The head of Wagner’s mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, accused the Russian military establishment of trying to “steal victory” at Solidar.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky mocked the infighting between Russia’s defense ministry and Wagner’s group of mercenaries over who should be given credit for the effort to capture the town of Solidar, saying it showed “a clear sign of enemy failure”.
In a late-night video address on Friday, Zelensky said battles for Solidar and other eastern towns and cities in Ukraine continue despite competing claims by Wagner and the Russian government that it was their forces that took control of the salt-mining town. .
The fall of Solidar would be Russia’s first major gain on the battlefield after months of military retreats and setbacks against Ukrainian forces, though military analysts and the United States have downplayed the strategic importance of the town, which has seen some of the bloodiest battles of the war. Away.
“The difficult battle for the Donetsk region continues. The battle for Bakhmut, Soledar, Krymina and other towns and villages in the east of our country continues,” Zelensky said in his speech.
“Although the enemy has concentrated its greatest forces in this direction, our forces – the Armed Forces of Ukraine, all defense and security forces – defend the state,” he said.
Zelensky then addressed the dispute between the Russian Ministry of Defense and Wagner’s mercenaries.
“They are already fighting among themselves over who should be credited with some tactical advance,” he said.
It is a clear sign of enemy failure. It is another incentive for all of us to put more pressure on the occupier and inflict greater losses on the enemy.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces captured Solidar on Thursday night, likely allowing them to cut Ukrainian supply routes to the city of Bakhmut, southwest of Solidar, and trap remaining Ukrainian forces there.
In its statement, the ministry attributed the seizure of the town to the Russian forces and air force, without referring to the role of the Wagner Group.
Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has been highly critical of the failures of the regular Russian army, issued a premature claim earlier this week that Solidar had fallen. He also maintained that the fighting there was done exclusively by his own men.
In comments apparently aimed at Russia’s defense establishment, Prigozhin on Friday complained of “infighting, corruption, bureaucracy and officials who want to stay in office,” as well as what he described as continued attempts to “steal victory” from Wagner.
In response, the Russian Defense Ministry late Friday issued a second statement seeking to “clarify” the situation and acknowledge the role of the Wagner Group fighters in Solidar.
“As for the direct storming of the neighborhoods of the city of Solidar occupied by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, this combat mission was successfully accomplished by the courageous and honest actions of volunteers from the Wagner assault detachments,” the Ministry of Defense said.
The Kyiv independent news agency noted that competition for credit among Russian forces has not gone unnoticed in Ukraine, with Mykhailo Podolak, an adviser to the president’s office, saying on Twitter that “public rumble” over “who fights better” in Solidar “was a good sign of a start”. The amazing ending.”
A public noise began between 🇷🇺 fake news agency (MoD) and ultras military criminals (Prigozhin / Zolotov / Surovikin) about who fights better in the eleventh month of the Three Day War and who will plant solidar with their corpses more. A good sign of the beginning of the amazing end!
– Михайло Подоляк (Podolyak_M) January 13, 2023
Russia allowed Prigozhin to recruit tens of thousands of its prisoners for Wagner, which American officials say is a force of 50,000 soldiers, and allowed him to provide them with tanks, planes and missile defense systems.
According to Reuters, the Kremlin has also stood by as Wagner’s boss lashed out at times at Russia’s top brass, though some Western military analysts have suggested that the recent appointment of Russia’s top general to lead the war in Ukraine was meant to balance Prigozhin. Effect.
Despite sometimes publicly strained relations with the Russian Defense Ministry, some Western military analysts suspect that Wagner is closely associated with it.
A source close to the Russian authorities, who asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the media, told Reuters that the Kremlin views Prigozhin as a useful operator but maintains unspecified guarantees regarding his growing power.
“There is a ceiling (for growth) and existing mechanisms,” said the source, who declined to give more details.