Over the last year, mercenary group Wagner and Russia’s Defense Ministry have regularly clashed. Last week, this spat reached new heights when Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin released several clips in which he aggressively accused the Russian defense minister and his chief of staff of failing to provide shells for his mercenaries. Prigozhin threatened to abandon the city of Bakhmut, where there has been heavy fighting in recent months.
- In the first video, Prigozhin stood against a backdrop of dead Wagner troops. He accused Shoigu and Gerasimov of causing their deaths because Wagner forces suffered a chronic shortage of ammunition. “We lack 70% of the ammo we need. Shoigu, Gerasimov, where’s the fucking ammo?” Prigozhin yells in the video. “You sit on your asses in expensive clubs while your children hide from life and shoot YouTube videos,” he continued. Prigozhin is likely referring to Shoigu’s son-in-law, blogger Alexei Stolyarov, who mostly lives abroad.
- In his next clip, Prigozhin said that he would leave Bakhmut after May 9 due to “shell hunger” since his units are “doomed to a senseless death.” This time, he also addressed President Vladimir Putin. Russian propagandists ignored the ultimatum and focused on the Wagner Group handing over positions in Bakhmut to the regular army while it “licks its wounds” in the rear.
- In his third clip, Prigozhin described how Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev was pragmatic in his allocation of ammo to Wagner forces and the regular army alike (now Mizintsev has been appointed deputy commander of the Wagner Group, according to reports). In the same video, Prigozhin said that since the start of the war, the private military group has lost “tens of thousands of people.”
- Shortly after the videos emerged, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said that he was ready to send his own forces to Bakhmut in place of Wagner. Kadyrov also recalled how the Defense Ministry did not immediately help his troops when they were fighting in Ukraine and criticized Prigozhin for airing his dirty laundry in public.
- Then Kadyrov released his own clip, contesting Wagner’s claims that it liberated the Luhansk region town of Popasnaya. Kadyrov ordered the Wagner Group boss to “hold the line” until Chechen fighters replaced his mercenaries. “You always told me you live like a man, so I’m telling you that you must do this. Our people will contact you and explain it to you,” Kadyrov said.
- On Sunday, Prigozhin announced that the Defense Ministry had promised to give him the necessary ammunition to continue fighting in Bakhmut.
Why the world should care
Previously, the Russian authorities described it as an independent group. Now, though, it is clear that the Defense Ministry exercises some control over its activities. Prigozhin said that his forces had received a “combat order, our first in all this time.”