Moscow Declares Monday 'Non-Working' Day, Urges People To Stay Indoors As Mercenary Group Approaches

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin urged residents not to drive and said key city services were on high readiness. He declared Monday to be a nonworking day for most residents except public servants and some industrial enterprises.

Mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin led his troops out of Ukraine and advanced toward Moscow.

As forces of the Wagner mercenary group moved towards Moscow to oust Russia's military leadership, mayor Sergei Sobyanin on Saturday warned the situation in the capital was "difficult" and issued a stay at home advisory. The governor suspended mass events outdoors and at educational institutions until July 1, reported AP.

Mutinous Russian mercenary fighters barrelled towards Moscow on Saturday after seizing a southern city overnight, with Russia's military firing on them from the air but seemingly incapable of slowing their lightning advance.

As Prigozhin's forces rolled toward the capital, military trucks and armored vehicles were seen in several parts of Moscow. On its southern edge, troops erected checkpoints, arranged sandbags and put up machine guns. 

Putin denounced the uprising as “a stab in the back" in an address to the nation. It was the biggest threat to his leadership in over two decades in power. 

Moscow mayor's warning

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin urged residents not to drive and said key city services were on high readiness. He declared Monday to be a nonworking day for most residents except public servants and some industrial enterprises.

The dramatic developments came exactly 16 months after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Europe's largest conflict since World War II, that has killed tens of thousands, displaced millions and reduced cities to rubble. 

Prigozhin said he had 25,000 troops under his command and urged the army not to offer resistance. He posted video of himself at the military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don and claimed his forces had taken control of the airfield and other military facilities in the city. Other videos on social media showed military vehicles, including tanks, on the streets.

Following Prigozhin's statement, security measures in Moscow has been tightened, with critical facilities ‘put under reinforced protection’. The Russian government has also announced an ‘anti-terror operation regime’ in Moscow. A prominent Russian general had earlier urged the mercenary leader to stop, hinting that ‘the enemy is just waiting for the internal political situation to worsen in the country’.

Wagner group head's reactions

Hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin slammed the Wagner group for their "armed rebellion" and vowed to punish those who were on the "path of treason", Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the mercenary group, said that the Russian President is "deeply mistaken" and the group is a patriot, the Washington Post reported.

He was referring to Putin's remarks alleging that the Wagner group betrayed Russia by "staging hostilities" inside the country.

In an audio message posted by his press service, Prigozhin said on Saturday, "Regarding the betrayal of the motherland, the president is deeply mistaken".

France warns citizens against all Russia travel

France on Saturday warned its citizens against all travel to and within Russia after the head of the Wagner mercenary group launched a rebellion against the military and threatened to march on Moscow, the AFP reported.

"We formally advise against any travel in Russia given the very high volatility of the military and security situation, as well decisions to impose regimes of anti-terrorist operations in Moscow and in certain regions," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Biden speaks to Western leaders on Russian crisis

US President Joe Biden on Saturday spoke with the leaders of France, Germany and the United Kingdom on phone regarding the unfolding crisis in Russia, the White House said.

Biden and his European counterparts discussed "the situation in Russia," a White House statement said, adding that the leaders "affirmed their unwavering support for Ukraine."