Yevgeny Prigozhin said his forces haven’t received enough artillery ammunition supplies from the Russian military since Monday.
The owner of the Wagner Group mercenary group has threatened to pull his troops out of the protracted battle for Bakhmut next week, accusing Russia’s military command of starving his forces of ammunition and causing them heavy losses.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, a notorious millionaire with longtime links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, claimed that Wagner had planned to capture the eastern Ukrainian city by 9 May.
That day is a major Russian holiday marking the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.
But, Prigozhin said, his force hasn’t received enough artillery ammunition supplies from the Russian military since Monday. Known for his bluster, Prigozhin has previously made unverifiable claims and made threats he hasn’t carried out.
Hours before releasing the statement, Prigozhin’s spokespeople published a video of him angrily demanding ammunition from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov.
In the video, Prigozhin stands in front of around 30 uniformed bodies lying on the ground. He says they are the bodies of Wagner fighters who died on Thursday alone.
Prigozhin speaks in a furious tone and uses numerous expletives in the video.
“These are someone’s fathers and someone’s sons,” Prigozhin says, pointing at the bodies. “The scum that doesn’t give us ammunition will eat their guts in hell.”
He alleged that Russia’s regular army was supposed to protect the flanks as Wagner troops pushed forward but is “barely holding on to them,” deploying “tens and rarely hundreds” of troops.
Russia’s Defense Ministry did not immediately comment on the claims, and it was not possible to independently verify them.
“Wagner ran out of resources to advance in early April, but we’re advancing despite the fact that the enemy’s resources outnumber ours fivefold,” Prigozhin’s statement said. “Because of the lack of ammunition, our losses are growing exponentially every day.”
The Wagner Group has spearheaded the struggle for control of Bakhmut, which is the longest — and likely bloodiest — battle of the war. After more than eight months of fighting, thousands of lives are thought to have been lost, even though neither side is confirming casualty figures.
Prigozhin has toured Russian prisons to recruit fighters, promising inmates pardons if they survive a half-year tour of front-line duty with Wagner. Western countries and United Nations experts have accused Wagner mercenaries of committing numerous human rights abuses throughout Africa, including in the Central African Republic, Libya and Mali.
Bakhmut, located about 55 kilometres north of the Russian-held regional capital of Donetsk, has tactical military value for Moscow, though analysts say it won’t be decisive in the war’s outcome.
The city had a prewar population of 80,000 and was an important industrial center. It is now a devastated ghost town, but it has become an important symbol of Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s invasion, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying its capitulation could begin building international support for a deal that could require Ukraine to make unacceptable compromises.
Prigozhin’s statement said that Wagner will be forced to pull out of Bakhmut on 10 May and have Russia’s regular army take over, “because without ammunition, (Wagner fighters) are doomed to a senseless death.”
He accused “jealous military bureaucrats” of denying him ammunition. Western officials and analysts believe Russia has run low on ammunition as the 14-month conflict became bogged down in a war of attrition over the winter, with both sides resorting to long-range bombardments.