Ukraine war: Russia’s Wagner boss suggests ‘betrayal’ in Bakhmut battle

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner group, speaking in Bakhmut in a video released on 3 March

The head of Russia’s Wagner private army has said it is not getting the ammunition it needs from Moscow, as it seeks to gain control of Bakhmut.

Russian troops – from Wagner and regular Russian forces – are trying to seize the eastern city from Ukraine.

But Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin has complained of a lack of ammunition, saying it could be “ordinary bureaucracy or a betrayal”.

Relations between Wagner and Moscow seem increasingly tense.

The Wagner group has tens of thousands of troops in Ukraine – some recruited directly from Russian prisons – and has become a key part of Moscow’s invasion.

In the post on Sunday, Mr Prigozhin said documents were signed on 22 February, with ammunition expected to be sent to Bakhmut the next day.

But most has not been shipped, he said, before suggesting it could be deliberate.

Separately, in a video posted on Saturday – but seemingly filmed in February – Mr Prigozhin said his men feared that they were being “set up” as scapegoats if Russia lost its war in Ukraine.

“If we step back, then we will go down in history forever as the people who took the main step to lose the war,” he said.

“And this is precisely the problem with that same shell hunger [ammunition shortage]. This is not my opinion, but ordinary fighters…

“What if they [the Russian authorities] want to set us up, saying that we are scoundrels, and that’s why they don’t give us ammunition, they don’t give us weapons, and they don’t let us replenish our personnel, including from among the imprisoned people?”

In Saturday’s video, Mr Prigozhin said Russia’s front line would collapse without his troops.

“If now Wagner PMC [private military company] retreats from Bakhmut, then the entire front will crumble, and today PMC Wagner is cementing it.

“On the one hand, we are pulling the entire Ukrainian army onto ourselves, grinding and destroying it, and do not give it the opportunity to concentrate in other sectors of the front.

“On the other hand, we are moving forward and the rest [an apparent reference to the Russian military] are forced to somehow catch up in order to save face.”

Last month, Mr Prigozhin complained that Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov were withholding supplies of munitions to his troops.

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Ukraine’s troops are probably conducting a “limited fighting withdrawal” in eastern Bakhmut, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said on Monday.

But it added Ukraine was “continuing to inflict high casualties” on Russian forces.

The ISW said the Russian military relied on Wagner in the months-long effort to seize Bakhmut and has since “reinforced Wagner forces in Bakhmut with Russian airborne elements and mobilized personnel”.

On Saturday, the deputy mayor of Bakhmut told the BBC that there was street fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces.

However Oleksandr Marchenko said Russian troops had not yet gained control.

“They have no goal to save the city… their only goal is killing people and the genocide of the Ukrainian people,” Mr Marchenko told the Today programme.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian military officials said leaders of Russia’s 155th Brigade fighting near the town of Vuhledar, south of Bakhmut, resisted orders to attack after sustaining severe losses.

The Russian Defence Ministry said its forces had hit a command centre of the Ukrainian Azov Regiment in southeastern Zaporizhzhia region.

Separately, Moscow’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has visited the occupied city of Mariupol during a trip to eastern Ukraine – a year after his troops besieged the city.

The defence ministry said he was inspecting work carried out to “restore infrastructure in the Donbas” – words that are likely to grate in Ukraine, given Russia’s responsibility for the destruction.