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Bakhmut Withdrawal Threat: Chief Wagner Prigozhin Puts Russian Government on Notice

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The head of the Russian mercenary group, Wagner, threatened on Friday to withdraw his forces from Ukraine’s Pakmut if the military leadership did not provide more ammunition.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, a notorious millionaire with long ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, claimed that Wagner was planning to capture Bakhmut by 9 May.

But Prigozhin said his force had not received enough artillery ammunition from the Russian army since Monday. Notoriously threatening, Prigozhin has previously made unverifiable claims and made threats he has not carried out.

Hours before the statement was released, Prigozhin’s spokespeople released a video of him angrily requesting ammunition from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

In the video, Prigozhin is standing in front of about 30 uniformed bodies lying on the ground. He says they are the bodies of the Wagner fighters killed on Thursday alone.

Prigozhin speaks in an angry tone and uses many insults in the video.

“These are someone’s fathers and children,” Prigozhin says, pointing to the corpses. “The scum that doesn’t give us ammunition will eat their guts in hell.”

He claimed that the Russian regular army was supposed to protect the flanks while Wagner’s forces pushed forward but “barely held” them, deploying “dozens, seldom hundreds” of troops.

The Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately comment on the allegations, and it was not possible to verify them independently.

“Wagner ran out of resources to advance in early April, but we are advancing despite the fact that the enemy’s resources outnumber us five times,” Prigozhin’s statement said. “Due to the lack of ammunition, our casualties are increasing exponentially every day.”

The Wagner Group led the struggle for control of Bakhmut, the longest and probably bloodiest battle of the war. More than eight months of fighting there is believed to have claimed thousands of lives, though neither side has determined the number.

Meaningless death

Prigozhin toured Russian prisons to recruit fighters, promising amnesty to his colleagues if they survived a half-year tour of the front line with Wagner.

Western countries and UN experts have accused Wagner’s mercenaries of numerous human rights abuses across Africa, including in the Central African Republic, Libya and Mali.

Bakhmut, located about 55 kilometers (34 miles) north of the Russian-controlled regional capital Donetsk, has tactical military value for Moscow, although analysts say it will not be decisive in the outcome of the war.

The city had a pre-war population of 80,000 and was an important industrial centre. Now a ruined ghost town, it has become an important symbol of Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky saying its surrender could start building international support for a deal that would require Ukraine to make unacceptable concessions.

Prigozhin’s manifesto said that Wagner would have to withdraw from Bakhmut on May 10 and the Russian regular army would take over, “because without ammunition (Wagner’s fighters) they are doomed to a senseless death.”

He accused “jealous military bureaucrats” of depriving him of ammunition. Western officials and analysts believe Russia has run out of ammunition as the 14-month-old conflict became mired in a war of attrition over the winter, with both sides resorting to long-range bombing.

This isn’t the first time Prigozhin has fussed about ammunition shortages and blamed the Russian military, with which he had long been in conflict. He had previously threatened to withdraw from Bakhmut once, in an interview with a Russian military blogger last week, if the ammunition situation did not improve.

Asked by The Associated Press about Prigozhin’s statement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he had seen references to him in the media but declined to comment further. The Russian military did not immediately comment on the statement either.

Also on Friday, the Russian state news agency TASS, citing emergency officials, reported that an oil refinery in the Krasnodar region of southern Russia bordering the attached Crimea peninsula caught fire after it was attacked by a drone. The report stated that the fire was small and quickly extinguished.

This was the second day in a row that the Ilyinsky refinery was attacked by a drone. Drone attacks on oil facilities in Russian regions bordering Ukraine have been reported almost daily over the past week.

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