Spiraling tensions between Wagner Group and Moscow’s regular forces verged on outright conflict on Sunday night as the mercenaries released a video claiming to have captured a Russian officer.
Dark footage purports to show Lieutenant Colonel Roman Venevitin, reportedly the commander of Russia’s 72nd Motorized Rifle Brigade, being interrogated. With what appears to be an injured nose, the captured commander confesses to having attacked a Wagner vehicle during the bloody battle of Bakhmut in May.
After identifying himself, Venevitin says in the video that he “opened fire” on the vehicle while “intoxicated from alcohol.” When asked why he’d done so, he answers: “Due to my personal animosity.” Pressed by his interrogator as to why he has animosity toward Wagner, Venevitin appears dejected and says: “I don’t know.”
Venevitin also goes on to confess that he and a group of 10 to 12 of his Russian army subordinates had “disarmed” a Wagner rapid response group, again citing his “personal animosity” as the motivation. “What do you think, does personal animosity have any place at all in war?” the interrogator asks. “No,” Venevitin says. “How can your actions be characterized?” the interrogator replies. Venevitin sighs and answers: “Guilty.”
The shocking clip was published on Telegram hours after Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin released a document accusing Defense Ministry soldiers of planting mines to the rear of Wagner’s positions south of Bakhmut. The letter, dated May 17, goes on to say that Wagner sappers sent to clear the minefields were shot at by a group of soldiers. “They turned out to be servicemen of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation,” Prigozhin wrote in the document, adding that the officer leading the group was found to be in a “state of alcohol intoxication.”
Last Friday, Prigozhin separately released a statement alleging that “representatives of the Ministry of Defense” were found to have placed explosive charges—including “hundreds of anti-tank mines”—in Wagner’s retreat routes from Bakhmut. He argued that the explosives couldn’t have been placed to target Ukrainian soldiers due to their location. “Therefore, it can be assumed that they wanted to meet the advancing units of the Wagner PMC with these charges,” Prigozhin said.
The allegation that the Kremlin had tried to blow up his mercenaries and the apparent capture of a Russian officer represent the most serious instances of in-fighting between Wagner and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces.
Prigozhin has previously raged against a perceived lack of support of his troops from the Kremlin, directly blaming mercenary deaths on shortages of ammunition and supplies. The tense relationship between Prigozhin and Moscow was also further strained last month by the allegation that the mercenary boss had offered to give up the positions of Russian troops to Ukrainian intelligence in January in exchange for Kyiv’s forces pulling out of Bakhmut.
The latest allegations and direct detention of a Russian commander represents an extreme new low in relations, however. It’s not yet clear what has become of Venevitin since he was apparently captured by Wagner—a group known to punish alleged traitors with extreme brutality.
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