The Kremlin refuses to instruct the media to suppress mentions of the mercenary boss
MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin on Thursday denied issuing state media with formal recommendations to stop mentioning the Wagner mercenary group or its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin after a leaked guidance document surfaced on the internet.
In response to a Reuters request for comment, the Kremlin said:
“There were no recommendations from the Kremlin to the media. Many myths and fakes are circulating about Prigozhin and Wagner.”
Prigozhin, a 61-year-old ex-convict, has made headlines in recent months after revealing, after years of denials, that he founded the private military group active in Ukraine, Africa and the Middle East.
Supported by thousands of convicts, his forces have led the way during what Moscow has dubbed a “special military operation” in eastern Ukraine, but suffered heavy casualties.
Prigozhin has publicly criticized the Defense Ministry for its own tactics amid signs the Kremlin is trying to curb its excessive political clout.
On Saturday, Gray Zone, a Wagner-affiliated social media channel, released what appeared to be a leaked Kremlin state media guide document.
It advised recipients to stop mentioning Prigozhin or Wagner, instead proposing generic terms to describe his powers that some state media regularly use.
Former Kremlin adviser Sergei Markov told Reuters he had been told not to promote the mercenary leader.
“They emphasized that ‘we don’t forbid you to do it, but it’s better not to,'” he said, declining to identify who “they” were.
Prigozhin said last week he was stripped of the right to recruit convicts from prisons – a key pillar of his burgeoning influence and one that has helped his armed forces make small but steady gains in Ukraine.
Prigozhin complained on Wednesday, saying that the prisons’ recruitment system had worked well and that the number of Wagner units would now inevitably shrink and his group would not be able to do everything it wanted.
Markov said he believes President Vladimir Putin, at a meeting in St. Petersburg around Jan. 14, urged Prigozhin to stop public criticism of the army’s top officials.
Since then, Prigozhin has softened his criticism, so far avoiding personal attacks but still complaining about what he describes as excessive military bureaucracy.
When asked to confirm that Putin asked Prigozhin to stop his public criticism during the St. Petersburg meeting, the Kremlin left the question unanswered.
(Reported by Reuters; Letter by Andrew Osborn; Edited by Guy Faulconbridge)