Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the mercenary Wagner group, claimed to have control of some of the buildings that form the military command in southern Russia in the city of Rostov-on-Don. Video verified by The New York Times shows that he had entered the facilities on Saturday morning.
In the videos, Mr. Prigozhin is seen in the company of dozens of armed men in the courtyard of the Southern Military District Headquarters, an important strategic command center in Russia’s war on Ukraine. Mr. Prigozhin said his forces would blockade the city and head for Moscow unless top Russian officials came to meet with them. Russian military and government officials didn’t immediately comment. It was not clear how much of the compound the Wagner forces controlled.
Additional videos circulating online and verified by The Times show dozens of soldiers getting out of military vehicles and pointing their guns at the compound. The videos were released hours after Mr. Prigozhin claimed Russia had attacked his forces in Ukraine, and said that he was bringing a column of troops to Russia in retaliation.
Mr. Prigozhin on Friday accused the Russian military of attacking his mercenary forces, escalating a long-running feud with the Russian military over the war in Ukraine. Russia’s prosecutor general announced hours later that Mr. Prigozhin was being investigated “on suspicion of organizing an armed rebellion.”
Since then, the scene that has unfolded in this city of more than one million people is tense and opaque; videos shared on Telegram show tanks driving down streets, soldiers jumping off trucks, and soldiers surrounding the headquarters. The soldiers are widely believed to be Wagner forces.
The Southern Military District is the smallest of Russia’s four regional military authorities, but it has played a critical role in the war. Units belonging to the command have fought in Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk Oblasts.
Contributing to the confusion emanating from Rostov-on-Don, civilian onlookers next to the military show of force seem to be unusually calm. In videos circulating online, some people can be seen smoking and drinking beer, and a street cleaner carries on with sweeping litter.
Robin Stein contributed reporting.