Home » Wagner Group Accused of Stoking ‘anarchy’ on Russia’s Frontlines
Europe News Russia Ukraine

Wagner Group Accused of Stoking ‘anarchy’ on Russia’s Frontlines

The Wagner group has been accused of stoking “anarchy” on Russia’s frontlines after one of the Kremlin’s military commanders claimed Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mercenaries had kidnapped and tortured his soldiers during the battle for Bakhmut.

In a video posted online, Lt Col Roman Venevitin also accused Wagner soldiers of stealing arms, forcing mobilised soldiers to sign contracts with Wagner, and attempting to extort weapons from the Russian defence ministry in exchange for releasing kidnapped soldiers.

The circumstances surrounding the abduction and subsequent accusations made by Venevitin, who called himself the “already former commander” of Russia’s 72nd Independent Motorised Rifle Brigade, remain unclear. His current whereabouts is not known and it is unclear if the new comments, like those previously, were made under duress. The Guardian was not able to reach Venevitin or independently verify his claims.

He did not say why he had been relieved of his command.

The kidnapping of Venevitin, which was made public when Prigozhin released a video of his soldiers interrogating the active duty military commander, have already shown that the infighting in the Russian ranks had moved beyond words into physical clashes and ambushes.

If true, the accusations would shed new light on the severity of the infighting between Prigozhin and the Russian military, whom the Kremlin-linked tycoon has accused of depriving his mercenaries of shells and of intentionally firing on his fighters while both were engaged with the Ukrainian army in the city of Bakhmut.

“The tension with the Wagners for me and my brigade began from the first days of our transfer to the [Bakhmut] direction,” said Venevitin in a new video, which was uploaded to the Internet and sent to journalists earlier this week. “This was due not only to provoking our fighters into conflicts with their audacious behaviour and constant threats to [kill] us, but also by their concrete actions.”

Venevitin, whose identity relatives have previously confirmed to the Guardian, claimed that his soldiers had been systematically kidnapped, abused, and sometimes subjected to sexual violence, using a slang for prison rape. He also claimed that Wagner had stolen two T-80 tanks, four machine guns, as well as a truck and an armoured fighting vehicle.

He also accused Prigozhin directly of “actively discrediting the armed forces of the Russian federation, trying to present Wagner as the only effective force in this conflict”. Territorial gains claimed by Wagner, which relied on professional mercenaries and an army of prisoners recruited by Prigozhin, would not have been possible without the army, reservists and other irregular units, he said.

A number of commentators have noted that Venevitin appeared to be reading prepared comments and it was not clear if he was speaking freely or being forced to give the new statements, which amount to a full denunciation of Prigozhin and his Wagner army.

Prigozhin, in public comments, rejected the accusations, calling them “absolutely total nonsense”. He had previously said that his mercenaries had detained Venevitin, interrogated him, and then handed him over to authorities. Investigators have not confirmed that Venevitin is under investigation or has even been detained.

Venevitin said he was abducted by Wagner near Bakhmut and in a video later posted on Prigozhin’s social media channel, told an interrogator that, while drunk, he had ordered his troops to fire on a Wagner convoy. Venevitin said he acted because of his “personal dislike” for Wagner and then apologised.

Venevitin was clearly under duress when the video with Wagner was filmed. His face was bruised and he was questioned by an interrogator. Wagner has previously detained and beaten Ukrainian soldiers, and also released the execution with a sledgehammer of a former member who had surrendered to Ukrainian troops last year.

But Venevitin was the first military commander to be taken captive by the group. He said he had been detained by Wagner while on active duty, held in a basement, beaten, doused with petrol and subjected to three mock executions, before he was put on camera and told to apologise.

“The video you published of my interrogation is the result of pressure [on me], and that’s all,” he said.

Prigozhin has focused his ire on the 72nd Brigade since May, when he accused it of abandoning its positions near Bakhmut and leaving Wagner open to counterattack by Ukrainian forces.

The brigade, which was formed after the conflict was already under way, has been portrayed as a symbol of the shortcomings of the Russian military in its 15-month-old war in Ukraine.

It has been “dogged with allegations of poor morale and limited combat effectiveness. Its deployment to such a demanding and operationally important sector highlights Russia’s severe shortage of credible combat units”, according to a report from UK intelligence made in May.

The report said that the brigade withdrew “in bad order” from Bakhmut in May.

Venevitin, in the new video, defended the military while accusing Wagner of stoking “anarchism” on the frontlines.

“The anarchism that the Wagner is breeding at the front is the result of a game of political elites who, instead of strengthening our president, are trying to weaken him,” he said.

Source : TheGuardian