Russian paramilitary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin on Friday threatened to pull frontline troops out of Bakhmut in an extraordinary attack on military chiefs that exposed a deep rift in Russian ranks ahead of an expected Ukrainian offensive.
In a series of scathing videos, Prigozhin blamed Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov for “tens of thousands” of killed and wounded Russian fighters in Ukraine.
He vowed to hold them to account over what he said was a failure to provide fighters from his mercenary group, Wagner, with sufficient ammunition.
“For the tens of thousands killed and wounded, they will bear responsibility in front of their mothers and children, I will achieve that,” he said.
“Their unprofessionalism is destroying tens of thousands of Russian guys and that is unforgivable.”
Wagner has spearheaded the grinding, months-long Russian assault on Bakhmut, almost capturing the city in the longest and bloodiest battle of the campaign.
While Prigozhin has made similar threats to pull out in the past, the emotive language and the scathing personal criticism of the leaders of Russia’s campaign in Ukraine were unprecedented.
“On May 10, 2023 we will have to hand over our positions in Bakhmut to units of the defence ministry and withdraw Wagner units to rear camps to lick our wounds,” Prigozhin said in a written statement on Telegram.
“I will pull out Wagner units from Bakhmut because, in the absence of ammunition, they are facing a senseless death,” he said, adding that he was now expecting a plan from the military on how to implement the withdrawal.
Ukraine said Friday that Russia was still “doing their best to take control of Bakhmut” in time for World War II Victory Day celebrations on May 9 — Moscow’s most important holiday and a central event under President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Ukraine is preparing a major offensive against Russian forces and experts say a series of sabotage attacks and long-distance strikes behind Russian lines are in preparation for that.
In the latest development, a fire broke out at an oil refinery in southern Russia on Friday — a day after authorities confirmed a drone attack at the same facility.
Russia on Friday also announced the evacuation of some 70,000 people from areas near the front line in southern Ukraine, blaming an intensification of Ukrainian shelling on residential areas.
Earlier, Prigozhin posted a video on Telegram showing rows of what he said were dead Wagner fighters in which he blamed Shoigu and Gerasimov for their deaths.
“Shoigu! Gerasimov! Where is my fucking ammunition?” Prigozhin said in the video.
“They came here as volunteers and they are dying so you can get fat in your wood-panelled offices,” he said, standing by the bodies.
“These guys are from Wagner. They died today. Their blood is still fresh,” he said, adding that army chiefs “will go to hell”.
“We have an ammunition shortage of 70 percent,” he said in his tirade, in which several expletives were bleeped out.
“You sit in your (bleeped) expensive clubs… You think you are the masters of life and you have the right to decide on their lives,” he said, pointing at the bodies.