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Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin on Friday said his fighters will pull out of the key eastern Ukraine battleground of Bakhmut on May 10, ripping a lack of support from Moscow that is dooming his troops “to a senseless death.”
His mercenaries have led the bitter fight for control of the small city that has become the scene of some of the bloodiest conflict in Ukraine in recent months despite Bakhmut holding little strategic significance. In a series of furious tirades against Russia’s military commanders, Prigozhin said he’ll now pull his forces out of the city because Wagner is not being given the ammunition it needs.
“I am officially addressing the supreme commander-in-chief, the chief of the General Staff, the minister of defense, and the people of Russia,” Prigozhin said in a statement shared on Telegram. “I declare on behalf of the fighters of the Wagner Group… that on May 10, 2023, we are being forced to hand over our positions in Bakhmut to Ministry of Defense units and withdraw what’s left of Wagner to the rear to lick our wounds.”
“I am withdrawing Wagner’s units from Bakhmut because in the absence of ammunition they are being doomed to a senseless death,” Prigozhin continued. He added that he’d decided to hold Wagner’s positions until after May 9, when Russia celebrates Victory Day, commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.
“We will lick our wounds, and when the Motherland is in danger, we will again stand up for her defense,” Prigozhin said. “The Russian people can count on us.”
The announcement comes a day after Prigozhin’s long-standing criticisms of Russia’s leaders appeared to boil over. In a video shared on Telegram on Thursday, the Wagner chief stood alongside what looked like rows of his recruits’ bloodied corpses and became apoplectic with rage as he said he lacked 70 percent of the ammunition he needs on the battlefield.
Prigozhin showed fresh losses of Wagner PMC and blamed Shoigu and Gerasimov for them.
He says the ammunition shortage has reached 70% and seems to be on the verge himself. pic.twitter.com/lRiGjApC5n
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) May 5, 2023
“These were someone’s fucking fathers! And someone’s sons!” Prigozhin fumed in the footage. “And those bastards who don’t give us ammunition will fucking eat their guts in fucking hell!”
The video opens with Prigozhin pointing a flashlight on his apparently lifeless mercenaries and saying they were Wagner recruits who died on the day the footage was recorded. “Their blood is still fresh,” he said before instructing the cameraman to make sure he films all of the corpses.
“Our ammunition shortage has reached 70 percent! Shoigu! Gerasimov! Where is the fucking ammo?” Prigozhin thundered, referring to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the Russian armed forces chief Gen. Valery Gerasimov.
“Fucking look at them!” he continued. “You bastards sit in your expensive clubs. Your children enjoy life and film YouTube videos. You think you own this life and you have the right to decide their fates!” Prigozhin claimed that if he was given the amount of ammunition he needs, he would have five times fewer casualties.
“They came here as volunteers and they are dying so you can enjoy life in your offices with red wood furniture,” he added. “Take this into account.” The video ends with a shot lingering on the bodies.
A withdrawal by Wagner from Bakhmut could have a major effect on the battle for the city. Earlier this week, the White House’s National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that more than 20,000 Russian troops had died fighting in Ukraine in the last five months alone, the majority of whom had been killed in grueling trench warfare in Bakhmut.
Russia has made repeated claims of being close to completely capturing the city, but Ukraine has always maintained that the city has not been lost.