The leader of the fearsome Wagner mercenary group has resisted an attempt by Russia’s defense minister to seize control of his ranks, as a bitter feud between the private fighting force and Moscow appears to be coming to a head.
Yevgeny Prigozhin today said his fighters would not sign any contracts with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, publicly defying what appear to be efforts to curb his influence.
Prigozhin has repeatedly attacked top brass in President Vladimir Putin’s army for what he calls treason, blaming him for not waging the war in Ukraine properly and taunting him for coming to the front line.
Tensions with Moscow escalated when mercenaries last week abducted a Russian frontline general, who admitted in humiliating video to being drunk on duty after allegedly shooting at a Wagner vehicle.
A video later emerged showing General Roman Venevitin accusing Wagner of torturing Putin’s soldiers and Prigozhin of discrediting the military – a crime that could see him imprisoned.
Yevgeny Prigozhin said today that his fighters will not sign any contract with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Pictured: Prigozhin and his troops in Bakhmut
Prigozhin has repeatedly attacked Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu for what he calls treason for failing to conduct the war in Ukraine properly.
Russian Lt. Col. Roman Venevitin claimed that Wagner’s forces, which are believed 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 engaged in active discrediting of the Russian Armed Forces.”
‘I [am speaking] to convey to the Russian public the truth about what happened, to tell some facts about the so-called Wagner,” he said. “Honour compels me to do this.
The allegation, which Venevitin appears to be reading from a script, suggests authorities are trying to absolve Prigozhin, who has criticized allegations of his troops’ violence against 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 move it says will increase the army’s efficiency. Russian.
Although the ministry did not mention Wagner by name in its public statement, Russian media reported that it was an attempt by Shoigu to bring the mercenaries to heel.
Prigozhin regularly attacks President Vladimir Putin’s top military brass (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 subordinate to Russian interests, but that his highly effective command structure would be damaged if he reported to Shoigu.
“Shoigu cannot handle military formations properly,” Prigozhin said, adding that Wagner coordinated his actions in Ukraine with General Sergei Surovikin, dubbed “General Armageddon” by Russian media.
Prigozhin said the order to sign contracts with the Defense Ministry did not apply to Wagner. Pictured speaking to Bakhmut last month
The Ministry of Defense said that in the interest of increasing the effectiveness of “volunteer detachments”, all such units – or their men – should sign a contract with the Ministry of Defense by July 1.
He did not mention Wagner by name, but he regularly refers to Wagner as “volunteer assault detachments”.
“This will give volunteer formations the necessary legal status, create unified approaches for organizing a comprehensive offer and fulfilling their tasks,” the ministry said.
“These measures will increase the combat capabilities and efficiency of the armed forces and their volunteer detachments,” Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov said.
Prigozhin said the ministry could use failure to comply with the order as a reason to deprive Wagner of supplies.
“What could happen after this order is that they won’t give us weapons and ammunition. We will find out, as they say,” Prigozhin said.
“But when the thunder breaks, they will come running and bring arms and ammunition with a request for help.”
Despite huge losses and a ban on recruiting prisoners from Russian penal colonies, Prigozhin would still have up to 60,000 men at his disposal.
Wagner is one of many private armies in Russia. Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov controls his own heavily armed group, and Russian energy giant Gazprom has set up its own private military company.