Yevgeny Prigozhin attacks defence minister and chief of armed forces.

 This article is more than 5 months old

Wagner chief rages at Russia’s generals and threatens Bakhmut pullout

This article is more than 5 months old

In extraordinary video tirade, Yevgeny Prigozhin attacks defence minister and chief of armed forces

Pjotr SauerFri 5 May 2023 18.36 CEST

The leader of the Wagner mercenary group has brought escalating tensions with the Kremlin military leadership dramatically into the open after he recorded an expletive-ridden video in a field littered with corpses and blamed Russia’s top defence chiefs for the losses.

“These are Wagner lads who died today. The blood is still fresh,” Yevgeny Prigozhin says in the extraordinary clip, pointing to roughly three-dozen bodies that he says are those of the Wagner fighters. “They came here as volunteers and are dying so you can sit like fat cats in your luxury offices.”

In a separate message on Friday morning, Prigozhin said Wagner troops would leave the besieged eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut next week over what he said was the lack of ammunition for his troops.

In the two-minute first clip, Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s chef” because his catering business hosted dinners attended by the Russian president, screams as he calls out the Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, and the chief of the Russian armed forces, Gen Valery Gerasimov over military supplies.

“Shoigu, Gerasimov, where the fuck is our ammunition?” he shouts, before continuing to unleash personal insults directed at Shoigu, a longtime ally of Putin. “You scum sit there in your expensive clubs. Your kids are all getting off on life, recording their little YouTube videos,” Prigozhin says, referring to Shoigu’s son-in-law Alexey Stolyarov, a popular fitness blogger.

Wagner has played a key role in the months-long assault on Bakhmut, a high-profile battlefield with limited strategic value. To bolster its ranks, Wagner has recruited tens of thousands of prisoners who fight for the group in exchange for their freedom.

Prigozhin has previously feuded with Russia’s top brass over military tactics, accusing the country’s military leaders of “high treason” for not providing his group with ammunition. He recently threatened to leave Bakhmut but ended up staying.

According to US estimates, more than 20,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in fighting in Ukraine since December, with half of the dead being Wagner mercenaries.

Prigozhin last week told a Russian pro-war blogger that Wagner fighters in Bakhmut were down to their last days of supplies of bullets, and needed thousands of rounds of ammunition. Military experts have said that Russia appears to be rationing its shells after 14 months of heavy fighting with Ukraine.

“Wagner has long had a significant artillery advantage in Bakhmut and received preferential support,” said Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute.

“The ministry of defence is likely now rationing ammunition before Ukraine’s counteroffensive. The ministry has to defend the whole front but Prigozhin only cares about taking Bakhmut,” Lee added.

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