Russia’s Wagner mercenary group appeared on Sunday to ditch plans to withdraw from Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, saying they had been promised more arms by Moscow and suggesting they may keep up their assault on what Russia sees as a stepping stone to other cities in the Donbas region.
Russia’s mercenary force to leave Bakhmut, Ukraine, next week
“We have been promised as much ammunition and weapons as we need to continue further operations. We have been promised that everything needed to prevent the enemy from cutting us off [from supplies] will be deployed,” Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin wrote on his Telegram channel on Sunday.
Prigozhin had said on Friday that his fighters, who have spearheaded a months-long assault on Bakhmut, would pull out after being starved of ammunition and suffering “useless and unjustified” losses as a result.
Prigozhin, notorious for his penchant for using social media as a way to criticize the Russian Ministry of Defense has also published an expletive-laden video blasting Minister Shoigu and Chief of Staff Gerasimov for the lack of ammunition.
A spokesman for Russia’s defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment after Prigozhin’s latest statement.
Russian officials have repeatedly sought to allay concerns that their forces on the front line have not received adequate supplies. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday, referring to the Russian forces as a whole, that they had “received the sufficient amount of ammunition” to effectively inflict damage on enemy forces.
Prigozhin’s threat to pull out of Bakhmut highlights the pressure Russian forces are under as Ukraine makes its final preparations for a counteroffensive backed by thousands of Western-donated armored vehicles and freshly trained troops.
On the Ukrainian side, Serhiy Cherevaty, spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern command, said in response to Reuters questions about Prigozhin’s comments that Russian forces have “more than enough” ammunition.
He said Prigozhin’s comments are aimed at distracting from the heavy losses Wagner has taken by throwing so many troops into battle.
“Four hundred eighty-nine artillery strikes over the past 24 hours in the area around Bakhmut – is that an ammunition hunger?”
The battle for Bakhmut has been the most intense of the conflict, costing thousands of lives on both sides in months of grinding warfare.
Ukrainian troops have been pushed back in recent weeks but have clung on to control of the city’s western outskirts in an attempt to inflict as many Russian losses as possible ahead of Kyiv’s planned big push against the invading forces along the 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) front line.