Standing in front of the bodies of dozens of what he claims are his fighters killed in Russia’s war with Ukraine, the head of the private military company Wagner unleashed an expletive-laden challenge to Russia’s military leadership, and later blamed defense chiefs for “tens of thousands” of Wagner casualties.
“We are lacking 70% of the needed ammunition!” Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin says in a video posted Thursday on the Telegram messaging app.
Shining a small flashlight on the corpses laying outdoors near what appears to be the front lines of the war, Prigozhin claims they are the casualties of just one day of fighting.
“Shoigu, Gerasimov, where … is the ammunition?” says Prigozhin, calling out Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and chief of the Russian armed forces Gen. Valery Gerasimov.
“The blood is still fresh,” he says, pointing to the bodies behind him. “They came here as volunteers and are dying so you can sit like fat cats in your luxury offices.”
In another video statement, released Friday on Telegram, Prigozhin said, “The dead and wounded – and that’s tens of thousands of men – lie on the conscience of those who did not give us ammunition, and this is Defense Minister Shoigu and this is Chief of the General Staff Gerasimov.
“For tens of thousands of those killed and wounded, they will bear responsibility before their mothers and children, and I will make sure of that,” he added.
In the same video message, Prigozhin praised the former Deputy Defense Minister Mikhail Mizintsev, who has recently joined the Wagner Group as its deputy commander.
Prigozhin, whose Wagner mercenary group has taken on a growing role in the Ukraine conflict as Russian forces falter, has been highly visible on the front lines in recent months – where he has claimed credit for territorial gains, particularly in the battles raging around the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
Amid the public feud, Shoigu inspected troops and military equipment in Russia’s southern military district on Friday, the Russian military said, where he promised military supplies.
The statement said Shoigu has instructed “to keep under special control the issues of continuous and rhythmic supply of the groups of troops in the areas of the special military operation with all the necessary weapons and military equipment.”
Wagner fighters will ‘leave Bakhmut’ on May 10
Prigozhin’s call for more ammunition is not new, nor are his methods. He has repeatedly complained of receiving insufficient support from the Kremlin in the grueling fight for the eastern city.
In February, he made a similar appeal for ammunition, posting a picture on Telegram of a pile of corpses. Shortly after that posting, he made another saying a shipment of ammunition was on its way to the Wagner troops.
But the support does not seem to have lasted, at least to Prigozhin’s liking. Last weekend, he threatened to withdraw his troops from the city if Moscow didn’t provide more ammunition.
In a separate statement posted to Telegram on Friday, Prigozhin repeated the threat, saying his private military company would leave Bakhmut on May 10 due to a lack of ammunition.
“I declare on behalf of the Wagner fighters, on behalf of the Wagner command, that on May 10, 2023, we are obliged to transfer positions in the settlement of Bakhmut to units of the Defense Ministry and withdraw the remains of Wagner to logistics camps to lick our wounds,” Prigozhin said.
“I’m withdrawing Wagner PMC units because without ammunition, they are doomed to a senseless death,” said Prigozhin, adding that Wagner had fallen “out of favor with envious near-military bureaucrats.”
Signs of infighting in Moscow
Known for its disregard for the lives of its own soldiers, the Wagner group’s brutal and often lawless tactics are believed to have resulted in high numbers of casualties, as new recruits are sent into battle with little formal training – a process described by retired United States Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling as “like feeding meat to a meat grinder.”
But as Prigozhin’s stature has increased, so too have his clashes with Shoigu and Gerasimov, prompting speculation about possible elite infighting in Moscow as Russia’s military campaign fails to advance.
In February, he accused the two men of “treason” for their alleged failures to support and supply the Wagner group in Ukraine.
His newest challenge to Russian defense officials comes as Bakhmut remains heavily contested.
“These are someone’s f**king fathers and someone’s sons. And you f**kers who aren’t giving [us] ammunition, you b*tches, will have your guts eaten out in hell!” yelled Prigozhin in Thursday’s video.
CNN’s Nathan Hodge contributed to this report.