Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin denied planning a coup.
Kremlin ally Igor Girkin had claimed that Prigozhin may be preparing to overthrow Vladimir Putin.
Prigozhin’s forces played a key role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, commander of Wagner’s mercenary army, has denied claims he was planning a military coup against Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a report.
Chief Wagner, known as ‘Putin’s boss’, argued that his Wagner army was not large enough to trigger a mutiny, according to a report from Washington, DC, think tank The Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
Prigozhin instead hinted that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu might stage a coup because he has access to Russian special forces, the ISW added.
Wagner, Prigozhin said on Telegram, simply wants reforms in Russia, according to the report.
Prigozhin’s comments come after Igor Girkin, a former commander of separatist militants in eastern Ukraine, accused the Wagner founder of stirring up unrest in a video on Saturday.
Girkin said the insults Prigozhin has made about senior Russian officials in profanity-filled videos indicate he is planning to take power.
“A coup attempt has been declared… What will happen next, I don’t know, especially as Wagner is urgently withdrawn to rear bases… The danger of an impending coup is clear,” Girkin said, Insider reported.
As senior Russian and Kremlin-allied officials scramble to position themselves amid the chaotic fallout from the war, Girkin has issued a series of warnings about the perilous state of Russian society and recently created a pro-war party , the Angry Patriots Club, aimed at bolstering Putin’s power, Reuters reported.
US officials estimate that Wagner has about 50,000 troops fighting in Ukraine.
More than 30,000 Wagner fighters, often considered Putin’s de facto private army, have been killed or injured since the start of the invasion of Ukraine, according to US officials.
Prigozhin has previously accused Russian military leaders, including Shoigu, of failing to support his forces. Some of his remarks have been interpreted as direct criticism of Putin himself, prompting questions about his loyalty.
Mark Galeotti, Russian security expert and honorary professor at University College London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies, recently wrote in The Spectator that Putin has long encouraged brutal competition among his aides.
“A culture of mutual suspicion, cannibalistic competition and opportunistic self-interest has kept Putin in power for more than two decades,” Galeotti wrote, but warned that the method is risky in times of war when “the need is greater. unity, discipline and mutual support.”
Last week Russia declared victory in the Battle of Bakhmut and Prigozhin said its forces would withdraw from the city on June 1.
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