An armoured personnel carrier and police officers on a highway on the outskirts of Moscow, on June 24, 2023. Image Credit: AP

Moscow: Moscow’s mayor warned on Saturday that traffic could be restricted in parts of Russia’s capital as part of heightened security prompted by the rebellion of mercenaries with private military company Wagner.

Mayor Sergei Sobyanin asked the city’s residents to refrain from using their cars amid the counter-terrorism operation in Moscow and the surrounding region that authorities introduced earlier Saturday. He also declared Monday a non-working day for most people, with the exception of public servants and employees of some industrial enterprises.

Sobyanin noted that all key city services were put on high readiness and advised residents to report any emergencies.

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“The situation is difficult, I ask you to refrain from travelling around the city as much as possible,” Sobyanin said in his statement posted on Telegram.

He added that it’s possible some roads or neighbourhoods in the city will be closed to traffic.

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

Authorities declared a “counterterrorist regime” in the capital and its surrounding region.

A police officer guards the closed Red Square in Moscow, Russia, June 24, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

Crews also dug up parts of highways in an apparent bid to slow the march of the Wagner mercenary army. Access to Red Square was closed, two major museums were evacuated and a park was shut.

A source close to the leadership in the Russian part of Ukraine’s Donetsk province said a convoy of mutinous Wagner fighters approaching the outskirts of Moscow by road contains about 5,000 men led by senior Wagner commander Dmitry Utkin.

The source, who has proved reliable in the past, said Prigozhin had fewer than 25,000 men at his disposal in total, and that around 5,000 of them were in Rostov-on-Don, the southern city key to Russia’s war in Ukraine that Prigozhin said he had taken control of.

The source said Wagner’s plan for Moscow was to take up positions in a densely built-up area.

France warns citizens

Prigozhin’s private army appeared to control the military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, a city 660 miles (over 1,000 kilometers) south of Moscow that runs Russian operations in Ukraine, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said.

Wagner troops and equipment also were in Lipetsk province, about 360 kilometers (225 miles) south of Moscow, where authorities “are taking all necessary measures to ensure the safety of the population,” said regional Gov. Igor Artamonov, via Telegram.

A serviceman stands atop of an armored vehicle of the Wagner Group military company, as he guards an area at the HQ of the Southern Military District in a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. Image Credit: AP

Wagner mercenaries appear to be moving north from central regions of Russia, in the direction of the capital.

Verified information from the ground is relatively sparse but Wagner troops appear to be moving north in the direction of Moscow.

France warned its citizens against all travel to and within Russia.

“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.