The head of the feared Wagner mercenary group has resisted an attempt by the Russian defense minister to seize control of his ranks, as a bitter dispute between the private fighting force and Moscow appears to come to a head.
Yevgeny Prigozhin said today that his fighters would not sign any contracts with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, publicly challenging what appear to be efforts to check his influence.
Prigozhin has repeatedly attacked President Vladimir Putin’s top military commanders for what he sees as treason, criticizing him for failing to fight the war in Ukraine properly and mocking him for going to the front lines.
Tensions with Moscow escalated when mercenaries kidnapped a top Russian general last week, who admitted in a humiliating video that he was drunk on duty after allegedly shooting at a Wagner vehicle.
A video later surfaced showing General Roman Venevitin accusing Wagner of torturing Putin’s soldiers and Prigozhin of discrediting the army, a crime that could land him in jail.
Yevgeny Prigozhin said today that his fighters will not sign any contracts with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. In the photo: Prigozhin and his troops in Bakhmut
Prigozhin has repeatedly attacked Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu for what he sees as treason for failing to properly fight the war in Ukraine.
Russian Lieutenant Colonel Roman Venevitin claimed that Wagner’s forces, who are supposed to be on Russia’s side in the war, kidnapped Russian soldiers before torturing and raping them.
In Friday’s video, which was allegedly orchestrated by Russian military leaders after Venevitin was released, he said of Prigozhin: ‘You are involved in actively discrediting the Russian military.
‘YO [am speaking] convey to the Russian public the truth about what happened, tell some facts about the so-called Wagner,’ he said. Honor compels me to do this.
This accusation, which Venevitin appears to be reading from a script, hints that the authorities are trying to disempower Prigozhin, who has criticized accusations of violence by his troops towards Russian ranks as “absolute nonsense”.
Now the Russian Defense Ministry has urged all “volunteer detachments” to sign contracts with the Defense Ministry by the end of the month, a step it said would increase the effectiveness of the Russian military.
Although the ministry did not mention Wagner by name in its public statement, Russian media reported that it was an attempt by Shoigu to put the mercenaries on the line.
Prigozhin routinely attacks President Vladimir Putin’s top military commanders (pictured together in 2020)
“Wagner will not sign any contract with Shoigu,” Prigozhin said in response to a request for comment on the matter. The order, he said, did not apply to Wagner.
Prigozhin said that Wagner was completely subservient to Russia’s interests, but that his highly efficient command structure would be damaged by reporting to Shoigu.
“Shoigu cannot properly manage military formations,” Prigozhin said, adding that Wagner coordinated his actions in Ukraine with General Sergei Surovikin, dubbed “General Armageddon” by Russian media.
Prigozhin has said that the order to sign contracts with the Defense Ministry did not apply to Wagner. Pictured speaking in Bakhmut last month
The Defense Ministry said that in order to increase the effectiveness of the “volunteer detachments”, all such units, or their men, would have to sign a contract with the Defense Ministry by July 1.
He did not mention Wagner by name, but routinely refers to Wagner as “volunteer raiding parties”.
“This will give volunteer formations the necessary legal status, create unified approaches to the organization of comprehensive provision and the fulfillment of their tasks,” the ministry said.
“These measures will increase the combat capabilities and effectiveness of the armed forces and their volunteer detachments,” said Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov.
Prigozhin said the ministry could use failure to comply with the order as a reason to deprive Wagner of supplies.
‘What can happen after this order is that they don’t give us weapons and ammunition. We will figure it out, as they say,” Prigozhin said.
“But when the thunder breaks, they will come running and bring weapons and ammunition with a request for help.”
Wagner’s mercenaries have been fighting for Putin in Ukraine and are credited with taking the city of Bakhmut from the Ukrainian armed forces after months of bloody warfare.
But his success apparently angered the regular commanders of the Russian army.
Wagner’s boss, Prigozhin, has launched several verbal tirades against Putin’s military leaders.
He has accused them of ordering his troops to withdraw from their positions and leaving Wagner’s fighters unprotected at the front.
In a furious tirade late last month, Prigozhin yelled vulgar insults at Russia’s defense officials, describing them as “stinking scum” and “b*******.”
And last week, he called it a “shame” that kyiv’s troops were able to push back Russian lines and seize Berkhivka, a town in Bakhmut’s northern suburbs.
He struck out at Sergei Shoigu and army chief Valery Gerasimov, mocking them and urging them to go to the front and see the failures for themselves as armed factions plunge into civil war.
Wagner’s boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, launched several verbal tirades against Putin’s military leaders.
‘Now part of the settlement of [Berkhivka] already lost, the troops are slowly falling back. What a disgrace!
‘Shoigu, Gerasimov, I urge you to come forward, raise your pistols to your men so they can advance. Come on, you can!
And if you can’t, you will die as heroes.
In another notable development that could infuriate Russian military leaders, Prigozhin has suggested that he is ready to deploy his men on Russian soil.
Speaking via Telegram, he said that Wagner was ready to fight insurrectional forces in the Belgorod region.
Despite huge losses and a ban on recruiting prisoners from Russia’s penal colonies, Prigozhin is still believed to have up to 60,000 men at his disposal.
Wagner is one of several private armies in Russia. The leader of the Chechen warlords, Ramzan Kadyrov, controls a heavily armed group of his own, and the Russian energy giant Gazprom has established its own private military company.
I am Rakesh Sharma, I associated with Elite News as an Editor, since 2021. I take care of all the news operations like content, budget, hiring and policy making.