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Ukrainians are responding to Russia's inner turmoil with the Wagner group


Russia is in turmoil today. In a nationwide address, President Vladimir Putin said he would take decisive action to end what he called a military uprising inside Russia. He's referring to the head of a private military group, Wagner, which has apparently seized control of a key military center in southern Russia. Let's start our coverage with NPR's Greg Myre in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv. Greg, good morning.


PARKS: Hey. So give us some details about what exactly is happening in Russia today.

MYRE: Right. So this really blew up yesterday with some angry comments by the head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin. Now, his private military has been fighting alongside the Russian army in Ukraine, but he said that the Russian military fired on his mercenary Russian troops in Ukraine yesterday, killing a number of them. Now, this has not been independently confirmed, this specific incident, but he blamed the leaders of the Russian army and demanded their ouster. And this is part of a long-running feud he's had with them over how to wage war in Ukraine. And the Wagner forces now appear to have taken control of a Russian military headquarters in the southern city of Rostov, which is just outside Ukraine to the east. And it's been a key center for the Russian war effort. And the Wagner troops are also said to be moving north in the direction of Moscow. And Putin, as you noted, has gone on Russian TV to say that this must end. He's promised decisive action. But he tolerated Prigozhin's diatribes against the military for months. And now it's spiraled out of control, and it's just not clear how it's going to play out.

PARKS: Yeah, this seems like a big development. You're in Kyiv. How are Ukrainians reacting to this news?

MYRE: Yeah, I think their response could probably be summed up with Russia is getting what it deserves. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted a statement on his Telegram account. He said, quote, "Russia's weakness is obvious. The longer Russia keeps its troops and mercenaries on our land, the more chaos, pain and problems it will create for itself." A number of other officials are striking a similar tone. The head of Ukraine's military intelligence says that Prigozhin is really telling the truth when he keeps talking about Russians - Russia's military shortcomings while the Russian Defense Ministry keeps lying when it says that everything is going to plan and Russia is winning the war.

PARKS: Well, bring us up to date on the fighting that is going on in Ukraine.

MYRE: Right. So all this political and military tension inside Russia hasn't had any immediate impact on the fighting here in Ukraine. Russia launched another heavy overnight missile attack on a number of cities, and the primary focus was right here in the capital, Kyiv. Air raid sirens were wailing. Explosions were ringing out through the night. Russia fired more than 20 missiles at the capital and surrounding areas. Ukraine's military said it shot down all the missiles. And this is often the case that air defense in the capital is extremely good. However, that missile debris has got to fall somewhere, and it hit a high-rise apartment building, which ignited a fire. Three people were killed, and more than 10 were injured.

PARKS: So all of this is against the backdrop of this ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive that's going on in the east and south of the country. Could this turmoil in Russia have any effect on that counteroffensive?

MYRE: You know, Miles, it certainly could. It's just too early to tell right now. But this Russian crisis at home certainly comes at an opportune moment for the Ukrainians, given their counteroffensive that's just started recently. Now, Putin will have to sort all of this out, and this could take a lot of his time and energy. And it's far from clear what the outcome will be. Ukraine will certainly be looking for ways to exploit this on the battlefield. They're certainly hoping that Russia will be consumed with internal problems and that Prigozhin can make life miserable for Putin. I just note that the Ukrainians have no love lost for Prigozhin. His forces waged this ferocious battle against the Ukrainians for months in the eastern town of Bakhmut. That was really the longest, hardest battle of the war so far.

PARKS: That's NPR's Greg Myre in Kyiv. Thank you so much, Greg.

MYRE: Sure thing, Miles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.
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