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All Russian volunteer fighters are expected to sign contracts with the Defense Ministry by July 1 as part of their integration into the regular army, according to an order signed by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on June 10.
The order comes amid a long-running conflict between the Defense Ministry and Wagner, a mercenary group that is technically considered a volunteer unit and is subject to the order. Mercenaries are illegal in Russia, and Shoigu’s order is aimed at legalizing mercenaries and subordinating them to the ministry.
Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin rejected the order and said on June 11 that his mercenaries “would not sign any contracts with Shoigu,” adding that such orders only apply to employees of the Defense Ministry.
“Wagner Group coordinates its actions with generals and has the best experience and a highly effective structure. Unfortunately, most military units do not have such efficiency, and it is precisely because of Shoigu's inability to properly manage military units,” Prigozhin claimed on June 11, as cited by his press service.
Tensions between Russian generals and Prigozhin reached a boiling point when he openly criticized the leadership of the Defense Ministry in recent months. He claimed that Wagner was the only Russian force capable of achieving victories in the war.
In early June Wagner mercenaries engaged in a shootout with regular Russian troops and captured a Russian brigade commander as a prisoner. The brigade commander was later released and accused Wagner of various crimes.
Prigozhin has also accused the Defense Ministry of mining Wagner mercenaries' routes when they withdrew from Bakhmut.
Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry has prevented Wagner from recruiting prisoners in Russian jails.
Now, the Defense Ministry is the only body recruiting Russian inmates for the army.