The head of Russia's Wagner mercenary group has said Ukraine never threatened to attack his country, contradicting Putin's justification for the war
The head of the Wagner mercenary group has said Ukraine never threatened to attack Russia, as the Kremlin claimed when attempting to justify its invasion.
The statement by Yevgeny Prigozhin dramatically raises the stakes in his battle with Russian military chiefs.
In a video message, Prigozhin said: "We exchanged fire: we hit them, they hit us. This was happening all these long eight years, from 2014 to 2022.
"At some points, the number of strikes, the exchange of fire, was increasing, at others - it was decreasing. By February 24  there was nothing extraordinary.
"Now the Ministry of Defence is trying to deceive the public; trying to deceive the president and is telling the story that there was insane aggression from Ukraine and they [Ukraine] were going to attack us, together with the entire NATO bloc.
"The special operation that began on February 24 was launched for completely different reasons."
Prigozhin has relentlessly criticised rival Russian commanders over their handling of the war, in an internal struggle for power and influence within the Kremlin.
The outspoken millionaire has released hard-hitting videos before. In May he stood in front of the bloodied bodies of his troops who had been killed in Ukraine and yelled expletive-riddled insults at Russian military leaders, blaming them for the carnage.
But until now he has never undermined Moscow's justification for going to war.
Some see Putin’s failure to squelch the infighting as a sign of potential shifts in Russia’s political scene that set the stage for more internal battles.