The feared leader of Russia’s Wagner Group has warned that his mercenary forces will leave Bakhmut on May 10, citing ammunition shortages blamed on the Russian defence chief.
Yevgeny Prigozhin on Friday promised to withdraw from the eastern Ukrainian city Moscow has tried to seize for months, ending the group’s involvement in the longest and bloodiest battle of the war, as he appeared in a video surrounded by dozens of corpses he said were Wagner fighters, yelling and swearing at Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
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In a separate statement addressed to Gerasimov, Shoigu’s ministry, and President Vladimir Putin as supreme commander, he said: “On May 10, 2023, we are obliged to transfer positions in the settlement of Bakhmut to units of the defence ministry and withdraw the remains of Wagner to logistics camps to lick our wounds.
“I’m pulling Wagner units out of Bakhmut because in the absence of ammunition they’re doomed to perish senselessly.”
Wagner has spearheaded Russia’s lengthy and costly attempt to capture Bakhmut, of which Prigozhin said three weeks ago that his men controlled more than 80 percent.
Ukrainian defenders have acknowledged tough battles but have held out.
Prigozhin has for months vented increasing anger at what he describes as lack of support from the Russian defence establishment.
It was not clear if his latest statement could be taken at face value, as he has frequently posted impulsive comments in the past.
Only last week, he withdrew one statement he said he had made as a “joke”.
‘Where is the ammunition?’
Earlier on Friday, he was seen in a video surrounded by dozens of bodies in military uniform as he blamed Russian officials for starving them of ammunition.
“Shoigu, Gerasimov, where’s the ammunition, damn it?” 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.
“These guys are from Wagner. They died today. Their blood is still fresh,” he said, adding that army chiefs “will go to hell” for not sending weapons.
Bakhmut, a town of 70,000 people before the start of the war, has taken on huge symbolic importance for both sides because of the sheer intensity and duration of the fighting there.
More than eight months of fighting is believed to have cost thousands of lives, though neither side reports their losses.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned that if Bakhmut falls, it could spur international support for a deal that could pressure his country to make unacceptable compromises.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said he could not comment on Prigozhin’s statement.
Prigozhin is closely linked to President Vladimir Putin, and the two started their careers in business and politics in their native St Petersburg following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.