The top of the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group may face punishment underneath a Russian regulation ratification he advocated for that prohibits “discrediting” these concerned with Russia’s “particular navy operation” in Ukraine.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch and shut ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is the pinnacle and financier of the mercenary Wagner Group that’s serving to Russian forces battle on the frontlines of Ukraine.
In January, Prigozhin requested Russia State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin to increase Russian legal guidelines towards “discrediting” Russia’s armed forces to criticizing Wagner fighters and make the punishments harsher. In a letter, he mentioned media and bloggers are unfairly portraying his recruited convicts as “villains and criminals.”
On Wednesday, Volodin introduced that the Duma may ratify amendments to the Russian Prison Code that may enhance punishment for “discrediting” the Russian navy, together with “volunteers” just like the Wagner Group, as quickly as March 14.
“Any public dissemination of knowingly false data, in addition to public actions geared toward discrediting the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, volunteer formations, organizations and people who help within the success of the duties assigned to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, are unacceptable,” Volodin wrote.
The punishments for discrediting Russia’s “particular navy operation” would come with a tremendous of as much as 5 million rubles (about $66,450), 5 years of correctional or pressured labor, or a 15-year jail sentence, in response to the Russian State Duma.
Whereas Prigozhin has advocated for harsher punishments, he’s now asking Russian lawmakers to regulate the modification, arguing that it shouldn’t punish criticism of senior Russian Ministry of Protection and Wagner Group commanders.
In his letter to Volodin, Prigozhin requested that the brand new amendments “shouldn’t prolong to highest command employees of volunteer detachments, together with the Wagner PMC,” and the very best command employees of the Russian Ministry of Protection “since that is mandatory to make sure transparency and duty for the train of their powers.”
In any other case, he wrote, “any public and constructive criticism of their actions can result in prosecution.”
The letter comes as tensions have grown between Prigozhin and the Russian Protection Ministry over the state of the battle in Ukraine, which entered its second yr on February 24.
Prigozhin lately accused the Russian authorities of mendacity about offering the Wagner Group with the ammunition it wants because it engages in heavy preventing with Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut.
“I would like to emphasise once more, if we moved to a public correspondence with the Ministry of Protection, that Wagner PMC is just not receiving 80 % of ammo required to finish fight aims,” he mentioned in an audio assertion shared by Twitter consumer Dmitri of the War Translated mission, an impartial entity involved with translating numerous supplies in regards to the battle in Ukraine.
Over the previous few weeks, it seems Prigozhin and the Wagner Group have performed a much less distinguished function in operations round preventing in Bakhmut.
“There is no such thing as a ammunition. The sapper shovels, to your information, gents leaders of the [Russian] Ministry of Protection, are nonetheless not offered,” he mentioned. “If you are going to present ammo, do it, and do not speak about it on the media to the Russian folks, deceiving them on the identical time.”
Prigozhin additionally accused the Russian Protection Ministry of treason by deliberately not offering his troops with sufficient ammunition. He mentioned his fighters are “dying en masse” due to it.
“There may be fairly merely direct obstruction occurring,” Prigozhin mentioned in an audio clip revealed by his Harmony Administration and Consulting Firm. “This may be equated with excessive treason.”
He particularly referred to as out Russian Protection Minister Sergei Shoigu and the Chief of the Russian Common Workers Valery Gerasimov, accusing them of making an attempt to “destroy” the Wagner Group.
Prigozhin additionally lately mentioned Shoigu’s son-in-law ought to be hit with a “sledgehammer.” He needed Alexey Stolyarov, 33, to be dropped at him so he might be educated to battle in Ukraine.
Stolyarov, a blogger and influencer, was not drafted to battle for Russia and is the companion of Shoigu’s 32-year-old daughter, Ksenia Shoigu.
Russian human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov mentioned the brand new regulation may trigger hassle for Prigozhin.
“Fakes about PMCs [private military companies] will be expressed in publications the place it’s mentioned that they’re poorly equipped with one thing, if this isn’t the case in response to official data,” Chikov wrote on Telegram. “However then the query arises, whose official studies in regards to the Wagner PMC will probably be taken as true?”
For instance, the Russian Protection Ministry has denied Prigozhin’s claims about how Wagner is being handled.
Such statements about Wagner fighters being insufficiently equipped, subsequently, “might instantly turn into fakes themselves,” Chikov mentioned, noting that Prigozhin is conscious of the “dangers” of the regulation.
“Quickly nothing will be written about the usage of a sledgehammer with out the danger of criminalization,” Chikov wrote, referencing Prigozhin’s feedback in regards to the Russian Minister of Protection’s son-in-law.
Newsweek reached out to the Wagner Group, Russian State Duma and Russian Protection Ministry for remark.