By RFE RL
By Current Time*
(RFE/RL) — Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the notorious Wagner mercenary group, said he will not obey a new Russian Defense Ministry decree obliging all volunteer formations to sign a contract directly with the ministry in his latest spat with the nation’s military leadership.
The decree, signed by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and posted on the agency’s website, did not specify if all volunteer groups are required to sign contracts with the ministry or just some. Russia has more than 40 volunteer formations, with Wagner being the most prominent.
Wagner will not sign “any contracts with Shoigu,” Prigozhin said on June 11 in response to the new decree as he berated the minister’s leadership. He said Wagner, which has played a major role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, already coordinates its actions with the military. x
Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov said the purpose of the decree was to give volunteer formations legal status and that volunteers can continue to sign contacts with mercenary groups as long as they sign with the ministry.
“The conclusion of contracts by citizens with the state is, first of all, the extension of social protection and support measures established by the state to them, as well as to their family members,” Pankov explained.
Pankov did not state why the ministry decided now – more than 15 months after the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – to force volunteers to sign contracts directly with the state.
The decree does come amid a growing public fight between Prigozhin and Shoigu as Russia’s invasion falters. Prigozhin, who may have political aspirations, has slammed Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov for Russia’s poor performance in the war.
The 62-year-old businessman and close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated those criticisms as he refused to obey the new decree.
“Unfortunately, most military units do not have such efficiency [as Wagner], and precisely because Shoigu cannot properly manage military formations,” Prigozhin said.
The Defense Ministry did not immediately reply to Prigozhin’s comments.