The unprecedented call from the head of the mercenary force is further evidence of the level of tension between the mercenary force and the Russian General Staff. Prigozhin accused the Russian high command of not supplying ammunition to mercenaries fighting for the town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. In Russia, criticism of the military can be punished with up to 15 years in prison. Several members of the opposition are imprisoned under this law.
In his audio message, Prigozhin called on Russians "from the driver to the flight attendant" to demand ammunition for the Wagner mercenaries and said corresponding demands were already being circulated on the Internet. "We will break them down and get them to stop talking nonsense," said Prigozhin. There are enough bullets, "but career-oriented politicians, scumbags, bastards have to sign first" so that they can be delivered, he scolded in the audio message.
His embassy accompanied Prigozhin with a photo of dozens of dead bodies of fighters lying in the snow, who he said were killed on Tuesday due to a lack of ammunition. "Their wives, their mothers and their children will receive their bodies. Who is to blame? Those who have to deal with the ammunition supply problem," he said.
On Tuesday, Prigozhin accused Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu of committing "high treason" by failing to deliver equipment demanded by the mercenaries and refusing to provide airlift assistance. The General Staff even forbade the Wagner mercenaries to "supply shovels with which they can dig trenches". There is a "frontal opposition" to his troops, which is "nothing less than an attempt to destroy Wagner," said Prigozhin.
The Russian Defense Ministry responded to these allegations with a statement detailing the ammunition that officials say was supplied to the "volunteer assault squadrons" - a name the army appears to be using for Wagner. All demands for ammunition for attack troops are always met "as quickly as possible", reports of ammunition shortages are "absolutely wrong", the ministry emphasized that new deliveries should take place on Saturday.
The Wagner mercenary group, for which Prigozhin recruited prisoners from all over Russia and promised them amnesty in return, has played an important role in the fighting in eastern Ukraine. Statements by Prigozhin that the Wagner group had succeeded in gaining ground in the Ukraine without the help of the Russian army had led to tensions with high-ranking military officials.
Prigozhin has long been a Kremlin ally. After years of denial, he admitted last year that he founded the Wagner mercenary group, whose fighters have also been sighted in the Middle East and Africa.
Political scientist Tatyana Stanovaya took Prigozhin's increasingly frequent and violent recent public statements as an indication that the mercenary boss "no longer has direct access" to President Vladimir Putin: "This is an act of desperation and an attempt to get through the public eye get in touch and startle the military leadership," she said.