The Russian militia Wagner threatened to withdraw from Bakhmut, the epicenter of the fighting in Ukraine, due to a lack of ammunition. The militia accused regular army commanders of being responsible for “tens of thousands” of casualties in their own ranks since the start of the offensive in the former Soviet republic. The head of the paramilitary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said in a video directed at the Russian General Staff, “They will bear the responsibility for tens of thousands of dead and wounded in front of their mothers and children.” Prigozhin has been accusing the Russian army for months of not providing enough ammunition so that the paramilitaries do not score a victory in Bakhmut that would eclipse the regular troops.
The city in eastern Ukraine has been the focus of fighting for several months. The militias have taken many sectors without being able to seize the entire city. Prigozhin’s criticisms exposed the strong tensions between Moscow’s forces.
His statements, broadcast in three videos, come at a time when Ukraine claims to be finalizing preparations for a major counteroffensive. Russia ordered the evacuation of families with children and the elderly in 18 villages and cities it controls in the south of the country, citing an intensification of Ukrainian bombings. More than 70,000 people will be evacuated, according to authorities installed by Moscow in those areas.
In one of his videos, Prigozhin assured that his troops were ready to “take Bakhmut before May 9,” when Russia celebrates the anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. “When they saw that, the army bureaucrats stopped the deliveries” of ammunition to deprive the militias of that prestigious victory, he asserted. “Therefore, on May 10, 2023, we will withdraw from Bakhmut,” he added, explaining that he was not willing to let his men “suffer unnecessary and unjustified casualties without ammunition.” It remains to be seen whether these statements are an announcement or an ultimatum.
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