Putin at war with own mercenaries as Wagner leader blames Russia chief

Russian Wagner soldiers appear to attack their commander

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The leader of the Wagner Group of mercenaries has said his men are dying in Ukraine because they are “running out of ammo” in his latest attack on Vladimir Putin’s military heads. Yevgeny Prigozhin, accused Russia’s defence minister and chief of general staff on Tuesday of starving his fighters in Ukraine of ammunition, which he said amounts to an attempt to “destroy” the force.

Prigozhin, a millionaire with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said in an emotional audio statement released through his spokespeople that “direct resistance” from the Russian military “is nothing other than an attempt to destroy Wagner.”

Emotional statements from Prigozhin and his fighters highlighted long-brewing tensions between the Russian military and Wagner, which has unclear legal status because Russian law prohibits private military companies.

He posted a picture, which Express.co.uk has decided not to share, showing the corpses of Wagner fighters who died in Bakhmut.

In a video posted from Ukraine, he said “this is one of the places for gathering the dead”, adding “These are guys who died yesterday” because of the lack of ammunition.

He added: “The number should have been five times smaller”.

“Five times. So mothers, wives and children will receive their bodies.

“Who is to blame for their death? Those who should have decided to supply us with sufficient quantities of ammunition.”

Prigozhin said in a raised voice that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov are handing out orders “left and right” not to supply Wagner with ammunition and or air transport. The company has been involved in heavy fighting in the east of Ukraine.

Prigozhin said this “can be likened to high treason in the very moment when Wagner is fighting for Bakhmut, losing hundreds of its fighters every day”.

In a statement, Russia’s Ministry of Defence denied “excited declarations” that ammunition had been held up for volunteers in “assault detachments” fighting around Bakhmut, and said priority had been given to making sure those groups were well equipped. The ministry did not identify whose declarations it was responding to.

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It concluded: “Attempts to create a split in the tightknit machinery of cooperation and support between subdivisions of the Russian forces are counterproductive and only benefit the enemy.”

The millionaire Prigozhin and his fighters have been alleging for weeks that the military doesn’t provide them with enough ammunition. Wagner’s push to take over Bakhmut, a city in Ukraine’s partially occupied eastern Donetsk region, has stalled and turned into a grinding battle.

Prigozhin also has repeatedly accused Russia’s top military brass in recent months of incompetence. He has raised his public profile, issuing daily statements that boast about Wagner’s purported victories and mock his opponents.

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His criticism, however, appears to have fallen on deaf ears. Last month, Putin reaffirmed his trust in Gerasimov by putting him in direct charge of Russian forces in Ukraine, a move that some observers also interpreted as an attempt to cut Prigozhin down to size.

On Tuesday, in his long-anticipated state-of-the-nation address, Putin profusely thanked his military, but he made no mention of Wagner.

Today, a number of state-owned Russian media outlets have been banned from quoting statements by Prigozhin, unless they relate to neutral topics.

The RIA Novosti, TASS and Interfax news agencies have indeed stopped citing Prigozhin’s statements since January that did not concern the direct actions of the Wagner PMC on the Ukrainian front, a study by Nestka confirmed.

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