Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group, accused Russia’s military establishment of trying to ‘steal victory’ in Solatar.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy mocked the conflict between the Russian Defense Ministry and Wagner mercenaries over who should take credit for efforts to capture the city of Soledar, saying it was a “clear sign of defeat for the enemy”.
In a late-night video speech on Friday, Zelenskyy said battles for Soledar and other eastern towns and cities in Ukraine continue even as Wagner and the Russian government contend that their forces have taken control of the salt mining town. .
Soledar’s fall would mark Russia’s first significant battlefield gain after months of military retreats and setbacks against Ukrainian forces, although military analysts and the United States have downplayed the city’s strategic importance. So far.
“The fierce battle for the Donetsk region continues. The battle for Pakmut and Soledar, Kreminna, and other cities and villages in the east of our country continues,” Zelensky said in his speech.
“Although the enemy has concentrated its largest forces in this direction, our troops – the Armed Forces of Ukraine, all security and defense forces – are protecting the state,” he said.
Zelenskyy then addressed the fight between the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Wagner mercenaries.
“They’re already fighting among themselves over who should be credited for some tactical breakthrough,” he said.
“This is a clear signal of defeat to the enemy and another incentive for all of us to put more pressure on the aggressor and inflict more losses on the enemy.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces captured Soledar on Thursday evening, allowing it to cut off Ukrainian supply lines to the town of Bakhmut, southwest of Soledar, and trap remaining Ukrainian forces there.
In its statement, the ministry credited the capture of the city to Russian troops and aviation, without mentioning the role of the Wagner group.
Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, a fierce critic of the conventional Russian military’s failures, issued a preemptive claim earlier this week that Soledar had fallen. He also maintained that the fighting there was carried on by his men only.
In comments apparently aimed at Russia’s defense establishment, Prigozhin on Friday complained about “infighting, corruption, bureaucracy and officials who want to stay in their posts” and repeated attempts to “steal victory” from Wagner.
In response, Russia’s Defense Ministry issued a second statement late Friday.
“The combat mission was successfully carried out by the brave and selfless actions of the volunteers of the Wagner assault unit, regarding the direct attack on the city settlements of Soledor occupied by the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” the Ministry of Defense said.
The Kyiv Independent news agency noted that the competition for credit between Russian forces in Ukraine has gone unnoticed, with Mykhailo Podoliak, an adviser to the president’s office, saying on Twitter that “the public is screaming” about “who fights better”. Soledar “is a good sign of the beginning of a shocking end”.
In the 11th month of the 3-Day War a public squabble began between the 🇷🇺 Fake News Agency (MoD) & the Military-Criminal Ultras (Prigozhin/Zolotov/Surovikin) about who was fighting better & who would sow the most SOLDIER with their corpses. . A good sign of the beginning of a stunning finish!
— Mykhailo Podolyak (@Podolyak_M) January 13, 2023
Russia has allowed Prigogine to recruit tens of thousands of prisoners for Wagner, who US officials say is a 50,000-strong force.
According to Reuters, the Kremlin also stood by when the Wagner boss sometimes leveled scathing criticism at Russia’s top officials, although some Western military analysts said Prigozhin’s recent appointment of the most senior Russian general to lead the war in Ukraine was designed to balance it. Influence.
Despite his sometimes publicly strained relationship with the Russian Defense Ministry, some Western military analysts suspect Wagner of being closely associated with it.
A source close to Russian officials, who declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media, told Reuters the Kremlin viewed Prigozhin as an effective operator but maintained unspecified safeguards based on his growing power.
“There is a ceiling (growth) and mechanisms,” said the source, who declined to give further details.