The head of Wagner’s mercenaries, Yevgueni Prigozhin, lashes out again at the Russian military leadership, which he accuses of not achieving Moscow’s objectives in the war in Ukraine so far. He did so in a lengthy, expletive-laden Telegram interview with a pro-Kremlin political strategist. The businessman announced this Thursday the beginning of the withdrawal of Wagner’s units from the city of Bakhmut, whose complete capture was attributed last Saturday, and the transfer of their positions to the troops of the Russian Army.
Wagner mercenaries continue their advance on Bakhmut, according to the Russian Defense MinistryRELATED
Some Western analysts think that he is using the visibility that the taking of Bakhmut gives him to intensify their attacks on Russian high command. During the interview, Prigozhin praised the Ukrainian forces, claimed they had lost 20,000 men in the battle for the Donbas city and said the Russian elite is fomenting a situation that could end up like the 1917 revolution. The restaurant near the Kremlin, known as “Putin’s chef,” also joked that “Putin’s butcher” might be a more apt nickname for him.
His role in Bakhmut has given him an important platform, from which he has been extremely critical of the Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, and other senior Russian military commanders such as the Chief of the General Staff, Valeri Gerasimov, whom he has repeatedly accused of depriving Wagner of ammunition during the Battle of Bakhmut, an idea he insisted on again during the interview.
“If the system is based on licking ass, the Wagner Group won’t do it. The main problem is Shoigu and Gerasimov. It was the decisions of those two that prevented us from getting it all, even though the president said the ammunition was there.” He pointed out that Shoigu should be replaced by Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, while Gerasimov should be replaced by Sergei Surovikin. Both figures have been removed from their posts during the invasion of Ukraine.
“This is my political ideology: I love the country, I listen to Putin, Shoigu must be fired and we will continue fighting,” he said during the conversation.
“It could end like in 1917, in a revolution”
Prigozhin asserted that Russia could face a revolution similar to that of 1917, pitting the experience of the children of common people who, he says, are returned from the front in zinc coffins, with that of the children of the Russian elite who display in social networks a luxurious life, with explicit mention of the daughter of the Minister of Defense.
“The sons of the elite close their beaks at the best of times, and some indulge in a fat, carefree public life,” he said in the interview, according to the independent Russian media Meduza. “This division could end like in 1917, in a revolution. The soldiers will rise first, and then their loved ones. There are already tens of thousands of relatives of the murdered. And there will probably be hundreds of thousands: we can’t help it.”
“My recommendation to the Russian elite is that they send their fucking sons to war, and when they go to their funerals, when they start burying them, that’s when people will say things are fair,” he said.
The group of researchers from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), based in Washington, believes that Prigozhin will take advantage of “his greater notoriety” after the capture of Bakhmut “to intensify his attacks against the military establishment and the elites. Russian”. “Prigozhin’s threats of violence, in a certain way subtle and deliberately dark, represent a turning point in his longstanding feuds with the Russian military establishment and certain elite figures,” they say in their latest report regarding Prigozhin’s references to an eventual social unrest.
The Wagner founder claimed that 20,000 fighters from his mercenary force had been killed in the Battle of Bakhmut, the focus of a fierce caste battle in eastern Ukraine, the total capture of which he claimed last weekend after 242 days. Half of them, he pointed out, were convicts recruited from prisons.
“Throughout the entire operation [de combate] I recruited 50,000 prisoners, of whom approximately 20% died. Exactly the same number died as those who enlisted under a contract,” said Prigozhin, who also stated that the losses of the Ukrainian army amount to 50,000 dead soldiers.
Both sides have suffered heavy casualties in Bakhmut, although the number of soldiers killed and wounded is very difficult to verify – and neither side discloses its own losses. kyiv says that Russian losses are several times greater than their own.
Michael Kofman, an expert on the Russian Army, considers Prigozhin’s figures “unreliable and inconsistent even in the same interview.” “He also gives great figures on Ukraine’s losses and its ratio”, he has tweeted. “Regardless of his motivation, he regularly makes mistakes in basic math when reviewing past interviews.”
