The boss of Russia’s Wagner mercenary force, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has continued his months-long war of words with the leadership of the Russian armed forces by accusing pro-Moscow forces of planting explosives to harm his fighters as they retreated from Bakhmut.
Prigozhin made his claims on Friday as Wagner mercenaries had largely pulled back from the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut after months of bloody fighting and a huge death toll. Wagner positions in the destroyed town were given over to the Russian army, he said.
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Writing on Telegram, Prigozhin said his men had discovered a dozen locations in rear areas where Russian defence ministry officials had planted various explosive devices, including hundreds of anti-tank mines.
When asked why the mines had been laid and the explosives set, the defence ministry officials indicated it was an order from their superiors, Prigozhin said.
“It was not necessary to plant these charges in order to deter the enemy, as it (the area in question) is in the rear area,” he said.
“Therefore, we can assume that these charges were intended to meet the advancing units of Wagner,” Prigozhin said.
None of the charges went off and no one was hurt, he added
“We assume this was an attempt at a public flogging.”
Russia’s defence ministry was not immediately available for comment.
Prigozhin complained for months that his men were not given enough ammunition by Russia’s top brass for the assault on Bakhmut and claimed that his fighters were being discriminated against.
The Wagner boss’s often expletive-laden criticism of the Russian military leadership was criticised by another pro-Moscow commander who has fought in Ukraine – potentially signally growing fissures among the Kremlin’s allied forces in the war.
Addressing Prigozhin in a video message on Thursday, and using the diminutive of “Zhenya” and the familiar Russian form of you (“ty”), Adam Delimkhanov, a close ally of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, cast the Wagner boss as a blogger who shouts all the time.
“You have become a blogger who screams and shouts off to the whole world about all the problems,” Delimkhanov said. “Stop shouting, yelling and screaming,” he said.
“If you don’t understand, then you can contact us and tell us the place and the time, I, we will, explain to you what you don’t understand,” Delimkhanov said in the message to Prigozhin.
The message then drew a swift rebuke from one of Wagner’s most senior fighters, Dmitry Utkin, a former special forces officer who served in Russian military intelligence.
“Where did such familiarity come from: who gave you the right to use the address ‘ty’ and ‘Zhenya’?” Utkin said in a message which Prigozhin reposted on Telegram.
“Certain citizens should be put against a wall for the SHAME that we have,” Utkin said.
“We are always ready to talk man to man,” he said.
Chechen leader Kadyrov had last year supported some of Prigozhin’s criticism of Russia’s top brass but their relations have distanced in recent months.
Kadyrov is also a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has recently refrained from echoing criticism of the defence ministry.