The feud between Kremlin-linked Wagner Group mercenaries and the ordinary Russian military appears to be escalating, amid reports of friendly fire exchanges.
Russian soldiers fired on Wagner paramilitaries near Bakhmut – the eastern Ukrainian city that has seen brutal attrition battles for territory – destroying a truck, the mercenary group claimed Sunday evening.
In response, Wagner said he had arrested the commander of the Russian army’s 72nd brigade, releasing on Monday a video of him appearing to confess that he gave the order to fire on the mercenaries’ vehicle, claiming he did it while drunk because he personally disliked the group. The officer, who introduced himself as Lieutenant Colonel Roman Gennadievich Venivitin, appeared to have been roughed up by his captors.
The video came after Wagner released a statement, signed by a « commander » of the group, saying he had received reports that members of the official Russian army had been seen « mining roads in the rear » of the positions. Wagner around Opytnoye and Ozarianovka, two towns in the Bakhmut area, on May 17.
Wagner’s forces began clearing mines from roads but had to stop after they came under « small arms fire » from a Russian army brigade in Semigorje, a town about 20 kilometers south of Bakhmut, he says the declaration.
No one was injured in the attack, which destroyed a service truck, according to Wagner’s statement. POLITICO was unable to independently verify this information.
The incidents appear to be an escalation in Wagner’s chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s ongoing dispute with Russian military leaders, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russian Armed Forces Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov.
Russian oligarch turned warlord Prigozhin has repeatedly accused the Kremlin high command of withholding munitions from Wagner’s forces fighting at Bakhmut, which saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war.
Two weeks ago, Prigozhin said that his troops had started delivering their positions in Bakhmut to the Russian army, five days after claiming Wagner controlled the city, which Kiev disputed.