Wagner Group soldiers will not sign any contracts with Russia’s defence ministry after it issued orders for all independent forces to do so by the end of June.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu gave the directive on Saturday saying all “volunteer detachments” must sign contracts with his ministry by the end of the month – a step intended to increase the effectiveness of the Russian army fighting in Ukraine.
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Though the ministry did not mention Wagner in its public statement, the Russian media reported it was an attempt by Shoigu to bring the mercenaries to heel after a series of public outbursts by its controversial leader.
“Wagner will not sign any contracts with Shoigu,” Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner Group, said on Sunday.
The order, he said, did not apply to Wagner.
Prigozhin 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 Russia’s 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 over 10 months of grueling warfare.
Prigozhin and his Wagner mercenaries gained renown for what the United States has called destabilising countries across Africa while plundering natural resources.
He said the US 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 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.
‘They will come running’
The defence ministry said that in the interest of increasing effectiveness all “volunteer detachments” would have to sign a contract with the defence ministry by July 1.
“This will give the volunteer formations the necessary legal status, [and] 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.
Prigozhin said the ministry might use the failure to comply with the order as a reason to deprive Wagner of supplies – an accusation he has repeatedly made.
“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.”