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Prigozhin says Wagner will not sign any contract with Russian defence minister

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By Guy Faulconbridge

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia’s most powerful mercenary said on Sunday that his Wagner fighters would not sign any contract with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, publicly refusing an attempt by the defence ministry to bring his fighting force under its sway.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner group, has repeatedly attacked President Vladimir Putin’s top military brass for what he casts as treachery for failing to fight the war in Ukraine properly.

Neither Shoigu nor Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov have commented in public on the insults from Prigozhin, whose forces in May took the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut after a battle in which tens of thousands perished.

The defence ministry on Saturday said Shoigu had ordered all “volunteer detachments” to sign contracts with his ministry by the end of the month, a step it said would increase the effectiveness of the Russian army.

Though the ministry did not mention Wagner in its public statement, the Russian media reported that it was an attempt by Shoigu to bring the mercenaries to heel.

“Wagner will not sign any contracts with Shoigu,” Prigozhin said in response to a request for comment on the matter. The order, he said, did not apply to Wagner.

The defence ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Prigozhin and his Wagner mercenaries gained renown for what the United States said was destabilising countries across Africa, plundering natural resources and even meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

He says the United States has destabilised so many countries across the world that Washington has no moral authority to lecture anyone.

WAGNER

Prigozhin said Wagner was completely subordinate to the interests of Russia but that its highly efficient command structure would be damaged by reporting to Shoigu.

“Shoigu cannot properly manage military formations,” Prigozhin said, adding that Wagner coordinated its actions in Ukraine with General Sergei Surovikin, nicknamed “General Armageddon” by the Russian media.

The defence ministry said that in the interests of increasing the effectiveness of “volunteer detachments”, all such units – or their men – would have to sign a contract with the defence ministry by July 1.

It did not mention Wagner by name but it routinely refers to Wagner as “volunteer assault detachments”.

“This will give the volunteer formations the necessary legal status, create unified approaches to the organisation of comprehensive provision and fulfilment of their tasks,” the ministry said.

“These measures will increase the combat capabilities and effectiveness of the armed forces and their volunteer detachments,” Deputy Defence Minister Nikolai Pankov said.

Prigozhin said the ministry might use the failure to comply with the order as a reason to deprive Wagner of supplies.

“What could happen after this order is that they will not give us weapons and ammunition. We will figure it out, as they say,” Prigozhin said.

“But when the thunder breaks, they will come running and bring weapons and ammunition with a request to help.”

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Jason Neely)

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