The Wagner mercenary leader claims he would withdraw his soldiers from Bakhmut, Ukraine, on May 10 due to ammo shortages.
The statement was made by Yevgeny Prigozhin after he posted a video of himself walking among the corpses of his fallen fighters and blaming senior Russian defense officials.
There were “tens of thousands” slain and injured, Prigozhin stated.
Russia has been attempting to capture the eastern city despite its questionable strategic significance for months.
Wagner’s forces are heavily committed.
John Kirby, the spokesman for the US National Security Council, stated earlier this week, citing newly declassified intelligence, that since December, more than 20,000 Russian soldiers have been slain and another 80,000 wounded in fighting in Ukraine. Half of the deceased belonged to the Wagner faction.
In his statement on Friday, Prigozhin, 61, blamed the defense ministry for using expletives for his decision to leave Bakhmut.
“Shoigu! Gerasimov! Where are the… bullets? They came here as volunteers and will perish so that you can get fat in your mahogany offices.”
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov have frequently been the target of Prigozhin’s ire, amidst allegations of fierce infighting between various power groups in the entourage of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Prigozhin said Wagner’s casualties were “increasing daily in a geometric progression” due to ammunition shortages.
Prigozhin, seen standing in front of his men in a previously released video, declared that he would “transfer positions in the settlement of Bakhmut to units of the defense ministry and withdraw the remains of Wagner to logistic camps to lick our wounds.”
“My men will not suffer pointless and unjustifiable losses in Bakhmut without ammunition,” he continued.
Prigozhin is publicity-seeking, and it appears that his influence has diminished in recent months. He has previously made threats that he has never carried out, dismissing them as pranks and military humor.
He told a Russian pro-war blogger last week that Wagner fighters in Bakhmut needed hundreds of rounds.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military reported that combat near Bakhmut remained intense.
Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Eastern Command, told that Prigozhin has been attempting to attract attention to himself by making preposterous statements for months.
Prigozhin’s private army of mercenaries led Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Prigozhin is from St. Petersburg, the birthplace of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two most likely met for the first time in one of Prigozhin’s restaurants. Years later, Prigozhin’s catering company Concord was contracted to supply food to the Kremlin, garnering him the moniker “Putin’s chef”
In February, Prigozhin posted another image of his fallen soldiers and attributed their deaths to army commanders.
Although the military denied intentionally starving his Wagner group of ammunition, they did increase front-line supplies at the time.
Rob Lee, a military analyst based in the United States, contends that Wagner’s latest complaint of ammunition shortages likely reflects Russia’s defense ministry restricting ammunition in anticipation of Ukraine’s protracted counteroffensive.
The ministry must defend the entire front, but Prigozhin is only concerned with capturing Bakhmut, he tweeted. Mr. Lee added that if Wagner succeeded in capturing the city, Prigozhin could claim political credit.
The mercenary commander has predicted that Ukraine’s counteroffensive will commence on May 15, as tanks and artillery will be able to advance in dry weather following the end of the spring rainy season.
Separately, it appears that Prigozhin has hired an army general who was recently removed as logistics commander.
Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev was dubbed the “butcher of Mariupol” for his involvement in the bombardment of Ukraine’s southern port city, which was captured by Russian forces a year ago.
Prigozhin said the general helped recruit convicted criminals and supplied ammunition to mercenaries.
Col. Gen. Mizintsev was only placed in charge of army logistics in September of last year, shortly after Prigozhin was recorded in a Russian prison promising to release inmates if they served with his men in Ukraine.