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Russian mercenary boss deepens rift with military, gloating that the actual army did nothing to secure a recent (and rare) victory

Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in military gear with several others, whose faces have been blurred, in what Russian state media described as the salt mines of Soledar, eastern Ukraine, on January 10 2022.Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in what Russian state media described as the salt mines of Soledar, eastern Ukraine, on January 10 2022.

RIA Novosti

  • The Wagner Group founder took credit for Russian gains in Ukraine in a pointed statement.
  • Yevgeny Prigozhin said his mercenaries had taken Soledar without the help of the Russian army.
  • It’s unclear if Soledar has fully fallen, but Prigozhin’s message to Russia’s military was clear.

The chief of the Wagner Group mercenary army continued his ongoing rift with Russia’s military establishment on Tuesday, claiming that his troops had single-handedly won a hard-fought victory in Ukraine. 

Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed in a statement that his troops had taken control of the Ukrainian town of Soledar, emphasizing that this was entirely without the assistance of Russia’s formal army.

Prigozhin, whose troops have long fought on Russia’s behalf, said that street battles continue in the town’s center.

“A cauldron has been formed in the center of the city, in which urban battles are being fought. The number of prisoners will be announced tomorrow,” he said, per The Moscow Times

Prigozhin added: “Once again, I want to emphasize that no units except for the fighters of the Wagner PMC took part in the assault on Soledar.” 

Ukraine has denied that Soledar is lost.

On Tuesday, Prigozhin posted a picture of himself with Wagner troops, in what state-owned Russian news agency Ria Novosti said were Soledar’s salt mines.

Prigozhin’s triumphant announcement appeared to be as much a reproach of Russia’s military establishment as it was Ukraine’s, with the mercenary leader becoming more and more outspoken in his criticisms of how the war is handled. 

President Vladimir Putin has long leaned on the Wagner Group for his global military exploits, but only in the Ukraine war did Prigozhin step into the limelight.

Prigozhin admitted in September — after years of speculation — that he was the group’s founder. Since then, there have been continued reports of ongoing infighting between him and Russia’s formal military leadership. 

In late December, Prigozhin dug in when audio emerged of one of his soldiers calling the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, a “fucking motherfucker,” per a translation by The Daily Beast

Prigozhin suggested Gerasimov listen more closely to the soldier’s complaints of inadequate support and supplies from the central army.

The mercenary chief has reportedly brought previous complaints directly to Putin, according to The Washington Post, which cited two US officials.

While Prigozhin has denied this incident, his ongoing public statements have left little doubt about the way he feels regarding the traditional military establishment’s progress in Ukraine. 

Read the original article on Business Insider