The owner of the Russian private military company Wagner accused Russia’s defense 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.
Yevgeny 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.
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 not to support it with air transport. The company has been actively involved in heavy fighting in the east of Ukraine.
This “can be likened to high treason in the very moment when Wagner is fighting for Bakhmut, losing hundreds of its fighters every day,” Prigozhin said.
His claims could not be independently verified, and there was no immediate comment from the Russian military.
The millionaire 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 criticized Russia’s top military brass in recent months, accusing them of incompetence. And he has raised his public profile, issuing daily statements that boast about Wagner’s purported victories and mock his opponents.
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 made no mention of Wagner.
Learn how to navigate and strengthen trust in your business with The Trust Factor, a weekly newsletter examining what leaders need to succeed. Sign up here.