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Wagner chief rejects Russian Defense Ministry efforts to rein in his force

<i>AP</i><br/>Yevgeny Prigozhin
Yevgeny Prigozhin

By Uliana Pavlova and Radina Gigova, CNN

(CNN) — The boss of the Russian private military company Wagner says he won’t sign contracts with Russia’s Defense Ministry, rejecting an attempt to bring his force in line.

Yevgeny Prigozhin’s comments follow an announcement by the Russian Ministry of Defense Saturday that “volunteer units” and private military groups would be required to sign a contract with the ministry.

The order – signed by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu – said the move would “give the voluntary formations the necessary legal status,” and create “unified approaches” to their work.

The order did not name the Wagner group but the move is seen a way of controlling the influential military force.

Prigozhin – who has publicly feuded with defense chiefs – said the move did not apply to Wagner.

“The orders and decrees issued by (Defense Minister Sergei) Shoigu apply to employees of the Ministry of Defense and military personnel. PMC ‘Wagner’ will not sign any contracts with Shoigu,” Prigozhin said in a Telegram post.

Wagner, he said, would “absolutely” pursue the “the interests of the Russian Federation and the Supreme Commander-in-Chief.”

Prigozhin and Wagner have played a prominent role in the Ukraine war. In May he said his troops had capture Bakhmut in a costly and largely symbolic gain for Russia.

The Wagner chief has previously criticized Russia’s traditional military hierarchy, blaming Russian defense chiefs for “tens of thousands” of casualties and stating that divisions could end in a “revolution.”

He also accused Russian military leaders “sit like fat cats” in “luxury offices,” while his fighters are “dying,” and later accused the Russian Defense Ministry of trying to sabotage his troops’ withdrawal from Bakhmut, claiming the ministry laid mines along the exit routes.

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