In emergency TV address, Putin said he would do everything to protect Russia, and that “decisive action” would be taken to stabilise the situation in Rostov-on-Don, a southern city where Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said his forces had taken control of all military installations.
Putin described the actions of mutineers as a “stab in the back”.
“All those who prepared the rebellion will suffer inevitable punishment. The armed forces and other government agencies have received the necessary orders,” he said.
He urged “those who are being dragged into this crime not to make a fatal and tragic, unique mistake, to make the only right choice – to stop participating in criminal acts.”
Putin condemned the rebellion at a time when Russia was “fighting the toughest battle for its future” with its war in Ukraine.
“The entire military, economic and information machine of the West is waged against us,” he said.
“This battle, when the fate of our people is being decided, requires the unification of all forces, unity, consolidation and responsibility.” An armed rebellion at a time like this is “a blow to Russia, to its people,” the president said.
“Those who plotted and organised an armed rebellion, who raised arms against his comrades-in-arms, betrayed Russia. And they will answer for it,” Putin said.
Russia’s defence ministry said Wagner fighters were “tricked into the criminal adventure and armed rebellion” by Prigozhin, the leader of the mercenary group.
In a statement carried on state-run media, the ministry said many Wagner members “had already realised their mistake” and now wanted assistance from the authorities to be able to “return safely” to their permanent bases.
Authorities in Moscow and the surrounding area declared a counterterrorism state of emergency against the background of the armed uprising.
“In order to prevent possible terrorist attacks in the city and Moscow region, a regime of counterterrorism operations has been established,” Russia’s National Antiterrorism Committee announced on Saturday morning.
Security has been tightened in Moscow. The Voronezh region in south-western Russia, which borders Ukraine, also declared this type of state of emergency.
The counterterrorism state of emergency allows the Russian authorities to increase controls and facilitate the arrest of citizens. Telephone calls can also be tapped more frequently. However, it was initially unclear what concrete measures were to be taken in Moscow and Voronezh.
Earlier on Saturday, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin had already announced “anti-terror measures.” In the Russian capital, with its more than 13 million citizens, increased traffic checks had already been introduced on the streets. During the night, military vehicles were also on the road in the city centre.
with AP and DPA