© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a camouflage uniform walks out of PMC Wagner Centre, which is a project implemented by the businessman and founder of the Wagner private military group Yevgeny Prigozhin, during the official opening of the office block in Saint P
By Andrew Osborn
LONDON (Reuters) -Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of Russia’s Wagner mercenary force, said on Thursday that much-needed ammunition for his troops had been dispatched, after a public row in which he accused the military leadership of treason.
Prigozhin had on Wednesday published a grisly image of dozens of men who he said had been killed because commanders including Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov had withheld ammunition to spite him. Neither man commented but the ministry rejected the charge.
In an audio clip on Thursday, Prigozhin said he felt the pressure he and others had put on the Defence Ministry had paid off, and that he had been told ammunition was now on its way.
“So far, it’s all on paper but, so we have been told, the principal documents have already been signed,” said Prigozhin.
“I would like to thank all those who helped us do this. You saved hundreds, maybe thousands of lives of guys who are defending their homeland, gave them a chance to move on with their lives.”
The ministry, in a statement late on Tuesday, said allegations that “assault troops” fighting in Ukraine were being starved of shells were “completely untrue” and complained – without mentioning Prigozhin by name – about attempts to create splits that worked “solely to the benefit of the enemy”.
Prigozhin, a wealthy catering tycoon and ex-convict, has emerged from the shadows into a high-profile public role since the war started, and appears to enjoy a large measure of autonomy on the ground.
Wagner has spearheaded Russia’s months-old battle for the small city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s Donetsk region – a fact he has advertised loudly – and has helped Moscow make small but steady gains.
But there have been signs in recent weeks that the Kremlin and defence ministry are trying to curb his growing influence.
Sergei Markov, a former Kremlin adviser, said on Telegram he believed that Putin’s Security Council had intervened to resolve the ammunition problem.
President Vladimir Putin said in his annual state of the nation address on Tuesday that he wanted infighting to stop.
“We must get rid of – I want to emphasise this – any interdepartmental contradictions, formalities, grudges, misunderstandings, and other nonsense,” he said.