The leader of Russia’s brutal Wagner mercenaries warned the Kremlin’s entire military front line could collapse if his fighters do not quickly receive ammunition promised by Moscow. Yevgeny Prigozhin’s private army is leading the battle for the key Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
But in a sign of a gaping rift with his paymasters, the billionaire oligarch complained of “ammunition hunger”.
He warned in a video: “If the private mercenary force Wagner retreats from Bakhmut, the whole front will crumble…to the Russian borders and maybe further.”
And in another dig at his Russian clients, he added: “Wagner is the cement…We are drawing the entire Ukrainian army on ourselves, breaking them and destroying them.
“The situation will not be sweet for all military formations protecting Russian interests.”
In a separate video, released at the weekend but believed to have been filmed several days ago, Prigozhin said his men feared they were being “set up” as scapegoats if Russia loses its war in Ukraine.
“If we step back, then we will go down in history forever as the people who took the main step to lose the war,” he complained.
“And this is precisely the problem with that same shell hunger [ammunition shortage]. This is not my opinion, but ordinary fighters’.
“What if they [the Russian authorities] want to set us up, saying that we are scoundrels, and that’s why they don’t give us ammunition, they don’t give us weapons, and they don’t let us replenish our personnel, including from among the imprisoned people?”
Prigozhin’s outburst came after the UK Ministry of Defence revealed Russian reservists were using “shovels” for “hand-to-hand” combat in Ukraine due to a shortage of ammunition.
However, as fighting intensifies, Kyiv troops are also running out of supplies in horrendous conditions and amid bloody street-to-street combat.
Military strategists said Russia occupies areas to the east, north and south of Bakhmut – and there is only one road connecting the city with Ukrainian-controlled territory.
On the ground, Kyiv said it had repelled “more than 130 enemy attacks” on Monday as Russian soldiers continued their attempts to surround Bakhmut.
Kremlin troops are also said to be contesting lines of communication and preventing resupply. But Washington-based think tank, the Institute for the Study of War, said the Russians were unlikely to be able to encircle the city soon as their advances were “slow and gradual”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky admitted his pain as he paid tribute to his nation’s fighters across the entire Donbas region.
As they come under increasingly intense pressure, the leader said in a television address to the country: “It [Bakhmut] is one of the toughest battles. Painful and challenging.”
Mr Zelensky also claimed that “the world was strong enough to punish Russia for the war”.
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Ukraine would spend the next six months working to shore up the country’s energy supply against Russian attack, he added. As the battle for Bakhmut raged, another of Ukraine’s top commanders, Volodymyr Nazarenko, described the situation in the city as “hell”, as troops remained entrenched.
But he said they had stabilised the front line and that Russian forces were still on the outskirts.
Elsewhere, Ukraine’s special forces unit Kraken claimed to have destroyed an observation tower in Russia’s westerly Bryansk region with a kamikaze drone.
Kraken commanders said the tower was being used to monitor the border with Ukraine.
In other developments, Ivan Fedorov, the exiled mayor of Melitopol in south-eastern Ukraine, claimed that “hundreds” of Russian soldiers had been killed during a Ukrainian strike on the city.
The Russian army said that it had hit a command centre of Ukraine’s Azov regiment in the same Zaporizhzhia region.
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