The head of the Wagner private military company says his men will begin withdrawing from Bakhmut this week, because dwindling ammunition supplies and mounting losses mean there is “nothing left to grind the meat with.”
On his official Telegram channel on Saturday, Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin blamed the lack of ammunition on Russia’s military command and said his forces would begin to withdraw from May 10.
“We’ve taken 95% of Bakhmut. For this last 5%, the ‘Red Army’ [the Russian Armed Forces] are not playing any role,” Prigozhin said.
“We don’t have the necessary ammunition, and no one has communicated with us about getting back to full capacity,” Prigozhin said.
“It is better to save our army than to win a battle.”
The announcement by Prigozhin – sometimes dubbed “Putin’s chef” because his catering companies provided services for the Kremlin – follows the release last week of expletive-laden video footage in which he challenged Russia’s military leadership and blamed defense chiefs for “tens of thousands” of Wagner casualties.
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.
But as Prigozhin’s stature has increased, so too have his clashes with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and chief of the Russian armed forces Gen. Valery Gerasimov, prompting speculation about possible elite infighting in Moscow as Russia’s military campaign fails to advance.
In February, Prigozhin accused the two men of “treason” for their alleged failures to support and supply the Wagner group in Ukraine.
His most recent challenge to Russian defense officials comes as Bakhmut remains heavily contested.
In his Telegram message Saturday, Prigozhin said Wagner’s role in Bakhmut had been to grind down Ukrainian forces while allowing Russian forces to regroup.
“On October 8, 2022, together with the Army General Sergei Surovikin, it was decided to launch the operation ‘Bakhmut meat grinder’ – an assault on the village of Bakhmut in order to provoke (Ukrainian President) Vladimir Zelensky to throw in as many forces as possible to hold Bakhmut. In Bakhmut, we grinded (the Ukrainian forces), hence the name – ‘Bakhmut meat grinder,’” Prigozhin said.
“The purpose of the operation ‘Bakhmut meat grinder’ was to enable the units of the Russian army to take advantageous lines of defense, mobilize, re-equip, train personnel and increase their combat potential,” he added.
“With regards to the Bakhmut meat grinder, there will be no more meat grinder because there’s nothing left to grind the meat with,” Prigozhin said.
Chechen leader’s invite
Prigozhin’s message came as the notorious Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov called on Wagner fighters to join forces with his Akhmat battalion in Bakhmut.
“The Wagner (company) has very good, courageous, necessary, necessary people, necessary to us, because they know the area,” Kadyrov said in a video message on Saturday.
“If you stay with us, I promise you that we will give you more, create better conditions, than you have today. We will try to make everything top notch for you,” said Kadyrov, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“You (Wagner fighters) know our commanders. You can contact them – any group, the number does not matter,” the Chechen leader noted.
Kadyrov also posted an image of his letter to Putin “to issue combat orders on the removal of Akhmat units from other directions in order to hand Wagner positions in Bakhmut over to them.”
Additional reporting by Brad Lendon