Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Russian private military company Wagner Group, has accused the country’s defence minister and the chief of the general staff of engaging in acts of treason against the company. In a voice message posted on his Telegram channel on Tuesday, Prigozhin claimed that the Russian defence minister and Valery Gerasimov, the country’s most senior soldier, were deliberately depriving Wagner fighters of munitions and trying to destroy the company.
This is the second such message published by Prigozhin in two days, following his complaint on Monday that unnamed officials were denying Wagner supplies out of personal animosity towards him. In his latest message, Prigozhin expressed his anger and accused the defence minister and the chief of the general staff of causing heightened losses among Wagner troops fighting in the Donetsk region of Ukraine by deliberately withholding necessary resources.
The founder of the Wagner Group, once a catering entrepreneur who shunned the public spotlight, has assumed a more public role since the start of the war in Ukraine a year ago. His company spearheaded Russia’s months-long battle for the town of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s Donetsk region. Prigozhin has long criticised senior commanders for what he calls their incompetence, and has accused the defence ministry of trying to take credit for Wagner’s successes.
The allegations of treason come amid a growing power struggle between Prigozhin and the Russian state. Last year, Wagner mercenaries were implicated in the attempted assassination of the Belarusian opposition leader, Roman Protasevich. Since then, the Kremlin has sought to distance itself from the group, which operates in a legal grey zone, neither fully independent nor formally part of the Russian military.
The Wagner Group has become infamous for its involvement in a range of conflicts around the world, from Syria and Libya to the Central African Republic. Wagner mercenaries have been accused of committing war crimes and human rights abuses in these countries, and the company is subject to international sanctions.
The allegations of treason by Prigozhin against senior Russian officials could have significant implications for both the company and the country. The fact that a private military company is accusing the state of acting against its interests is highly unusual, and suggests that the relationship between the two is becoming increasingly strained. It remains to be seen how the Russian state will respond to these accusations, and what the future holds for the Wagner Group.