Prigozhin has earned a reputation as the cruellest commander among those leading Russia’s grim invasion. In conversations with the Guardian, former Wagner soldiers have previously admitted committing war crimes in Ukraine.

Still, observers say the latest tirade marks an unusual level of infighting in Russia and comes at a sensitive time when the Kremlin is trying to spread a message of stability and unity in the face of a looming Ukrainian counteroffensive.

“We have been used to a lot from Prigozhin, but this is certainly an escalation,” said a former defence official who has worked closely with him.

The former official, who asked for anonymity, said that Prigozhin’s threat to leave Bakhmut was clearly part of a “blackmailing campaign” to get more ammunition for Wagner.

“He always pushes to get what he wants. It is unclear if this latest gamble will pay off,” they said.

In the second video message addressed to Putin and the ministry of defence, Prigozhin says he is pulling out of Bakhmut on 10 May “because in the absence of ammunition, they’re doomed to perish senselessly”.

In a third video published by Prigozhin later on Friday, he continues his accusations, blaming Shoigu and Gerasimov for the deaths and injuries of “tens of thousands of Russian soldiers”.

“I will make sure they will bear responsibility for it,” the warlord says.

The Kremlin said it was aware of Prigozhin’s message but declined to comment further.

The defence ministry did not directly respond to Prigozhin’s accusations, but on Friday Shoigu instructed a senior defence official to ensure the “continuous supply of troops with all the necessary weapons and military equipment”.

Ukraine dismissed Prigozhin’s claims that Wagner was planning to abandon Bakhmut.

Anna Malyar, the country’s deputy defence minister, said Russia was aiming to capture Bakhmut by 9 May, the day when Russia celebrates the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.

Malyar added that Wagner was pulling in troops to Bakhmut from “all directions” to achieve this goal. Ukraine’s military intelligence said Prigozhin’s statements illustrated the ongoing state of the conflict between him and the Russian defence ministry. “The confrontation continues,” spokesperson Andriy Yusov said.

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