Military News

Wagner mercenaries escalate feud with Russian Army by arresting a field commander

The Kremlin and its hired army of mercenaries from the Wagner Group have been increasingly at odds in recent months.
wagner group
Visitors wearing military camouflage stand at the entrance of the 'PMC Wagner Centre', associated with the founder of the Wagner private military group (PMC) Yevgeny Prigozhin, during the official opening of the office block on the National Unity Day, in Saint Petersburg, on November 4, 2022. (Photo by Olga MALTSEVA / AFP) (Photo by OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images)

The Kremlin and its hired army of mercenaries from the Wagner Group have been increasingly at odds in recent months. Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has been threatening to remove his forces from the war in Ukraine amid a flurry of accusations of wrongdoing by Russian military officials.

Prigozhin’s divide with military commanders deepened this week after Wagner forces put a Russian Army officer in custody for ordering his troops to fire on a Wagner convoy near the contested city of Bakhmut. The officer, Lt. Col. Roman Venevitin, was reportedly drunk when he gave the orders.

This isn’t the beginning of the schism between Russian forces in Ukraine. In May 2023, Prigozhin accused the Russian military of withholding artillery shells destined for Wagner troops, claiming the lack of ammunition caused mass casualties among his men. He claims the government forces were jealous of Wagner’s successes as military troops were pushed back from Kherson and Kharkiv in 2022.

On May 4, 2023, Prigozhin released an angry video on his social media channels, criticizing Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov. In the video, he was surrounded by the bodies of dead Wagnerites.

“Those are soldiers we lost today. Their blood is still fresh,” Prigozhin rages. “And now listen to me, f•ckers. They were someone’s sons or fathers. You, f•ckers, who don’t give us ammo, will burn in hell. We have a lack of shells… Shoigu, Gerasimov, where the f•ck are our shells? Look at them, b•tches.”

“Those guys came here as volunteers. They fight for you to continue enjoying your lavish lifestyles in your cabinets decorated with redwood.”

By the end of May, Prigozhin accused the Russian Army of trying to blow up his troops as they were pulling back from Bakhmut. He claimed his men found explosives wired to blow up and said government forces placed them there. The Kremlin offered no comment on the accusation.

In his latest video, the Wagner leader broadcast an admission by Lt. Col. Venevitin, commander of Russia’s 72nd Brigade, saying that he ordered Russian troops to fire on Wagner forces. He can be seen in the video speaking to an interrogator, clearly under arrest. He also admitted that he has a personal dislike of Wagner troops. His family has since confirmed that the man in the video is Venevitin.

Wagner was critical in the eventual capture of Bakhmut from Ukrainian forces. The group has since pulled back from the contested city, citing massive casualties. Regular Russian forces currently occupy Bakhmut.

Russian state media commentators say the arrest of a Russian officer reflects the Wagner leader’s growing power in the Kremlin elite, especially after the fall of Bakhmut. Other Kremlin outsiders, like Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, believe Prigozhin’s social media antics undermine the war effort.

Russia has had little else to celebrate during its invasion of Ukraine, and Wagner remains a dim glimmer of a silver lining. If the rift between Moscow and its hired mercenaries is any indication, that fact is not sitting well with Russian general staff. Without Prigozhin and his fighters, they might not have much to say at all if Ukraine has truly begun its long-anticipated counteroffensive.