A new rift breaks out between the Wagner Group and the Russian military, as ongoing tension between the two groups threatens to spill over.
Wagner’s chief Yevgeny Prigozhin denied Russia’s claims that it had inflicted heavy losses on Ukraine in the Donbass when Kiev tried to take offensive measures.
Prigozhin said the allegations were “just wild and absurd science fiction”.
But the Russian Defense Ministry doubled down on the allegations on Tuesday, saying Ukraine had suffered more than 3,700 casualties.
Russia said the attack was part of a “long-awaited” Ukrainian offensive in the Donetsk region, which took place on Sunday and Monday.
Ukraine’s military said on Monday that it had no information about a major offensive in the area, and that it would not comment on allegations it called “fake”.
Speaking to state media, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu insisted that his forces caused more than 3,715 casualties in Ukraine during the offensive and destroyed dozens of military equipment.
“Attempts to attack failed. The enemy was halted. Russian soldiers and officers showed courage and heroism in the battles,” Shoigu said, adding that 71 Russian soldiers were killed in the fighting.
However, Prigozhin was quick to respond to the Defense Ministry’s allegations Monday night, saying that allegations of a major success would amount to “massacre”.
“So, I think these are just some wild fantasies,” he wrote on Telegram. He also accused the Russian forces of a “slow” withdrawal from the village of Berkhivka on the outskirts of Bakhmut, describing it as a “disgrace”.
Moscow rejected Prigozhin’s allegations in a statement on Tuesday. It said his claims “do not correspond to reality” and he insisted the suburb was still under Moscow’s control.
Ukrainian officials have admitted to turning to “offensive actions” in some parts of the country.
Kyiv Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said on Monday that some offensive operations had begun around the eastern city of Bakhmut, which she described as “the epicenter of the fighting”.
President Volodymyr Zelensky, in a video address on Monday evening, thanked the Ukrainian militants for delivering “the news we were expecting” in the Bakhmut region.
Bakhmut has been in the center of fierce fighting for months. It has little strategic value – but it is symbolically important for both Kiev and Moscow.
Prigozhin’s fighters were heavily involved in the Battle of Bakhmut, and he regularly criticized Russian officials for what he said was a lack of front-line support. But he said at the end of May that his forces were withdrawing from the city to transfer control to the Russian army.
He was believed to have his own political ambitions, and the goals of his forces did not always align with the army’s, leading to tension between the factions.
In a video released by the group, the officer said the incident took place while he was drunk, and that he fired the shots out of his hatred of Wagner.