Evegeniy Prigozhin, head of the notorious Wagner mercenary group, appeared to fling down a direct political and, possibly, military challenge to the Kremlin on Friday, June 23. In another video he declared that Russia’s grounds for invading Ukraine were false and accused the country’s senior leaders of systematically lying to President Vladimir Putin about the debacle.

In another profanity-laced 30-minute video posted on his personal Telegram channel, Prigozhin effectively declared that Russia’s full-scale invasion and its ongoing war with Ukraine were illegal.

Among other statements, which directly contradicted official Russian positions regarding the Ukraine war, Prigozhin flatly denied the Kremlin’s longstanding narrative that the use of Russian troops was inevitable because of continuing Ukrainian attacks on ethnic Russians living in the east of the country, and because NATO was making fast-track plans for Ukraine to become a NATO member. 


In fact, Prigozhin said, the Ukrainian military had been exchanging intermittent fire with Russia-supported formations in eastern regions of the country for eight years, and there were no grounds whatsoever for a Russian military invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

Equally damaging for Putin’s enduring narrative that the invasion was to protect ethnic Russian in Ukraine, Prigozhin said that not only were those ethnic Russians under no particular danger prior to the full-scale war, but that following Russia’s attack, the very people the Kremlin said Russia was fighting to protect, were now being killed or made refugees in the thousands.

“Zelensky was ready for any arrangement as far as I know; all we had to do was get off Olympus and negotiate. The whole of eastern Ukraine is genetically Russian, and today we kill these ethnic Russians," Prigozhin said.

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A former felon, Prigozhin began his political career as Putin’s personal caterer. Prigozhin is wanted in the US for questioning by the FBI, regarding possible Russian interference in elections in the United States, and he has been on international sanctions lists since Feb. 2022 for his role in Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.


Prigozhin’s declaration that Moscow fabricated false grounds for starting a war, with the implication that Russian officials involved in the conspiracy could necessarily be prosecuted as war criminals, matched almost exactly the established positions, of the White House and NATO, that Russia’s invasion of Russia was an unprovoked war of choice.

Thanks to brutal discipline, higher pay, Putin’s patronage and, for months, an exclusive right to recruit from Russia’s prisons during the war, Prigozhin expanded his Wagner Group from several hundred mostly former-military operators, to a personal army that, according to some reports, is now more than 20,000 strong. Most Wagner fighters, who were only partially trained, died or otherwise became casualties in some of the bloodiest fighting of the war around the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in the first half of 2023.

Prigozhin’s declaration is a continuation of his campaign of blistering criticism of the Russian military’s top leadership who, he said, had not only systematically concealed the real frontline situation from Putin for more than a year, but have failed to reform an often-inept Russian army. He singled out Russia’s 2015 deployment to Syria, where Russian forces in mostly limited combat “failed to learn anything”, he said.


The diatribe called Russia’s top military commanders led by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu “a bunch of cunning a**holes… degenerates… mentally ill… (and) scum.” He went on to call the Russian army itself “a soap bubble.”

Gross crimes of military negligence committed by Shoigu and his allies include, Prigozhin said, failing to plan at all for Kyiv’s capture, forgetting to issue ammunition on the necessary scales, sending unprotected paratroopers to their death in pointless assaults on Ukrainian airfields, and the “ruin” of thousands of Russian soldiers.

“Why did we need the war? We needed the war so that Shoigu could get a star,” he said.

Russia’s failure to fight a war on legitimate grounds, unwillingness to take Ukraine and its military seriously, proclivity for “making useless nuclear threats” and engaging in military operations just so generals might receive promotions, makes the entire war in Ukraine pointless, he said.


“Shame on Russia for falling into such a deep mess (the a**holes). They [Russian command] were counting on a miracle, tactical nuclear weapons, and a nuclear bombshell that was about to be dropped on Warsaw, but they didn't have the balls; the grandfathers were weak and couldn't get out of their comfort zone,” Prigozhin said.

Russian oligarchs, Prigozhin argued, equally needed the war like Russia’s top generals, but just to steal Ukrainian assets. Russian big business had already taken control of much of the heavy industry in Ukraine’s occupied eastern regions, he said, and the full-scale war that started in Feb. 2022 was an attempt by Russian big business to extend control over the rest of the Ukrainian economy.

Prigozhin said inept management of the war and the total inability of the Kremlin leadership to decide how to end it was driving Russia into an abyss. 

“We are drowning in our [own] blood. The AFU [Ukrainian Armed Forces] are advancing in Zaporizhzhia direction and the same is happening in Bakhmut. The enemy protects its equipment and soldiers, but it is not sparing ammunition. Time [for Russia] is rapidly running out,” Prigozhin warned.

There was, by mid-afternoon on Friday, no immediate official reaction in either Moscow or Kyiv to Prigozhin’s accusations.

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