For ISW analysts, “by shifting the conversation to Wagner’s alleged losses, Prigozhin has largely succeeded in depriving the Russian Defense Ministry of the opportunity to claim an informational victory over Bakhmut.”
These researchers consider that Prigozhin has political ambitions and “intends to establish himself as the central figure of the Russian ultranationalist community.” “The capture of Bakhmut has probably emboldened Prigozhin to pursue those ambitions in a more explicit way, regardless of the internal turmoil it may cause or the danger it may pose to him before the Kremlin.”
Prigozhin admitted in September, after previously denying it, that he founded the Wagner mercenary group, whose tactics have been described as brutal.
forecasts for war
During the interview, the Wagner leader also spoke about his forecasts about the development of the war in Ukraine. He said that there is a first “optimistic” scenario, in his eyes, in which Europe and the US would get tired of the war and China would mediate at the negotiating table, but he assured that he has “little faith” that this situation will occur and that he believes the chances “are slim.” The second, “pessimistic” scenario in which “Ukrainians receive missiles” and their counteroffensive “succeeds somewhere, restore borders before 2014 [cuando se Rusia anexionó Crimea] and it could easily happen.” “So we have to prepare for a tough war,” he remarked.
He also talked about some of the reasons that Russian President Vladimir Putin gave for the war: he said that one of the objectives with which Russia justified its invasion, to “demilitarize” Ukraine, has failed because the Kiev Army has been reinforced with the Western weapons and training. “If at the beginning of the special operation they conditionally had 500 tanks, now they have 5,000. If they had 20,000 fighters then, now they have 400,000. In what sense have we demilitarized it? [a Ucrania]? It turns out that we have done the opposite.”
He also described the Ukrainian Army as one of the strongest in the world, although, in his opinion, the “best” Army is the Wagner Group. Regarding the Ukrainians, he pointed out that they have “a high level of organization, training, intelligence and different weapons,” says Meduza. “They use any system: Soviet, NATO, and they are equally successful. They do everything for the sake of achieving the highest goal, just like we did during the Great Patriotic War (as the Soviet Union called the period of World War II)”.
Throughout the conversation, Prigozhin stressed that Russia needs to mobilize more men and direct the economy exclusively to war. “We have to impose martial law,” he said, opining that Russia “has to follow North Korea’s example for a certain number of years: close all our borders, stop messing around, bring back all our boys.” from abroad and work hard. Then we will see some result.”
Withdrawal in Bakhmut
The head of the mercenary company has announced this Thursday the beginning of the withdrawal of his units from the city of Bakhmut to the training camps in rear areas and the transfer of their positions to the regular troops of the Russian Army. “We transferred the positions to the military, ammunition and even food rations,” he said in one of the countless videos of him posted on his Telegram channel, in which he appears uniformed and speaking to men mounted on a tank. . The leader of the mercenary group had announced that such a transfer would take place between this Thursday and June 1. “We are going to rest, prepare, and then we will receive another mission.”
The Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister, Hanna Maliar, reported this Thursday morning that in the suburbs of Bakhmut, Russia “has replaced Wagner units with units of the regular Army.” “For the moment, Wagner’s men remain in the city of Bakhmut.”
After months of intense fighting in a grueling and attritional battle, considered the longest of the war, Russia said this weekend that it has completed the capture of Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, a city reduced to ruins that has acquired a deep symbolism for both sides during the invasion.
Since then, however, Ukraine, which has claimed some tactical gains on the city’s flanks in recent weeks, has asserted that the battle is not over and continues to fight around Bakhmut.
Maliar has reaffirmed this Thursday that Ukrainian troops control the outskirts of the city, in the southwestern part.
“If Wagner leaves, it will be interesting to see if his convicts are left behind and forced to serve in Ministry of Defense units. Convict Ministry of Defense Storm Z units are becoming more common on the front lines,” military analyst Rob Lee tweeted.