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Yevgeny Prigozhin: Wagner Group boss threatens to withdraw fighters from Bakhmut

The leader of the Russian mercenary group Wagner said he would withdraw his troops from the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut on May 10 due to lack of ammunition. Yevgeny Prigozhin’s statement came after he posted a video of him walking among the bodies of his dead fighters, blaming senior Russian defense officials. “Tens of thousands” were killed and wounded there, Prigozhin said.

Russia has been trying to capture this eastern city for months, despite its questionable strategic value. Wagner’s army was heavily involved. Earlier this week, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby citing newly declassified intelligence said more than 20,000 Russian troops had been killed and 80,000 more wounded in the fighting in Ukraine since December. Half of the deaths were in the Wagner group.

In his statement on Friday, Prigozhin, 61, flatly blamed the decision to withdraw from Bakhmut on the Ministry of Defense, using obscene words. “Shougou! Gerasimov! Where’s… ammo?… They come here as volunteers and were killed so you can fatten in your mahogany offices.”

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov were often the focus of Prigozhin’s anger, amid reports of bitter infighting between different power groups in Vladimir Putin entourage.

In the statement, Prigozhin said his Wagner’s losses “increased exponentially day by day” due to lack of ammunition. But he insisted that his fighters would stay in their positions until May 9, when Russia marks Victory Day in World War Two, and would not withdraw from Bakhmut until the next day.

In the previously posted video, Prigozhin seen standing in front of his men said he would “hand over the positions in the Bakhmut settlement to units of the Ministry of Defense and withdraw Wagner’s remains to logistics camps to bandage our wounds.”

“My people would not have to suffer unnecessary and unreasonable losses in Bakhmut without ammunition,” he added. One of the videos released by Prigozhin on Friday appears to have been filmed about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from central Bakhmut.

The BBC matched ground features, including bushes and power poles, with satellite images of the site. Prigozhin is a publicity seeker, and his influence seems to have waned in recent months. He made threats he hadn’t acted on before then treated them as military jokes and humour. Just last week, he told a pro-war Russian blogger that Wagner’s fighters in Bakhmut were in the last days of their ammunition supply and needed thousands of rounds.

The Kremlin has not commented on Prigozhin’s latest statements. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military said the intensity of fighting near Bakhmut did not decrease. “For months, Prigozhin has been trying to make outrageous statements to draw attention to himself,” Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Eastern Command, told Sources.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said Russia wanted to capture Bakhmut before May 9. Prigozhin became a key player in Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine launched in February 2022, leading an army of private mercenaries leading the Russian offensive.

He recruited thousands of convicted criminals to his team no matter how serious their crimes as long as they agreed to fight for Wagner in Ukraine. Prigozhin is from Saint Petersburg, the hometown of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The two probably first met at one of Prigozhin’s restaurants in the city. Years later, Prigozhin’s catering company, Concord, was hired to supply the Kremlin with food, earning him the nickname “Putin’s chef”. From Putin’s chef to the commander of Russia’s private army.

The battle for Bakhmut went on for several months. The Wagnerian army and Russian regular forces fought on the same side, against the Ukrainian army. Ukraine decided to defend the city at all costs in an apparent attempt to focus Russia’s military resources on a relatively unimportant location. In February, Prigozhin posted another image of his dead soldiers and blamed military leaders for their deaths.

Although the Army denied intentionally starving their Wagner group, at the time they responded by increasing supplies to the front lines. US-based military analyst Rob Lee said Wagner’s latest complaint about shortages likely reflects the Russian Defense Ministry’s distribution of ammunition ahead of Ukraine’s long-awaited counter-offensive. .

The ministry must defend the entire front, but Prigozhin’s only concern is capturing Bakhmut, he wrote on Twitter. Mr. Lee added that if Wagner captures the city, Prigozhin could get political credit. The mercenary leader himself predicted that the Ukrainian counterattack would begin on May 15, as tanks and artillery would be able to advance in dry weather, after the past spring rains.

In another move, Prigozhin appears to have hired an army general, who was recently fired from his position of logistics commander. General Mikhail Mizintsev has been dubbed “The Butcher of Mariupol” for his role in last year’s bombardment of the southern Ukrainian port city, which was captured by Russian forces a year ago.

Prigozhin points out that the general went to great lengths to help supply ammunition to the mercenaries and cooperated with the group’s effort to recruit convicts into his ranks.

Colonel Mizintsev was only put in charge of military logistics last September, shortly after Prigozhin was filmed in a Russian prison telling inmates that they would be released from prison if they served with his men in Ukraine.

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