Feb 20 (Reuters) – Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Russia’s mercenary group Wagner, accused unspecified officials of deliberately denying his fighters sufficient ammunition as part of an ongoing rivalry between himself and parts of the Russian elite.
A onetime catering entrepreneur who once shunned the public spotlight, Prigozhin has assumed an ever more public role in Russian politics since the start of the war in Ukraine a year ago, with his Wagner Group spearheading Russia’s months-long battle for the town of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
In a seven-minute long audio message published on Monday by his press service, an apparently angry and emotional Prigozhin said he was required to “apologise and obey” in order to secure ammunition for his troops.
Speaking at times with a raised voice and occasionally swearing, he said: “I’m unable to solve this problem despite all my connections and contacts.”
Prigozhin said Russia’s military production was now sufficient to supply the forces fighting at the front, and that the supply difficulties his fighters were experiencing were the result of conscious decisions.
“Those who interfere with us trying to win this war are absolutely, directly working for the enemy”, he said.
Since the outbreak of the conflict, Prigozhin has publicly feuded with generals and Kremlin officials, accusing them of insufficient zeal in prosecuting the campaign against Kyiv. He has reserved his harshest criticism for Russia’s Defence Ministry, which he has accused of trying to take credit for Wagner’s achievements on the battlefield.
In his audio message, Prigozhin said the unspecified individuals he blamed for the shortage of ammunition were “eating breakfast, lunch and dinner off golden plates” and sending their relatives on holiday to Dubai, a popular destination for the Russian elite.
Separately, Prigozhin’s press service said in a post on Monday that the Wagner Group was having difficulty placing advertisements on television for recruiting volunteers for the conflict, and appealed to national and regional TV channels and to advertising agencies to support its recruitment campaign.
The White House said last week that the Wagner Group had suffered more than 30,000 casualties since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with about 9,000 of those killed in action. Some 90% of those killed in Ukraine since December were convicts, it said, a reference to Prigozhin’s recruitment of prisoners to fight.
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Reporting by Reuters Editing by Gareth Jones
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