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Prigozhin, Wagner chief in a defiant message responds to Putin call to turn themselves in

Wagner Group chief, Prigozhin says in defiant message to Putin he and his men won’t turn themselves in.

The head of the Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin Saturday said Russian President Vladimir Putin was “deeply mistaken” in calling rebelling Wagner fighters “traitors” and ruled out surrender.

“On treason of the motherland: the president is deeply wrong. We are patriots of our motherland,” Prigozhin, who launched a mutiny overnight, said in an audio message on Telegram.

“Nobody plans to turn themselves in at the request of the president, the FSB (security service) or anyone else.” Because we don’t want the country to continue to live any longer in corruption, deceit and bureaucracy.”

His response comes after President Vladimir Putin on Saturday said an “armed mutiny” by the Wagner Group mercenary force was treason and a “mortal blow” to Russia’s troops.

In an emergency televised address, the Russian president said anyone who had taken up arms against his military would be punished.

Putin said he would do everything to protect Russia, and that “decisive action” would be taken.

In the new video on Saturday, Prigozhin demanded Mr Shoigu and Russia’s top general Valery Gerasimov meet him at the headquarters of the Southern Military District in Rostov-on-Don city.

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“We have arrived here, we want to receive the chief of the general staff and Shoigu,” Mr Prigozhin said on the video. “Unless they come, we’ll be here, we’ll blockade the city of Rostov and head for Moscow.”

Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee charged Mr Prigozhin with calling for an armed rebellion, an offence that carries a maximum 20-year jail term.

The Wagner Group is a private army of mercenaries that has been fighting alongside the regular Russian army in Ukraine.

Tension has been growing between them over how the war has been fought, with Mr Prigozhin launching vocal criticisms of Russia’s military leadership in recent months.

On Friday, the 62-year-old mercenary leader accused the military of launching a deadly missile strike on his troops and vowed to punish them. He did not provide evidence.

Authorities have denied the strike and demanded he halt his “illegal actions”.

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