Outspoken Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin launched two verbal attacks against top brass on Tuesday, accusing them of depriving his Wagner fighters of munitions in what he called a treasonous attempt to destroy his private military company.
The Russian defence ministry rejected his initial accusations about blocking ammunition as “absolutely untrue”. Prigozhin then released a voice message saying this was “tantamount to nothing more than simply spitting at Wagner”, reiterating that his men were very short of supplies.
Prigozhin has assumed a more public role since the war started. His Wagner Group spearheaded the battle for the town of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s Donetsk region but his relations with Moscow are clearly deteriorating.
This year Prigozhin was stripped of the right to recruit prisoners and there have been some signs of a Kremlin move to curb his influence.
On Tuesday, he lost his temper and at one point shouted.
“There is simply direct opposition going on (to attempts to equip Wagner fighters),” he said in an initial voice message on his Telegram channel. “This can be equated to high treason.
“The chief of the general staff and the defence minister are giving orders right and left, not just not to give Wagner PMC (private military company) ammunition, but not to help it with air transport,” Prigozhin alleged.
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The Russian defence ministry reacted with a statement saying military officials were doing all they could to supply fighters.
“Therefore, all the statements supposedly made on behalf of assault units about the lack of ammunition are completely untrue,” it said, without mentioning Wagner by name.
“Attempts to create a split within the close mechanism of interaction and support between units of the Russian (fighting) groups are counter-productive and work solely to the benefit of the enemy.”
Prigozhin also said senior officials had declined requests for special spades to dig trenches.
He accused top brass of deciding “people should die when it’s convenient for them”, and said Wagner fighters were “dropping like flies” in the absence of necessary supplies.
In an obscenity-peppered message on Monday, he had complained that unnamed officials were denying Wagner supplies out of personal animosity toward him, and that he was required to “apologise and obey” to rectify the situation.
The defence ministry has previously said Wagner was not under its control even though the militia depends on the state for some arms and logistics.
Tatiana Stanovaya, head of the R.Politik political consultancy, said Prigozhin’s Monday outburst looked like “an act of desperation” aimed at “getting through to Putin”.
It was not clear whether he had Prigozhin in mind, but Putin on Tuesday said he wanted an end to infighting.
“We must get rid of – I want to emphasise this – any interdepartmental contradictions, formalities, grudges, misunderstandings, and other nonsense,” he told the political and military elite.
In a separate post, Prigozhin said he had been too busy to watch the speech and could therefore not comment on the president’s remarks.