Russian Mercenary Leader Says His Forces Are Starting to Leave Bakhmut

As Russia vowed an “extremely tough” response to an unusual, two-day border incursion by pro-Ukraine fighters, the leader of Russia’s largest mercenary army warned it could face further setbacks. will face unless its ruling elite takes drastic, and possibly unpopular, measures. win the war

“It would probably not be good for us to be in a special operation,” said Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, founder of Wagner Rent Group, in a cheeky interview with a pro-Kremlin political commentator late Tuesday. Telegram messaging platform. “We are in such a position that we may lose Russia,” he continued, his speech laced with profanity. “We have to be prepared for a very tough war that will result in millions of casualties.”

A close ally of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, Mr. Prigozhin has been increasing pressure on Russia’s military leadership with a bombardment of public Internet platforms, extending his criticism to the country’s moneyed elite.

They are further empowered by them. The infamous mercenary forceHis role in the recent victory at Bakhmut, Russia’s first military victory in months. However, Russian state media kept his name out of coverage of the events, showing how Russia’s propaganda machine is hiding. Elite combat and problems on the front line From the Russian people.

In the interview, Mr Prigozhin called for all-out war – something Mr Putin carefully avoided, trying to reassure his people that their lives would not be affected by a “special military operation” in Ukraine. This position has become increasingly difficult to maintain as the war continues and Russian losses mount.

Mr Prigozhin said the Kremlin should announce a new wave of mobilization to call up more fighters and declare martial law and “everything possible” in the country’s munitions efforts.

“We should stop building new roads and infrastructure and work only for war, to live a few years in the image of North Korea,” he said. If we win, we can make anything. We stabilize the front and then move on to some kind of active action.

The alternative is more violence, he said, but within Russia, carried out by ordinary people fed up with elites, whom Mr Prigozhin accused of ignoring the reality of the war but not doing enough to win it. Characterized by

“The children of the elite smear themselves with creams, which show on the Internet, the children of the common people come in zinc, they are dismembered,” he said, referring to the coffins of dead soldiers. “Thousands” of relatives. “Society always demands justice and if there is no justice, revolutionary sentiments arise.”

Mr Prigozhin said his Wagner force had lost 20,000 men during the war in Ukraine, half of them recruited from prisons. They constitute 20 percent of the total number of prisoners of war serving as convicted combatants.

Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the State Department, said the United States considered Mr. Prigosan’s number a significant underestimate of its losses. Even so, it is significantly higher than the losses of the Russian armed forces, which the Kremlin has admitted. While US estimates are much higher, the Russian government has admitted to only 6,000 soldiers killed – a figure last shared publicly in September.

Mr Prigozhin’s comments in the interview came after militants linked to Ukraine infiltrated Russia’s Belgorod region. Militants, ethnic Russians who want to conquer Ukraine, are apparently used. American-made armored vehiclesand provoked the fiercest fighting on Russian soil since the war began 15 months earlier.

Mr Prigozhin said Ukraine had “one of the strongest armies in the world” and added that the border violence reflected weak leadership at the highest levels of the Russian military. He has often targeted Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and in interviews, Mr. Prigozhin praised his personal principles, saying, “I love my motherland, I serve Putin, Shoigu.” There must be a decision and we will fight. But.”

In brief remarks during a meeting with colleagues on Wednesday, Mr Shoigu did not react to Mr Prigozhin’s comments and maintained that Russia would respond “immediately and very strongly” to any further infiltration by “Ukrainian militants”. ” will give.

Many analysts and other observers have been surprised by Mr. Prigozhin’s targeted criticism of Russia’s elites in a society tightly controlled, and Mr. Shoigu in particular.

“He’s playing a very dangerous game,” a wealthy Moscow-based businessman said of Mr. Prigozhin in an interview with The New York Times in late March, after speaking to a prominent Kremlin-linked figure. He requested not to reveal his name. “If he doesn’t stop, he’ll wind up like Alexei Navalny.” Mr Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition politician, is now in critical condition in a penal colony.

But Wagner’s recent triumph at Bakhmut Dmitry Oreshkin, a Russian political scientist and Kremlin critic, said Mr. Prigozhin had been given political carte blanche after months of a bitter battle.

“You’re given everything, permission to break the law, to take people out of jail without asking anyone’s permission, if you discipline those people,” Mr. Oreshkin said of the terms of the deal between Mr. Oreshkin and Mr. Oreshkin. If you don’t like it, kill them.” Putin and Mr. Prigozhin. “If he had not brought this victory, he would have exploded” at the hands of the aristocracy he despises.

“For him it was a matter of life and death.”

Melana Mazefa Cooperation reporting.

But a correction was made.

May 24, 2023


Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article misspelled the first name of a State Department spokesperson. The spokesperson is Matthew Miller, not Mark.

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