The founder of Russia‘s Wagner group of mercenaries has warned the entire frontline will collapse if his troops in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut do not receive more ammunition.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose organisation has played a significant part in Russian military successes in recent months, said his ammo-starved forces were the ‘cement’ holding the frontline together and the last line of defence to win the war.
‘Today, Wagner is the cement that, as I’ve said previously, is holding the Ukrainian army in place – grinding it down, destroying it and preventing it from deploying to other regions and occupying other fronts.
‘We’re also moving forward and the [Russian] army is forced to follow behind us to save face and prop up their reputation… If the Wagner group pulls back, then the following situation will unfold.
‘It is clear that the front will crumble, the front will crumble for the Russian borders, perhaps it crumbles even further.’
Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose mercenary group has played a significant part in Russian military successes in recent months, said his ammo-starved forces were the ‘cement’ holding the frontline together in a video published on Telegram channel at the weekend
Ukrainian soldiers fire a self-propelled howitzer towards Russian positions near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, yesterday
A Ukrainian soldier sits in a trench near Russian positions near Bakhmut yesterday
The fighting around Bakhmut has seen First world War-style trench warfare unfold as both sides batter one another with artillery while sheltering in ditches
Prigozhin made the remarks in a four-minute-long video published over the weekend by a Wagner-linked Telegram channel.
Earlier last week he claimed his units had ‘practically surrounded Bakhmut’ – a focal point of the conflict in Donetsk where fighting has intensified in the past week with Russian forces attacking from nearly all sides.
But yesterday he complained that most of the ammunition that his forces were promised by Moscow last month had not yet been shipped.
‘For now, we are trying to figure out the reason: is it just ordinary bureaucracy or a betrayal?’ Prigozhin asked on his usual press service Telegram channel.
The mercenary chief regularly criticises Russia’s defence chiefs and top generals, and last month accused embattled defence minister Sergei Shoigu and others of ‘treason’ for withholding supplies of munitions to his militia.
In his weekend video, Prigozhin said his troops were worried Moscow wanted to set them up as possible scapegoats if Russia lost the war.
‘If Wagner pulls back from Bakhmut, then this is how history will remember us. A group of mercenaries led by Prigozhin convinced President Putin of its necessity… then they fell back and the Ukrainian army broke into the territory of the Luhansk People’s Republic, swept away Luhansk, swept away Krasnodon and entered the territory of Russia.
‘If we move back, then we will go down in history for ever as the people who took the main step towards losing the war. This is exactly the problem that we have now – we are being starved of ammunition.
‘[My fighters] come to me and they say, ”chief, can’t somebody in the depths of the Ministry of Defence, or maybe even higher, explain to the entire Russian people why we had so much trouble?”
‘What if they want to set us up and say we are scoundrels, and say that’s why we are not given ammunition and weapons?’
A Ukrainian soldier in a trench under Russian shelling on the frontline close to Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, yesterday
Ukrainian soldiers ride an infantry fighting vehicle along a road not far from Bakhmut
Ukrainian soldiers fire a self-propelled howitzer towards Russian positions near Bakhmut
Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of Russia’s Wagner mercenary force, speaks in Paraskoviivka, Ukraine, in this still image from an undated video released last week
Ukrainian servicemen light a fire with gunpowder near the city of Bakhmut
The Wagner group has for months been central to Russian military effectiveness on the frontlines of Ukraine, having launched a mass recruitment drive in Russian prisons last year.
The group used human wave tactics, piling in underequipped and undertrained men to soak up Ukrainian resources before deploying better-armed and trained mercenaries to break down Ukraine’s fatigued fighters.
But since the demotion of Sergei Surovikin – an army general close to Prigozhin who was previously in command of Russia’s armed forces – in December, Wagner has found itself starved of ammunition and support.
This has prompted suspicions that Russia’s military commander Valery Gerasimov and Shoigu are isolating the mercenaries, condemning them to fail while masking their own army’s woeful performance.
It comes as a British Ministry of Defence intelligence update claimed that Russia is now deploying 60-year-old armoured vehicles to the frontlines in the face of heavy losses.
‘The Russian military has continued to respond to heavy armoured vehicle losses by deploying 60-year-old T-62 main battle tanks (MBT)… In recent days, Russian BTR-50 armoured personnel carriers, first fielded in 1954, have also been identified deployed in Ukraine for the first time,’ the update read.
It added that in despite the upgrades, the vehicles will be sorely outmatched and outgunned.
‘Since summer 2022, approximately 800 T-62s have been taken from storage and some have received upgraded sighting systems which will highly likely improve their effectiveness at night.
‘However, both these vintage vehicle types will present many vulnerabilities on the modern battlefield, including the absence of modern explosive reactive armour.’
A resident walks past a damaged church and a destroyed Russian tank in the town of Svyatohirsk, Donetsk region, last week
A destroyed tank in the village of Tsupivka, Kharkiv region, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine
Elsewhere in Ukraine, the exiled mayor of Melitopol – a city in the southern Zaporizhzhia oblast – claimed that a Ukrainian attack on a pair of Russian military bases is likely to have killed scores of Putin’s troops.
Ivan Fedorov told Ukrainian TV yesterday that two powerful explosions were heard in the northern part of the city, which was one of the first in Ukraine to be occupied when Russian forces launched their invasion in February last year.
‘In occupied Melitopol, powerful explosions are heard, two enemy bases were destroyed,’ Mr Fedorov said.
According to the mayor, Russian losses as a result of the strike ‘amount to hundreds of people, but the general staff of the armed forces of Ukraine will provide more detailed information.’
‘Today is a weekend of hell for them, just like the whole last week of hell,’ Mr Fedorov added.