Mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner group have taken captive a lieutenant colonel from Vladimir Putin’s regular forces in the latest example of bitter infighting in Russian ranks.
The captured colonel was seen hanging his head in a humiliating video published by Wagner in which he confessed his ‘guilt’ and admitted to being drunk on duty after allegedly shooting at a Wagner vehicle.
This follows allegations by Wagner that the regular Russian army targeted their ranks with mines, as a clip released by the group showed their sappers clearing the explosive devices from a road.
Wagner mercenaries have been fighting for Putin in Ukraine and are credited with seizing the embattled city of Bakhmut from Ukrainian armed forces after months of bloody warfare.
But Wagner’s success has seemingly angered regular Russian army commanders and relations between them are poisonous.
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has launched several verbal tirades at Putin’s army leaders, whom he has accused of ordering their troops to retreat from their positions and leaving Wagner fighters unprotected on the frontlines.
Founder of Wagner private mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin (right) speaks with servicemen during withdrawal of his forces from Bakhmut and handing over their positions to regular Russian troops
Wagner private army mercenaries film themselves de-mining a road which, they claim, was mined by regular Russian troops on Wagner’s way back from the front
The Wagner group is fighting in Ukraine on behalf of Vladimir Putin (pictured), but the regular Russian army and the mercenaries share a mutual hatred for one another
The captured Lieutenant-Colonel identified himself as Roman Venevitin, commander of Russia’s 72nd Brigade.
Venevitin, who appeared to have a broken or wounded nose, confessed that he ‘opened fire on a Wagner PMC [private military company] vehicle while intoxicated from alcohol’.
He did so due to ‘personal animosity’, he claimed.
The shooting damaged a Ural supply truck but did not wound any Wagner soldiers, according to the private army which is headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Venevitin also confessed to leading a group of 10-12 Russian army soldiers who ‘disarmed’ a Wagner rapid response group.
‘Does personal animosity have any place at all in war?’ an angry Wagner commander barked at Venevitin.
‘No…’ the captured colonel replied sheepishly.
Wagner has a reputation for battering its own ‘traitors’ to death with a sledgehammer – but there is no suggestion the Russian colonel will face the same treatment.
A summary execution of a high-ranking Russian commander by Wagner forces would cause unprecedented chaos in Moscow’s ranks.
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has launched several verbal tirades at Putin’s army leaders, whom he has accused of ordering their troops to retreat from their positions
Ukrainian artillery batteries fire on the Bahkmut frontline in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on May 28, 2023
A Ukrainian soldier fires a mortar at Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, on May 28, 2023
The capture of Colonel Venevitin came just hours after Wagner mercenaries were forced to clear a road full of mines which they claim had been laid by their compatriots from the regular army corps.
Prigozhin said that hundreds of mines had been laid by the regular army to snare Wagner forces when they pulled out of Bakhmut after securing a rare victory for Putin in the war.
‘Shortly before our departure, we detected suspicious activity along our route.
‘[Following] this suspicious activity, we got in touch with law enforcement and began to study our exit routes along the roads.
‘We discovered about a dozen places where various explosive devices were placed, ranging from hundreds of anti-tank mines to tons of [charges] from Zmey Gorynych self-propelled missiles,’ Prigozhin said.
‘Those who planted these charges were representatives of the Ministry of Defence… These [explosive] charges did not need to be stacked in order to hold back the enemy since it is in the rear area.
‘It can be assumed that they wanted to meet the advancing units of the Wagner PMC [Private Military Company] with these charges, even though we do not walk in columns,’ he concluded.
These cases highlight an evident rift inside the Kremlin forces fighting Ukraine, though some analysts see all-out civil war as a legitimate possibility in Russia if Putin loses the war.
Despite huge losses, and a ban on recruiting prisoners from Russia’s penal colonies, Prigozhin is still thought to have up to 60,000 men at his disposal.
But Wagner is just one of several private armies in Russia.
Chechen warlord leader Ramzan Kadyrov controls a heavily armed group of his own, and even Russian energy giant Gazprom has set up its own private military company.