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Infighting between the Wagner Group and the Russian military reaches new levels

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Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to correct a wrong byline.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Russian mercenary company Wagner Group, is accusing Russia’s top military leaders of high treason after claiming the military purposely held back ammunition and declined to provide air support to Wagner mercenaries.

Prigozhin has never had good things to say about the Russian military leadership, but in a series of profanity-laced social media messages, he accused the Russian Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov and Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu of withholding ammunition and supplies from his Wagner fighters to try to destroy the company, “which can be equated to treason,” he said.

“A bunch of military-related officials [has] decided that it is their country, that it is their people,” Prigozhin said in one message that his own personal press service published.

“[Gerasimov and Shoigu] have decided that these people will die when it is convenient to them when they feel like it,” Prigozhin said referring to his mercenaries.

Prigozhin added that Wagner fighters “were dropping like flies” because of a lack of supplies and ammunition.

Without mentioning Wagner by name, the Russian military responded by calling the allegations “absolutely untrue.”

“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,” the military added.

Putin emphasizes need to ‘get rid’ of internal conflicts

Prigozhin’s comments came right before Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a speech to the Russian government that was broadcast to the country that the “special military operation” in Ukraine to “denazify” the country was no more.

Putin called the invasion an existential war to protect Russia and Russian culture against American imperialism. He added that the war was started by the West, which “plans to [grow it] into a global confrontation” and Russia had to face it united.

“We will respond accordingly because this represents an existential threat to our country,” Putin said.

Possibly alluding to the fraught situation between the Russian military and Wagner, Putin emphasized that Russia must “get rid” of any internal conflicts between departments and organizations.

Contrary to what Prigozhin and the Kremlin say about Wagner being a private military company, it is, and has always been, an instrument of the Russian government.

Related: How Russia’s culture of lies is dooming Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Prigozhin has clashed with military commanders in the past claiming all of the credit for the assault on Bakhmut, which has resulted in horrendous casualties for the Russian forces. Further, Prigozhin’s boast that Wagner was more professional than the military was not appreciated by the Russian Defense Ministry.

The generals may have gotten through to Putin, however, as Wagner and Prigozhin were banned from recruiting any more fighters from Russian prisons. Wagner had already recruited thousands of prisoners to enlist for six months at the front in exchange for a presidential pardon.

Prigozhin was not in attendance during Putin’s speech. He told a journalist that he was “too busy” to watch it and, therefore, couldn’t comment on the president’s remarks.

Featured Image: Russian President Putin with Defense Minister Shoigu and Russian military chief Gerasimov, April 2018. (Kremlin press office)

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Steve Balestrieri