The boss of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, accused a Russian brigade of abandoning its position in front-line Bakhmut, allowing Ukraine to seize territory.
The remarks are the latest in a series of public criticisms from him of Moscow’s Ministry of Defense for the faltering invasion of Ukraine – and, in particular, the failure to capture the city of Bakhmut.
But while Prigozhin has frequently poured scorn on the Russian military and its leadership, he has not previously accused Russian units of running from battle and allowing Ukrainian forces to recapture territory.
Prigozhin said the 72nd brigade “just ran the hell out of there.”
Responding to questions from a Russian media outlet, Prigozhin said: “There is a serious risk of encirclement of PMC Wagner in Bakhmut as a result of the failure of the flanks. The flanks are already cracking and falling through.”
“At the moment, within the city of Bakhmut, there is only Wagner PMC, there are no other units. Outside Bakhmut [there is] only the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. PMC Wagner is not there,” he said.
Bakhmut is the site of a months-long assault by Russian forces, including Wagner mercenaries, that has driven thousands from their homes and left the area devastated.
But despite the vast amounts of manpower Russia has poured into capturing the city – using tactics that have been compared to a “meat grinder” – they have been unable to take total control, and on Wednesday suffered heavy losses in the area.
Prigozhin said despite pledges made by the Defense Ministry, his men had not been issued with anything like the required ammunition in recent days.
“Until now, ammunition has been filtered to a minimum…PMC Wagner continues the offensive in Bakhmut and is awaiting a decision on the issuance of ammunition and weapons in the required quantity,” he said.
“In the absence of ammunition, the ‘meat grinder’ will work in the opposite direction: The Armed Forces of Ukraine will destroy PMC Wagner.”
In his latest comments, he blamed what he called “internal competition” for reducing supplies to Wagner.
Prigozhin also questioned the value of capturing Bakhmut, claiming that the city “has no strategic importance.”