Wagner founder Prigozhin meets troops near Bakhmut

STORY: Speaking in army fatigues and helmet, and cradling an assault rifle in his arms, he addressed those both on the frontlines and behind the lines to say that the fatherland - Russia - "needs your protection now".

A onetime catering entrepreneur who once shunned the public spotlight, Prigozhin has assumed a more public role since the start of Russia's "special military operation" in Ukraine a year ago, with his Wagner Group spearheading Russia's months-long battle for the town of Bakhmut in Ukraine's Donetsk region.

In recent days, a long-standing feud with Russia's military bosses escalated dramatically, with Prigozhin claiming that officials were denying Wagner ammunition out of personal animus to him.