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Wagner Group stage ‘military rebellion’ as they refuse to work for Russia’s Army

Prigozhin says Wagner PMC won’t sign any contracts with Russian Ministry of Defense

The Wagner Group has been accused of “military rebellion” after its financier refused to cooperate with an order by the Kremlin for his mercenaries to sign contracts with the occupying armed forces. In the latest round of infighting between Yevgeny Priogzhin and the Russian war generals, the Wagner leader accused defence minister Sergei Shoigu, who issued the new order, of being unable to “properly manage military formation”, adding that he would entirely refuse to adhere to the Kremlin’s call.

Russia has been heavily reliant on private military companies, such as Wagner, for territorial gains in Ukraine, but Prigozhin has increasingly used his Pyrrhic capture of the besieged city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine to undermine the authority of Putin’s top war chiefs.

In an audio message published on Telegram, Prigozhin said his outfit of mercenaries “will not sign any contracts with Shoigu”.

It came a day after deputy defence minister Nikolai Pankov said on Saturday that “volunteer formations” would be asked to sign contracts directly with the ministry of defence.

The vaguely worded statement was widely believed to be targeting the Wagner Group, though the outfit was not explicitly mentioned.

In a furious response on Sunday, the Wagner boss said his forces would boycott the contracts.

The private military group has played a major role in the war in Ukraine, fighting on the side of Russian forces, and was the only outfit to make territorial gains along the 600-mile frontline during the failed spring offensive.

But Prigozhin, who is said to hold political ambitions of his own, has been embroiled in a public dispute with Shoigu and military chief Valery Gerasimov for months. He has repeatedly accused the pair of incompetence and of deliberately undersupplying Wagner units fighting in Ukraine.

In his latest statement, he said: “Wagner will not sign any contracts with Shoigu. Shoigu cannot properly manage military formation.

“PMC ‘Wagner’ is organically embedded in the overall system, the PMC ‘Wagner’ agrees with the generals on the right and left, and with the commanders of the units.”

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He later added that Wagner would continue to work under the instruction of General Sergei Surovikin, who he described as a “competent military leader” and a well-known ally of his mercenary group, but no-one else.

Surovikin, who earned the nickname General Armageddon for his tendency during the Syrian war to rely on devastating and indiscriminate long-range missile attacks that killed thousands, was briefly the head of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine before being replaced by Gerasimov in January this year.

Prigozhin used his relationship with Surovikin to suggest his outfit is well-integrated already into the Russian armed forces and its effectiveness would be damaged by having to report directly to the defence minister.

Former Russian commander Igor Girkin, one of the most notorious commentators in the milblogger community, has since accused Prigozhin of committing “military rebellion”.

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The long-running tensions between the Wagner Group and the army have threatened to boil over in recent weeks.

Last week the group kidnapped a senior frontline army commander, Lt Col Roman Venevitin, after accusing him of opening fire on a Wagner vehicle near Bakhmut.

Lt Col Venevitin was later released, and in a video shared by Russian military bloggers he accused the group of stoking “anarchy” on Russia’s frontlines by stealing arms, forcing mobilised soldiers to sign contracts with the group and attempting to extort weapons from the defence ministry. Prigozhin called the comments “absolutely total nonsense”.

In December, the US estimated that Wagner had around 50,000 troops fighting in Ukraine. They have now withdrawn from Bakhmut and are believed to be heading for Sudan after signing agreements with the insurgent Rapid Support Forces.

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