Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin sparked fears of a military coup in Russia on Friday when he called for the defence minister to be ousted.
The 62-year-old claims military leaders killed 2,000 troops and fired rockets at his group’s camp in Ukraine. Russian authorities meanwhile said they had launched a criminal investigation into the group and called for Prigozhin’s arrest.
Wagner Group – officially known as PMC Wagner – has played a significant role in Russia’s war in Ukraine. It took Bakhmut, the city where the bloodiest and longest battle took place.
But Prigozhin has regularly criticised the miiltary chiefs in Russia, accusing them of incompetence and of starving his troops of weapons and ammunition.
Read more: Russia LIVE: Moscow on alert as Prigozhin ‘incites civil war’ as troops mobilise
With Wagner playing such a key role in the conflict, it is thought it now has tens of thousands of mercenaries fighting for it. In January, the Ministry of Defence estimated the number was around 50,000.
What is the Wagner Group?
The Wagner Group is believed to have formed in 2014, when it was backing Russian separatist forces entering into Ukraine. At the time it was said to be a secretive group, mostly operating in Africa and the Middle East.
The MoD believes the organisation started to grow considerably however in 2022, because Russia was struggling to find people for its regular army. The US National Security Council believes around 80% of Wagner forces in Ukraine came from prisons.
Despite mercenary groups being considered illegal in Russia, Wagner is a registered company. It has its headquarters in St Petersburg, Russia.
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What is Wagner doing in Ukraine?
Wagner’s main role so far was in Bakhmut. Ukraine said the group was sent in “large numbers” to attack on the ground.
The Russian Government praised its troops for their “courageous and selfless” role in the operation. Although, early reports didn’t mention Wagner’s involvement at all.
How the feud developed between Wagner and Kremlin
Wagner’s forces have played a crucial role in Russia’s war in Ukraine, succeeding in taking the city where the bloodiest and longest battles have taken place, Bakhmut.
Prigozhin has frequently slammed Russia’s military top brass, accusing it of incompetence and of starving his troops of weapons and ammunition.
The Russian Defense Ministry required all military contractors to sign contracts with it before the start of July, but Prigozhin, whose feud with the ministry dates back years, refused to comply.
In a statement issued late last night, he insisted he was ready to find a compromise with the Defence Ministry, but “they have treacherously cheated us”.
“Today they carried out a rocket strike on our rear camps, and a huge number of our comrades got killed,” he added.
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