Russia moves to take direct control of private military group

Published June 12, 2023
Founder of Wagner private mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin makes a statement on the start of withdrawal of his forces from Bakhmut and handing over their positions to regular Russian troops, in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Bakhmut, Ukraine, in this still image taken from video released on May 25. — Press service of “Concord” via Reuters
Founder of Wagner private mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin makes a statement on the start of withdrawal of his forces from Bakhmut and handing over their positions to regular Russian troops, in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Bakhmut, Ukraine, in this still image taken from video released on May 25. — Press service of “Concord” via Reuters

MOSCOW: Russia’s most powerful mercenary said on Sunday that his Wagner fighters would not sign any contract with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, publicly refusing an attempt by the defence ministry to bring his fighting force under its sway.

On Saturday, the defence ministry said that in the interests of increasing the effectiveness of “volunteer detachments”, all such units — or their men — would have to sign a contract with the defence ministry by July 1.

It did not mention Wagner by name but it routinely refers to Wagner as “volunteer assault detachments”.

“This will give the volunteer formations the necessary legal status, create unified approaches to the organisation of comprehensive provision and fulfilment of their tasks,” the ministry said.

“These measures will increase the combat capabilities and effectiveness of the armed forces and their volunteer detachments,” Deputy Defence Minister Nikolai Pankov said.

Wagner will not sign any contracts with Moscow, says mercenary chief

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner group, has repeatedly attacked President Vladimir Putin’s top military brass for what he casts as treachery for failing to fight the war in Ukraine properly.

Neither Shoigu nor Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov have commented in public on the insults from Prigozhin, whose forces in May took the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut after a battle in which tens of thousands perished.

“Wagner will not sign any contracts with Shoigu,” Prigozhin said in response to a request for comment on the matter. The order, he said, did not apply to Wagner.

Prigozhin and his Wagner mercenaries gained renown for what the United States said was destabilising countries across Africa, plundering natural resources and even meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

He says the United States has destabilised so many countries across the world that Washington has no moral authority to lecture anyone.

Prigozhin said Wagner was completely subordinate to the interests of Russia but that its highly efficient command structure would be damaged by reporting to Shoigu.

“Shoigu cannot properly manage military formations,” Prigozhin said, adding that Wagner coordinated its actions in Ukraine with General Sergei Surovikin, nicknamed “General Armageddon” by the Russian media.

Prigozhin said the ministry might use the failure to comply with the order as a reason to deprive Wagner of supplies.

“What could happen after this order is that they will not give us weapons and ammunition. We will figure it out, as they say,” Prigozhin said.

“But when the thunder breaks, they will come running and bring weapons and ammunition with a request to help”.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2023

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