Wagner chief Prigozhin vows to ‘stop’ Russia after alleged attack on forces

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The chief of the Wagner mercenary group on Friday accused Russia of killing a “huge number” of its forces in strikes and vowed to retaliate, ratcheting up tensions between Moscow and the private military company.

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, 62, whose men have bolstered Russia’s offensive in Ukraine, has ramped up his verbal attacks against Moscow in recent weeks, including questioning the very need for the military operation.

Once believed to be a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, Prigozhin is increasingly seen as keen on a political role as he engages in an all-out war of words with Moscow, that appears to have spilled onto the battlefield.

“The council of commanders of PMC Wagner has made a decision — the evil that the military leadership of the country brings must be stopped,” Prigozin said in a series of furious audio messages released by his spokespeople.

“We were ready to make concessions to the defense ministry, surrender our weapons.

“Today, seeing that we have not been broken, they conducted missile strikes at our rear camps. A huge number of our fighters, our comrades died.”

He warned Russians against resisting his forces and called on them to join him, adding “there are 25,000 of us.”

The Russian defense ministry denied the claims about the strikes, saying the statements “do not correspond to reality,” and calling them a “provocation.”

“The Russian armed forces continue to carry out combat missions” in Ukraine, the ministry added.

Earlier on Friday, Prigozin said Moscow’s forces were retreating in Ukraine’s east and south following Kyiv’s counteroffensive. That directly contradicted Putin’s account that Ukraine was suffering “catastrophic” losses and that there was a lull in fighting.

“We are washing ourselves in blood,” Prigozhin said.

“No one is bringing reserves. What they tell us is the deepest deception,” he added, referring to the Russian military and political leadership.

After years of operating in the shadows, Prigozin has in recent months admitted to running the elusive mercenary group and even interfering in US elections.

His forces, bolstered by tens of thousands of prison recruits, played a central role in Russia’s capture of the Donetsk region town, Bakhmut, the longest and likely bloodiest battle of the conflict.

However, this week he accused Moscow’s top brass of deceiving Russians about the offensive in Ukraine.

“Why did the special military operation begin? … the war was needed for the self-promotion of a bunch of bastards,” he said.

Rarely has such a controversial figure shot to this degree of prominence on the Russian political stage under Putin.

Prigozhin rose from a modest background to become part of the inner circle around Putin.

He spent nine years in prison in the final period of the USSR after being convicted of fraud and theft. In the chaos of the 1990s, he began a moderately successful business selling hot dogs.

From there he fell into the restaurant business and opened a luxury location in Saint Petersburg whose customers included Putin, then making the transition from working in the KGB to local politics.

The catering company he founded at one point worked for the Kremlin, earning Prigozhin the soubriquet of “Putin’s chef.”

However, in recent months, Prigozhin has become embroiled in a bitter power struggle with the defense ministry.

He has accused the Russian military of attempting to “steal” victories in Ukraine from his forces, and slammed Moscow’s “monstrous bureaucracy” for slowing military gains.

Wagner’s presence has been reported in conflict zones including Syria, Libya, Mali, and the Central African Republic, where it has been accused of abuses and capturing state power.

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