Russia's Wagner Group, defense ministry tussle over Soledar capture

After months of tension between Prigozhin and the military establishment, the split was laid bare on Friday when the defense ministry claimed the capture of Soledar.

 Wagner private military group centre opens in St Petersburg (photo credit: REUTERS)
Wagner private military group centre opens in St Petersburg
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of Russia's Wagner mercenary group, boasted of his forces' prowess on Saturday amid a simmering rivalry with the defense ministry over who should get credit for leading Russia's assault on the Ukrainian town of Soledar.

After months of tension between Prigozhin and the military establishment, the split was laid bare on Friday when the defense ministry claimed the capture of Soledar - which Ukraine disputed - and initially made no mention of Wagner's role in months of brutal fighting for the salt-mining town in Ukraine's east.

Video blast to assert Wagner dominance

In a video message, Prigozhin described Wagner as a fully independent force with its own aircraft, tanks and artillery. "They are probably the most experienced army that exists in the world today," he said.

He stressed the quality of its weaponry, its "most severe discipline" and the degree of consultation between its management, commanders and fighters.

The short video contained no overt new criticism of the regular army, whose failings Prigozhin has lambasted in the past. But it did nothing to dispel the sense of resentment he has previously expressed that the private military group has not been properly recognized for its role in the Ukraine war.

 Wagner private military group centre opens in St Petersburg (credit: REUTERS) Wagner private military group centre opens in St Petersburg (credit: REUTERS)

Prigozhin appeared in camouflage fatigues alongside a man he identified as the commander of the capture of Soledar, during what he said was a trip to award medals to his fighters.