The announcement of the withdrawal of Wagner Group fighters from the city of Bakhmut is another blow for Russia at a critical moment in its war in Ukraine, exposing a major rift between figures leading the effort as Kiev mounts a counteroffensive. prepares to start.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of Wagner Group Said on Friday on Telegram that his mercenary company would leave the city On 10 May in the eastern Donetsk region he accused Russia’s Defense Ministry of depriving its fighters of ammunition and generally failing the war effort.
In a separate video released Thursday night, Prigozhin filmed dead Wagner fighters and cursed Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and General Valery Gerasimov, who is overseeing the Ukraine war for Moscow.
“You think you are the master of life and you think you have the right to master their lives as well,” said Prigozhin, pointing to the dead soldiers behind him. “If you give us normal ammunition, there will be five times less bodies here.”
The allegations underscore a growing internal division between Moscow and a key ally in the Ukraine war. Prigozhin also warned that if he left, The front line will collapse in Bakhmut,
Matthew Hoh, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy who served with US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, said Russian forces could back-fill any holes left by Wagner Group forces.
But he said Prigozhin is “basically shouting rebellion” ahead of Victory Day, a major holiday honoring Moscow’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to speak in Moscow during the celebrations next week.
Hoh said, “This is not something that Putin or his people want to deal with.” “The perception is that things are out of control.”
Anna Arutyunyan, a fellow at the Wilson Center, said Prigozhin’s video of the ongoing chaos among Russian forces also tells a disturbing story of the war ahead of Ukraine’s retaliatory strike.
“It was a very emotional rant, a very emotional message – he hasn’t directly yelled at them in the past,” she said. “Prigozhin is fed up. He is fed up, and I think he is reflecting the sentiment of others who are fed up with this.
“The bodies are piling up. There isn’t enough ammunition to go around because Russia is preparing a retaliatory strike from Ukraine,” she said. “There’s a deep sense of how this [counteroffensive] is going to end.
Arutyunyan, who has wrote a new book Regarding Russia’s hybrid war in Ukraine, Prigozhin raised the possibility of “emotional blackmail” to gain concessions from Moscow. He said that the mercenary leader can do the opposite if he wants to.
“What we’ve seen in the past is that he’ll make these public attacks and then he’ll step back and say, ‘Yeah, they’re giving us more ammunition,'” she said. “So, it’s a matter of how smartly the Kremlin chooses to do it and the signal it wants to send.”
The Kremlin has so far not publicly commented on Prigozhin’s allegations and plans to retreat.
But Russian state-run media outlet TASS ran a short article on friday quoted a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense as saying that the assault on Bakhmut was progressing.
The Wagner Group, known for intervening in conflicts in Africa and Syria, has played a key role in the Ukraine war since deploying fighter jets to the country in March last year.
The mercenaries helped capture the cities of Severodonetsk and Lisichansk in the eastern Luhansk region last spring. And Russian forces, led by Wagner Group, launched a major offensive on Bakhmut in October. The city in the Donetsk region is a strategic point for Russian forces looking to push further west and seize eastern Donbass, the focus of an offensive against Moscow launched over the winter.
The Wagner Group won a minor victory in January, when it took the nearby town of Soledar, allowing the army to land on Bakhmut from another direction. But since then they have only made incremental profits at the heavy cost of ammunition and troops, including thousands of soldiers recruited from prisons.
The White House estimates that Russia has lost about 20,000 troops since December. with about half the men killed from the Wagner Group,
But the Wagner Group has also inflicted heavy losses on Ukraine’s elite units, while the Russian military has committed limited armed forces personnel, said Center for International Policy expert Hoh.
“Wagner has been very helpful to the Russian military because by using prisoners, the Wagner mercenary force fights instead of your regular army forces,” he said.
Prigozhin has been complaining for months about an alleged shortage of ammunition. Earlier this year, he sent a representative to Russia’s military headquarters in Ukraine asking for more supplies and was flatly refused.
Russia has faced an ammunition shortage for more months, but still has significantly more resources and firepower than Ukraine, which is facing its own supply issues.
Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, also said that the Wagner Group “has a significant artillery advantage at Bakhmut and preferential support from Russian military leaders”.
“This is probably a reflection of the MoD rationing ammunition ahead of the Ukraine counter-attack,” he tweeted, commenting on Prigozhin’s Thursday video. “The Ministry of Defense has to defend the entire front but Prigozhin only cares about taking Bakhmut.”
Russian military bloggers also noted that the problem of ammunition shortages and heavy losses was not limited to the Wagner Group.
Blogger Igor Girkin wrote on Telegram that “our entire active army” is “severely short of ammunition,” asking who would be left if all those facing the problem left the front.
Prigozhin said on Friday that he was withdrawing his fighters to the rear to “lick our wounds” but that he would still ultimately bring victory to the Russian people.
Ukrainian officials have yet to comment publicly on Prigozhin’s rant, which has been prone to social media outbursts and has attracted prolonged media attention.
Lera Burlakova, a fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, said the announcement of Prigozhin’s return may have been a ploy designed to trick Ukrainians.
“It is very common for Prigozhin to make some kind of hysterical statement,” he said. “I really do not believe that any military figure in Russia is so powerful that he can only make his own decisions … without some very serious consequences.”
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