Yevgeny Prigozhin, the billionaire founder of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, has accused unspecified officials of denying his fighters sufficient ammunition as part of an ongoing rivalry between himself and parts of the Russian elite.
Prigozhin, a onetime catering entrepreneur who used to shun the public spotlight, has assumed an ever more public role in Russian politics since the start of the war in Ukraine a year ago as his Wagner Group spearheads Russia’s months-long battle for the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
In a seven-minute audio message published on Monday by his press service, an apparently angry and emotional Prigozhin said he was required to “apologise and obey” to secure ammunition for his fighters.
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 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 Ukraine 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 Ministry of Defence, 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.
Prigozhin has been one of Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu’s most fiery critics, insisting that his own men are far more effective than the regular army.
Prigozhin has avoided personal attacks in recent weeks since apparently being asked to desist by the Kremlin. He earlier called the army’s top brass “bastards” who should be sent barefoot to the front with machine guns.
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 killed in action.
About 90 percent of those killed in Ukraine since December were convicts, it said, a reference to Prigozhin’s recruitment of prisoner.
Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov was appointed last month to run the war in Ukraine, and Sergey Surovikin, nicknamed “General Armageddon” by the Russian media, was demoted to deputy commander of the operation.
Both men, unlike Shoigu, are career military officers. Sergey Markov, a former Kremlin adviser, said Surovikin was still heavily involved in Ukraine operations despite his demotion.