MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin on Wednesday reiterated the refusal of his Wagner fighters to sign contracts with the defence ministry, a day after President Vladimir Putin said the agreements were needed.
In a rare direct show of defiance towards the Russian leader, Prigozhin said: “None of Wagner’s fighters is ready to go down the path of shame again. That’s why they will not sign the contracts.”
In a televised meeting on Tuesday, Putin backed a call by the defence ministry for “volunteer” fighters in Ukraine to sign contracts with the country’s military command, widely seen as a means to assert control over Wagner.
Putin said that contracts were necessary to allow all participants in Russia’s campaign in Ukraine to receive the social support payments to which they are entitled. These include compensation to fighters if they are wounded, and to their families if they are killed in action.
Prigozhin has waged a bitter public feud with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and the army top brass since last year, accusing them of failing to provide adequate support and ammunition to Wagner forces in Ukraine and so causing them to suffer higher casualties.
In Wednesday’s remarks, however, he said he thought a “compromise solution” would be found between Putin and parliament to enable Wagner fighters to receive both social guarantees and certified status as combatants.
(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)