The founder of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said on Wednesday he believes Russians should be free to criticize the country’s top military commanders after lawmakers introduced tougher penalties for anyone deemed to have discredited those who fight alongside Russia in Ukraine.
On Tuesday, Russia’s lower house of parliament approved legislation introducing long prison terms for anyone who criticizes mercenaries, including members of the Wagner Group, a measure that previously only applied to critics of the Russian military.
Prigozhin said Wednesday that Russians should feel free to express their opinion about senior military officials and that only ordinary soldiers were above criticism.
“I think that the law against discredit should not apply to the general staff, that is to say me, the Minister of Defense, and the other leaders who make or can make mistakes during special military operation,” Prigozhin said on Telegram, referring to the invasion of Moscow. from Ukraine.
“Society should say what it deems necessary about them,” he said. “Only the soldier is sacred. So soldiers must be left alone.”
Prigozhin – an ally of President Vladimir Putin – has been embroiled in a power struggle with the Russian Defense Ministry for months, claiming battlefield victories over the Russian military and accusing the military of not sharing ammunition with his forces.
Prigozhin also insisted that he hadn’t “discredited” anyone. “I’m only telling the truth,” he said, adding that his statements had been verified by his lawyers.
“Of course anyone can be imprisoned, and so can I,” he added.
“But in this case, we must not forget that 146 million Russians could also be imprisoned, which is a path to nowhere.”
Sanctioned by Washington and Brussels, Prigozhin had for years operated in the shadows, but has become an increasingly public figure since the start of the invasion of Ukraine and presents his forces as more effective than the regular army. Russian.