The Kremlin has denied Vladimir Putin fled Moscow by plane after claiming Russia is ‘facing treason’ from members of the mutinous Wagner group.
One of several planes that Putin uses for official visits took off from Moscow at 2.15pm local time, according to Flight Radar, which tracks aircraft in real-time.
Less than half an hour later, it went off radar about 150 kilometres from Putin’s official residence.
“Putin is working at the Kremlin,” his spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Tass news agency when asked about reports of him going to the north-west, possibly St Petersburg.
FlightRadar data reported that at 15:06 that the plane disappeared from radars near the Tver region.
Multiple other business jets have also departed the capital and instead headed to St Petersburg, according to reports.
Deputy premier Denis Manturov, left Russia for Turkey on Saturday, according to multiple reports.
It comes after Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed he and his troops had taken control of key sites in Rostov-on-Don, a major logistical hub, including the airfield.
An audio message on the social media app Telegram detailed Prigozhin’s fighters had crossed the border and were “ready to die” in confrontation with those in their way.
“All of us are ready to die. All 25,000, and then another 25,000,” he said, after earlier accusing the Russian top brass of launching strikes against his men,” he said.
“We are dying for the Russian people.”
Prigozhin later took to the Wagner Telegram channel to share a chilling message for the Russian president.
“Putin made the wrong choice. All the worse for him,” he wrote.
“Soon we will have a new president.”
However, Putin was quick to double down on those working outside his regime and warned on Saturday morning of “inevitable punishment” for anyone dividing Russian society.
“This is a criminal campaign. It is equivalent to armed mutiny,” Putin said.
“Russia will defend itself and repel this move. We are fighting for the life and security of our citizens and our territorial integrity.
“In the face of those who are fighting on the front, this is a stab in the back of the troops and the people of Russia.”
Putin acknowledged the situation was “very complicated” and unfolding at speed.
“Those who mutiny have betrayed Russia and I urge anybody involved in it to cease any kind of participation in armed conflict,” he said.
“These people will be brought to justice on behalf of our people.”
However, Prigozhin disputed these claims and instead said “the president makes a deep mistake when he talks about treason”.
“We are patriots of our motherland, we fought and are fighting for it,” Prigozhin said in an audio message. “We don’t want the country to continue to live in corruption, deceit and bureaucracy,” Prigozhin said.
Wagner are a private paramilitary group run by Prigozhin who currently claims to have more than 25,000 fighters under his command.
Their taking of Rostov is significant as the city serves as a main rear logistical hub for Russia’s invasion to Ukraine, particularly in the country’s east.
Prigozhin earlier accused the Kremlin of deliberately bombing Wagner troops in a series of explosive claims.
The alleged attacks include the bombing of a training camp in Bakhmut, Ukraine, which killed dozens.
Members of the group are believed to be heading towards Moscow from Rostov at speed, despite the cities being more than 1100km apart.
Increased security measures have been introduced across the city and its famous Red Square has become blocked off by metal barriers.
Moscow residents have also been warned to stay at home.
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