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By Guy Faulconbridge

Prigozhin says Kremlin factions are destroying the Russian state

Founder of Wagner private mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin speaks with servicemen during withdrawal of his forces from Bakhmut, 2023. Press service of "Concord"/Handout via REUTERS

Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Saturday that Kremlin factions were destroying the state by trying to sow discord between him and Chechen fighters.

That row had now been settled but infighting in the Kremlin had opened a Pandora's Box of rifts, he said.

Prigozhin, a 62-year-old former restauranteur who founded the Wagner mercenary group and is a member of President Vladimir Putin's wider circle, has gained widespread notoriety during the 15-month war in Ukraine.

His troops have spearheaded battles in the city of Bakhmut and elsewhere, but he has also rowed with the Russian military over tactics, logistical support and other issues.

Prigozhin said a dispute between him and Chechen forces who are also fighting alongside the Russian army in Ukraine had been resolved. But he laid the blame for the discord on unidentified Kremlin factions - which he calls "Kremlin towers".

Their scheming had got so out of hand that Putin had been forced to scold them at a Security Council meeting, he said.

"Pandora's Box is already open - we are not the ones who opened it," Prigozhin said in a message posted by his press service. "Some Kremlin tower decided to play dangerous games."

"Dangerous games have become commonplace in the Kremlin towers...they are simply destroying the Russian state."

He did not identify the Kremlin faction but said that it continued its attempts to sow discord, it would have "hell to pay". The Kremlin did not comment on his remarks.

Putin held a Security Council meeting of Friday about what he said were "interethnic" relations inside the country.

Prigozhin said Chechen remarks made about him sounded like something out of the early 1990s when conflicts gripped Russian cities after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"Clearly the statements made were rather provocative, aimed at hurting me and freaking me out," Prigozhin said.

Prigozhin also said any battle between Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov's Akhmat special forces and Wagner would result in serious bloodshed but there was no doubt who would win.

He also again vented his anger about the current state of the war and the culpability of Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

"The ministry of defence is not in a state to do anything at all as it de-facto doesn't exist - it is in chaos," Prigozhin said.

The defence ministry did not respond to a request for comment. Niether Shoigu nor Gerasimov have commented in public about Prigozhin's comments.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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