Putin made denazification and demilitarization key objectives of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
But these efforts have failed, the Wagner Group founder said.
"The Ukrainians are one of the strongest armies today," Yevgeny Prigozhin said in an interview.
Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said this week that Russia has failed to achieve one of its main goals, demilitarizing Ukraine, and has actually made Kyiv's army stronger through its invasion.
"So how did we demilitarize? It turns out that on the contrary, we have militarized Ukraine," Prigozhin said in a video interview now circulating around social media.
Prigozhin, who has in recent months taken repeated shots at the Russian defense ministry and Russian failures in Ukraine, said that Kyiv has gained more troops and more weapons since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.
He refers to "demilitarization" as a "sore" spot, according to a translation of the video published to Twitter on Wednesday by Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to Ukraine's minister of internal affairs.
The nod to demilitarization refers to one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's key ambitions in the unprovoked assault on Ukraine in February 2022. At the time, Putin announced a "special military operation" with the goal of "demilitarization and denazification" of Ukraine, a democratic country that is led by a Jewish president.
Prigozhin said his mercenaries have battled in "many places" and against "many people," including American, French, and United Nations troops in the various locations that Wagner tried to operate secretly in before its role in Ukraine quickly thrust the group into the public eye in a major way.
—Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) May 24, 2023
In an arguably baseless claim, he said that Wagner is the "best army in the world," despite taking massive losses while fighting to capture eastern Ukraine's war-torn city of Bakhmut. The battle has severely weakened the paramilitary organization.
Western intelligence suggested earlier this year that the mercenaries and the army of convicts they recruited to bolster their ranks — sometimes rushed into battle to absorb heavy Ukrainian fire — likely had a casualty rate of up to 50 percent. And between December and May, over 10,000 Wagner fighters were killed, according to a recent US assessment.
Praising his adversary while calling attention to Russia's failures, Prigozhin said that "the Ukrainians are one of the strongest armies today." That observation stands in stark contrast with Russia's initial pre-war expectation that the Ukrainian army would crumble and it could capture Kyiv in a matter of days.
"They have a high level of organization, a high level of training, a high level of intelligence," he said. "They have different weapons and moreover they work with any systems. Soviet, NATO, everything equally successful."
Indeed, Ukraine has enjoyed widespread military aid and training from the US and other NATO partners, which have sent billions of dollars in lethal aid and military hardware and equipment to Ukraine, from small arms and ammunition to advanced munitions and armored vehicles. This mountain of security assistance from the West has complemented Ukraine's existing stockpile of Soviet-era weaponry, such as tanks and fighter jets, and boosted its overall combat capability.
Kyiv's troops have used these systems to inflict devastating casualties on both Wagner and Russia's regular military. Since December, these forces have suffered over 100,000 casualties and made only limited territorial gains in the process. Now, Ukraine is gearing up for a much-anticipated counteroffensive, which may only worsen the situation for Russia.
"We have been working very closely with our allies and partners to help Ukraine build up its combat power," Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters at a Tuesday briefing. "So as they prepare to conduct counter-offensive operations, they have got a very strong hand and we're very confident that they have the combat capability that they'll need."
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