emboldened video address, Putin said in response: “I will do everything possible to defend my country….And those who have organised an armed rebellion will be held accountable."
READ MORE: Putin calls Wagner Group advance 'treason' and says 'everyone will be punished'
He added that the “armed mutiny” by Yevgeny Prigozhin and his men was treason and is a “mortal blow” to Russia's troops.
However, there have been numerous reports that Putin’s presidential plane took off from Moscow Vnukovo Airport at 2:16PM Moscow time (12:16PM BST) and then headed north-west.
According to data from the FlightRadar tracking website, the plane reached the Tver area – about 180km from Moscow and where Putin has a residence – before disappearing from the system.
It has not been possible to confirm whether Putin was on the plane but his spokesman Dmitry Peskov has told news agency TASS the president is “working in the Kremlin”.
Putin showing 'high levels of anger' and is in 'action mode', expert says
At present, Russian forces appear to be falling back ahead of the Wagner advance, but Putin's strong words hint that Prigozhin's forces will soon face serious opposition.
The FSB, the Russian state security force, is reportedly raiding the Wagner Groups HQ in St. Petersburg, while unconfirmed reports say that Wagner Group forces have shot down three Russian army attack helicopters.
General Sergei Surovikin, deputy commander of Russia’s Ukraine campaign, has posted his own video on Telegram, telling Wagner fighters to listen to Putin and return to their bases. He said internal conflict would only play into the hands of Russia’s enemies.
“I urge you to stop while it’s not too late," he said. "You need to obey the will and order of the elected president of Russia. Stop the columns, return them to their permanent bases. We must resolve all problems peacefully.”
Meanwhile, Prigozhin is warning Russians not to believe what they are being told on state television.
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