Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has clashed again with the Russian Defense Ministry over his paramilitary unit’s role in Ukraine, as well as the ministry’s latest guidelines for soldiers.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a think tank based in Washington, said Prigozhin was becoming “increasingly bold in his verbal attacks against the Russian Ministry of Defense.”

Comp Head Photos, Yevgeniy Prigozhin and Shoigu
Yevgeniy Prigozhin (left), seen on August 9, 2016, in Saint Petersburg. He has become increasingly critical of Russia’s defense minister Sergei Shoigu (right), pictured at the Army 2022 Forum in Patriot Park, outside Moscow, on August 20, 2022.

Prigozhin set up the Wagner Group in 2014 and is its chief financier. Although he is an ally of President Vladimir Putin, he regularly criticizes the Kremlin and especially defense officials for setbacks in Ukraine.

He made headlines in fall 2022 for sharp critiques of Russia’s Defense Ministry and its head, Sergei Shoigu.

The ISW’s latest assessment of the war states that the ministry is still trying to downplay the role of the Wagner Group in reported tactical advances around Soledar.

During a live television address on January 13, Putin failed to mention Wagner troops’ role in the fighting in the salt-mining town. Instead, he attributed the gains to the Defense Ministry.

The ministry has since said that “volunteers of assault detachments” captured some territory—likely a reference to Wagner Group fighters, according to the ISW.

The think tank pointed out that the Kremlin had previously challenged Prigozhin’s claim that his forces were solely responsible for capturing Soledar, and that the ministry had “faced significant backlash when it failed initially to acknowledge the Wagner Group in its announcement of the capture of Soledar.”

The ministry “is likely using odd language to simultaneously shield itself from criticism that it is not acknowledging the Wagner Group while also downplaying the Wagner Group’s role in tactical advances in the Soledar area,” the ISW said.

On Wednesday Prigozhin criticized the ministry for issuing edicts to Russian troops that “restrict the use of certain personal electronic devices in combat zones.”

The use of such devices was “necessary for modern warfare,” he said.

He also hit out at the ministry’s “stricter guidelines for men’s grooming standards,” defending troops in Ukraine who do not meet them and says: “Beards are customary for many Muslim and Orthodox Christian fighters.”

Prigozhin said: “War is the time of the active and courageous, and not of the clean-shaven who turned in phones to the warehouse.”

He continued his “verbal attacks” against the Defense Ministry by saying out-of-touch officials must “develop along with the development of modern warfare, learn how to effectively kill the enemy and seize territories,” and not “comb everyone under your ridiculous rules, principles and whims,” the ISW reported.

According to the think tank, Prigozhin’s statement was the latest of several “designed to undermine confidence” in the ministry and promote himself as the face of the offensive in Ukraine.

“Prigozhin’s comments reflect a cowboy approach to war that is unsuited to the development and maintenance of an effective large-scale and disciplined modern military,” the ISW concluded.

Newsweek has reached out to Russia’s Defense Ministry for comment.

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