MOSCOW — The issue of media tensions and procedural discrepancies between Russia's Wagner Special Military Group and the Russian Ministry of Defense has reared its head after the group's founder and leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, rejected Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu's order, which obliges all participants in voluntary formations to conclude contracts with the ministry.
The Russian Ministry of Defense announced that members of what it calls volunteer formations who are currently carrying out combat missions in Ukraine must sign a contract with the ministry by the first of July 2023.
But Prigozhin – in a tone not without emotion and harsh phrases against the Minister of Defense – rejected in a public statement the ministry's orders, and explained that they apply to members of the regular forces, while private military companies are not bound by these orders, as he put it.
While stressing that the state should be involved in providing social guarantees to veterans and combatants who have completed or continue to perform combat missions, he was firm in saying that this did not mean that his forces were obliged to conclude agreements with the Ministry of Defense.
"None of Wagner's fighters are ready to go down the path of shame again. Therefore, no one will conclude agreements. As for social guarantees, I believe that the State Duma and the president will find a compromise that provides acceptable social guarantees for those participating in hostilities."
Prigozhin was keen to emphasize that his private military company "is completely subordinate to the interests of Russia and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces," and "coordinates all its actions and performs the tasks set by the commander of the Russian troop assembly in the area of operations in Ukraine, Major General Sergei Surovikin," calling him an "intelligent, competent and experienced commander."
The peak of the crisis and its scenarios
The Ministry of Defence order covers approximately 40 volunteer battalions and includes the funding regime and the determination of the type of military service of combatants. The text of the resolution indicates the desire to standardize the system of payment of salaries between regular units and volunteer battalions.
Russian forces in Ukraine include fighters from the Ministry of Defense and Intelligence, the Ministry of Interior and the National Guard, along with Wagner and the rest of the volunteer battalions.
According to strategist Roland Begamov, the atmosphere between Wagner and the Ministry of Defense was imposed by the conditions of the war in Ukraine, most notably the Wagner Group's carrying out tasks that the forces of the Ministry of Defense did not have the readiness to carry out.
Speaking to Al Jazeera Net, Begamov saw that coordination between Wagner and the forces of the Ministry of Defense faced several problems in pivotal stages in the context of combat operations in Ukraine, but that does not mean that Prigozhin paves the way for the rebellion, but wants to "raise the voice loudly to draw attention to the problems of the relationship with the Minister of Defense and a number of the leadership of the ministry," considering that Prigozhin's rejection of Shoigu's orders reflects the arrival of the crisis between the two sides to its peak.
He added that Prigozhin is legally correct, because his forces do not belong to the Ministry of Defense and at the same time are part of the volunteer system of the commander-in-chief, President Vladimir Putin.
In response to a question about the scenarios for the development of the crisis between Wagner and the Minister of Defense, Begamov saw that they are multiple, including the time factor, so that the matter will be settled until the beginning of next July, the date of the conclusion of volunteer contracts, and if the wave of mutual statements subsides, Wagner could be excluded from the decision of the Ministry of Defense.
The second scenario may be that Prigozhin would submit to the decision, but in exchange for meeting all his demands and conditions that he had put forward earlier, such as full and uninterrupted armament, in addition to social guarantees for the group's fighters.
Military affairs specialist Alexei Shiryaev is inclined to argue that Prigozhin went from businessman to owner of a private military company capable of carrying out military-level tasks.
Moreover, according to Shiryaev, Prigozhin has political ambitions, especially since he has a long military hand in Russian military missions outside the borders, which the current circumstances cannot allow to do without.
Hence, the military expert believes that all thorny files with Wagner will be settled at a high level through an agreement with the group or granting it a special status, based on a legal basis that guarantees in particular the social aspect of the crisis, such as subsidies for the wounded and the families of the dead, so that there is a unified social guarantees base for all military units, both regular and voluntary.
However, Shiryayev points out that contractual changes have occurred in any case. For example, a significant number of special forces "lethal service" fighters may move to serve in the artillery corps, which is less dangerous and deep on the defensive and at the same time receiving the same salaries.
Prigozhin has consistently been at odds with the Russian Defense Ministry, accusing it of not providing sufficient ammunition supplies for his military group in Ukraine.
Unlike Wagner, other groups of volunteers will respond to the Defense Department's decisions to move from volunteers with an incomprehensible status to part of the Defense Department, which has already begun recently.
Therefore, military expert Alexei Shiryyaev concludes that the wording of the decision of the Ministry of Defense came as a result to establish a unified command for all Russian units present in the theater of operations in Ukraine, and to reduce disputes and problems of a disciplinary and organizational nature.
He considered that those who will not sign the contract with the army will face problems, because the Ministry of Defense has sufficient strength to prevent units that refused to comply with this decision from heading to the front, and therefore everyone will sign except Wagner because it is a private military company and not a voluntary organization.
Last week, a day after the Wagner founder refused to sign, the Russian Defense Ministry said it had signed a contract with the Chechen special forces group known as the "Ahmed Forces," described as the special army of Chechen region commander Ramadan Kadyrov.
Ahmed's forces are Chechen forces consisting of 4 battalions, named "Ahmed's forces" after Chechen leader Akhmad Kadyrov, consisting of 10,<> fighters, and carried out several attacks in Ukrainian cities, and are semi-affiliated with the Russian army, although they include volunteers from outside the army.
The Ukrainian media sees Ahmed's special forces as "terrifying", as they are the only forces from outside Russia and Ukraine that participate in the war directly, while the rest of the non-Chechen countries have only provided logistical support, especially European countries supporting Kiev.