The Kremlin has rejected a report that could expose Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin to accusations of treason.
Prigozhin has repeatedly condemned Russia’s Defense Ministry during his troops’ fight for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, accusing top brass of neglecting Wagner’s ammunition needs.
Classified Pentagon documents leaked on Discord revealed that Prigozhin had offered to reveal Russian troop positions to Ukraine’s military intelligence directorate (GUR) in January in exchange for Kyiv’s withdrawal from the Donetsk town, according to The Washington Post.
But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that the claims seem “like more nonsense,” which even “respected publications” have not refrained from publishing, Russian state news outlet RIA Novosti reported.
Newsweek reached out to the Russian Defense Ministry for comment.
The report also said that Prigozhin held phone calls and meetings with Ukrainian intelligence officers in Africa, discussed Russia’s ammunition shortages and urged harder Ukrainian strikes against Russian troops.
Prigozhin also reportedly urged Kyiv to strike Crimea and offered details of Russian troop positions to Ukraine in Bakhmut. Kyiv reportedly rejected Prigozhin’s proposals because they did not trust him, a position shared by Washington.
Prigozhin mocked The Washington Post‘s report, saying on Telegram: “Budanov and I are still in Africa,” referring to the GUR head Kyrylo Budanov. “We have nothing to hide from the foreign social services,” he added.
Prigozhin had an unlikely defender in military blogger and former Russian commander Igor Girkin, who has repeatedly denounced the Wagner founder.
“No matter how negatively I personally feel about Prigozhin, I don’t believe that he tried to “exchange” Bakhmut for surrendering secret military information to the Ukrainians,” Girkin wrote on Telegram.
“Despite the fact that Prigozhin is an obvious psychopath—he is not a complete cretin to enter into direct contacts with the enemy side” which would risk him facing “accusations of treason.”
Still, social media users speculated about the significance of claims that Prigozhin may have betrayed Putin.
“Whether this happened or not, Prigozhin’s days are that much shorter,” tweeted Olga Lautman, a senior investigative researcher at the Institute for European Integrity. “He was already a dead man walking since last fall. Curious if he will defect.”
Euan MacDonald, editor-at-large with the publication New Voice of Ukraine, tweeted: “The best thing about this #Prigozhin leak is that it makes him look like a traitor—which is the one thing Putin absolutely detests above all.”
Political risk analyst at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), András Tóth-Czifra, tweeted, “take this with a massive pinch of salt, but even the fact that this doesn’t sound completely implausible tells a lot about how Prigozhin needs to keep signaling his usefulness.”
Samuel Ramani, associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) thinktank, tweeted that while there is “hysteria” surrounding the leaks, “they shouldn’t be taken at face value.”
“Communications between warring parties is not unprecedented in a time of war,” Ramani wrote, “second, Prigozhin’s discursive style is regularly laced with irony.”
Ukrainian and Western intelligence believed his offers were “potentially insincere” and that Ukrainian intelligence was “also aware that the Kremlin knew of Prigozhin’s negotiations on Bakhmut,” he added.