Yevgeny Prigozhina millionaire with close ties to Vladimir Putin and leader of the mercenary group Wagner, threatened on Friday to withdraw his soldiers from the battle in Bakhmut next week. He cites lack of ammunition and the large number of casualties as the reasons behind his anger.
This statement is the latest demonstration of his dispute with Russia’s regular army over war strategy since his group was deployed in Ukraine.
They are going nine months of trying to take Bakhmut, which has turned this eastern Ukrainian city into the symbolic epicenter of the war. The destruction advances more and more and the blood spilled in this territory further motivates the will of both countries to win this battle.
“I declare on behalf of the Wagner fighters, on behalf of the Wagner command, that the May 10, 2023 we are obliged to transfer positions in the Bakhmut settlement to units of the Ministry of Defense (of Russia) and remove the remains of Wagner to logistics camps to lick our wounds”, Prigozhin said in a statement.
“I am pulling Wagner’s units out of Bakhmut because, in the absence of ammunition, they are condemned to perish senseless”.
“Shoigu! Gerasimov! Where is the… ammunition?… They came here as volunteers and died for you to fatten up in their mahogany officesThe Wagner leader lashed out at Russian top brass, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov, who have often been the focus of Prigozhin’s anger.
A Wagner withdrawal would be a heavy blow to the Russian campaign.
In that sense, five keys to understand the role of the Wagner Group in the Russian-Ukrainian war, and the reasons behind its leader’s anger:
The role of militias in wars
As explained in The Conversation the doctoral student Dale Pankhurst, from Queen’s University Belfast, militias are non-state armed groups that are generally recruited from the civilian population to support state security forces, mainly in times of emergency. These paramilitarized, quasi-institutional groups strengthen both the quantity, and sometimes the quality, of the state’s military capacity.
“Governments often hire militia groups to carry out operations against armed rebel organizations during counterinsurgency warfare. Governments have also used militias as protection against internal threats, such as threats of coups from other state actors, including the military,” she wrote. “Depending on how close the militia is to the government, the state may provide weapons, resources, training and intelligence to the group. In other cases, a state will delegate power to a militia to carry out military operations on its behalf.
The CV of the Wagner group
This is not the first time that the Wagner group has been hired to fight for Russia on Ukrainian soil. He was first seen in action in the east of the country shortly after the separatist conflict broke out in April 2014, weeks after Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.
Russia, which backed the separatist insurgency in the Donbas, has denied sending its own weapons and troops there, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Hiring and dispatching the mercenaries allowed the Kremlin to maintain a degree of denial.
This group, which has a reputation for extreme brutality and cruelty, has also been deployed in Syria, where Russia supported Bashar Assad in a civil war. They were also in Libya, the Central African Republic and Mali.
UN experts and various Western governments have accused Wagner’s mercenaries of committing human rights abuses throughout Africa. In December 2021, the European Union denounced the group for “serious human rights abuses, including torture and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings”, and for carrying out “destabilizing activities” in the aforementioned countries and in Ukraine.
One of the most recent examples is from this war. According to him Institute for the Study of War (ISW), members of the Wagner Group would have committed war crimes precisely in Bakhmutaccording to videos posted by Russian users on social media “supposedly showing the remains of a head belonging to a Ukrainian military on a skewer in an unspecified area of Bakhmut.”
“Social media users recalled similar cases of skulls mounted on spikes in Popasna, Luhansk Oblastwhere Wagner’s troops operated during the spring-summer of 2022. The Geneva Convention prohibits the mutilation and looting of corpses in war”, the institute stated.
Wagner’s role in the Russian-Ukrainian war
It began operating in relative shadows, but Wagner has gradually assumed an increasingly visible role in the Ukrainian war. This is because Russian regular troops have suffered thousands of casualties – the White House estimated on Monday that the Russian army has suffered 100,000 casualties in the last five months in the fighting against Ukraine in the Bakhmut region – and setbacks, so Wagner has taken the lead on the front.
In January, Prigozhin claimed full credit for capturing solder, and accused the Russian Defense Ministry of trying to steal his glory. So Friday’s threat and insults are not the first time he has targeted Russian high command, and probably won’t be the last. The issue of ammunition is one of the most repetitive claims since it began to help Russia in Ukraine.
Wagner’s contractors on the front line in Ukraine recorded a video insulting General Valery Gerasimov over the lack of ammunition supplies, and Prigozhin himself accused high-ranking Russian military officers of incompetence, something he does with frequency and unprecedented in Russia’s tightly controlled political system.
According to US estimates, Wagner has around 50,000 troops fighting in the Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts that the company recruited with the promise of pardoning their sentences.
Of the 100,000 casualties reported by the Joe Biden government, 20,000 have been deaths, and almost half, deaths of the Wagner group in Bakhmut.
Anger for Bakhmut
Bakhmut, some 55 kilometers north of the Russian regional capital of Donetsk, has tactical military value for Moscow, although analysts say it will not be decisive in the outcome of the war. The city had a prewar population of 80,000 and was a major industrial center. Now it is a ghost town. According to an analysis of The Economisteven if Russia takes Bakhmut, “it would be the very essence of a Pyrrhic victory,” since expanding the capture of a provincial city of dubious strategic value may draw attention to how little Russia has achieved in ten months of fighting. “In the process, he has squandered his offensive potential, making himself more vulnerable to a counterattack.”
“These are the boys who died today, the blood is still fresh.”said Prigozhin in a video posted on Telegram, in which he shows rows of corpses of his soldiers lying on the ground and he assured that the casualties would be five fewer if the Wagner units received the proper amount of ammunition.
He added that his units they only have 30% of the ammo they need.
Prigozhin claimed that Russia’s regular army was supposed to protect the flanks as Wagner’s troops advanced, but “barely holds them back,” deploying “tens and rarely hundreds” of troops.
“Wagner ran out of resources to advance in early April, but we are advancing despite enemy resources outnumbering ours by five times,” Prigozhin’s statement reads. “Due to the lack of ammunition, our losses are growing exponentially every day.”
“These are someone’s parents and someone’s children,” says Prigozhin. “The scum that don’t give us ammunition will eat their guts in hell.”
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