Prigozhin says Wagner fighters will quit Bakhmut to “lick our wounds” (video)
The leader of Russia’s Wagner Group has threatened to withdraw his troops from the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut by Wednesday, in a row over ammunition. His statement came after he posted a gruesome video of him walking among dead fighters’ bodies, asking defence officials for more supplies.
Russia has been trying to capture the city for months, despite its questionable strategic value.
Yevgeny Prigozhin pinned his decision squarely on the defence ministry. “Shoigu! Gerasimov! Where is the… ammunition?… They came here as volunteers and die for you to fatten yourselves in your mahogany offices”.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov have often been the focus for Prigozhin’s anger.
Prigozhin is a publicity seeker, and his influence has seemingly waned in recent months. He has previously made threats he has not followed through with – subsequently dismissing them as jokes and military humour.
Only last week he told a Russian pro-war blogger that Wagner fighters in Bakhmut were down to their last days of supplies of bullets, and needed thousands of rounds of ammunition.
If shortages were not tackled then his mercenaries would be forced either to retreat or remain and die, he warned: “Then, no matter what our bureaucrats want, everything else will crumble”.
The battle for Bakhmut has dragged for months and is thought to have claimed thousands of lives. Wagner troops and regular Russian forces have fought on the same side, against the Ukrainian military.
Ukraine decided to defend the city at all costs in an apparent attempt to focus Russian military resources on one place of relatively little significance.
Prigozhin said his forces had agreed to stay in Bakhmut until 10 May to allow Russia to mark Tuesday’s Victory Day celebrations.
In February, he posted another image of his dead troops and blamed army chiefs for their deaths.
Although the military denied deliberately starving his Wagner group of shells, at the time they did respond by increasing supplies to the front line.
In his new announcement, standing in front of his men, he said on 10 May they would be “obliged to transfer positions in the settlement of Bakhmut to units of the defence ministry and withdraw the remains of Wagner to logistics camps to lick our wounds”.
US-based military analyst Rob Lee argues that Wagner’s latest complaint of shortages likely reflects Russia’s defence ministry rationing ammunition ahead of Ukraine’s long anticipated counter-offensive.
The ministry has to defend the whole front, but Prigozhin’s sole concern lies in taking Bakhmut, he wrote on Twitter.
Prigozhin has himself predicted that Ukraine’s counter-offensive will begin by 15 May, as tanks and artillery will be able to advance in dry weather, after the last spring rain.
In a separate move, Prigozhin appears to have hired an army general who was recently dismissed as logistics chief.
Col-Gen Mikhail Mizintsev was dubbed the butcher of Mariupol for his role in last year’s bombardment of Ukraine’s southern port city, captured by Russian forces a year ago.
Videos posted online showed him at a Wagner training camp and then visiting positions in Bakhmut.
Prigozhin said earlier he had offered him the post of deputy to a Wagner commander, pointing out that the general had done his best to help supply mercenaries with ammunition and had co-operated with the group’s efforts to recruit convicted prisoners to its ranks.
Col-Gen Mizintsev was only put in charge of army logistics last September, shortly after Prigozhin was filmed inside a Russian prison telling inmates they would be freed from jail if they served with his men in Ukraine.