Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin on Tuesday questioned the Russian state’s ability to protect the country from a Ukrainian counteroffensive, amid an escalating rift between the paramilitary group and the Kremlin’s security establishment.
The Russian state is “unable to defend the country,” Prigozhin said in a video posted on Telegram, adding that Russian generals were trying to “deceive” Putin.
“Today one of the units of the defense ministry ran away from one of our flanks … exposing the front,” the head of Wagner said, arguing the event should be recognized as “treason against the motherland.”
In the latest episode of an ongoing quarrel with Moscow’s military leaders, including Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov, Prigozhin also repeated a pledge to pull out Wagner troops from the battlefield if they did not receive enough ammunition from Moscow — seemingly backtracking on comments he made Sunday.
“This is really bad. If it goes on like this, we will not be able to fight,” Prigozhin said.
“If all the tasks are being carried out in such a way as to deceive the commander-in-chief [Putin], then either he will rip your arse or the Russian people, who will be angry if the war is lost, will,” he added.
Russia has suffered heavy losses in Bakhmut, a key battleground that has seen some of the fiercest fighting since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, and where Wagner forces have a significant presence.
Last Friday, Prigozhin said Wagner troops would retreat from Bakhmut and hand over their positions to the Russian army on May 10 if they did not receive “enough weapons and ammo” from the Kremlin.
He then appeared to go back on his words two days later, saying he had received assurances that the Kremlin would deliver the gear, and that his men would keep fighting.
Prigozhin’s comments Tuesday come amid Russia’s annual World War II Victory Day celebrations, including a military parade in Moscow’s Red Square.
In a low-key speech at the parade, Russian President Vladimir Putin said a “real war ha[d] once again been unleashed” against Russia, and that Western elites were “sowing hatred, Russophobia and aggressive nationalism” against Moscow.
Gabriel Gavin contributed reporting.