MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s most powerful mercenary, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said on Wednesday he had asked prosecutors to investigate whether top Russian defense officials committed any “crime” before or during the war in Ukraine.
Prigozhin’s request is his largest public challenge yet against the top military leaders of President Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
The 61-year-old restaurateur-turned-mercenary spent months insulting both Shoigu and Gerasimov, who lead Russia’s war effort, for alleged treason. Neither of them has publicly responded to his criticism.
“Today I sent letters to the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation with a request to verify the fact that a crime was committed during the preparation of a special military operation and during its conduct by a host of high-ranking officials of the Ministry of Defense.
He added, “These messages will not be published because the investigation authorities will deal with that.”
The Defense Ministry declined immediate comment.
Prigozhin, the founder of Wagner’s mercenary group, is the most visible member of Putin’s circle who gained widespread notoriety during the 15-month war in Ukraine.
He said sarcastically last week that his title should be “Putin’s Butcher” and not “Putin’s Chef”.
Loyalty to Putin, he says, is part of his political stance, which he summarized as follows: “I love my motherland, I serve Putin, Shoigu must be judged and we will fight.”
In remarks this week, he said he continued to report the problems to the country’s top leadership and criticized senior Kremlin officials for preventing media coverage of him and his private army.
Officials, diplomats and analysts told Reuters that Prigozhin is not directly challenging Putin but is playing the role of a buffoon, acting with the approval of those who displeased with the military’s conduct in the war.
Prigozhin’s private army is fighting alongside regular Russian forces in Ukraine and led the months-long offensive on the eastern city of Bakhmut that fell earlier this month.
(Reporting by Reuters) Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge Editing by Gareth Jones
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