The chief of the Wagner mercenary group has lambasted Russia’s military leaders after Ukrainian armed forces managed to retake settlements on the outskirts of Bakhmut.
Yevgeny Prigozhin said it was a ‘disgrace’ that Kyiv‘s troops were able to push back Russian lines and seize Berkhivka, a town in the northern suburbs of the embattled city.
Prigozhin’s Wagner group just last month managed to wrest Bakhmut out of Ukrainian hands after months of brutal fighting reminiscent of World War I trench warfare, with tens of thousands killed on both sides.
The mercenary figurehead hit out at Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu and army chief Valery Gerasimov, taunting them and urging them to go to the frontlines and see the failures for themselves.
‘Now part of the settlement of [Berkhivka] has already been lost, the troops are slowly falling back. What a disgrace!
‘Shoigu, Gerasimov, I urge you to come to the front, raise your pistols at your men to make them go forward. Come on, you can!
‘And if you can’t, then you will die as heroes.’
Prigozhin’s latest tirade comes as his mercenaries captured a lieutenant colonel from Vladimir Putin‘s regular forces in the latest example of bitter infighting in Russian ranks.
The captured colonel was seen hanging his head in a humiliating video posted by the Wagner group in which he confessed his ‘guilt’ and admitted to being drunk on duty after allegedly shooting at a Wagner vehicle.
This follows claims by the mercenaries that the regular Russian army targeted their ranks with mines, as a clip showed their sappers clearing the explosive devices from a road.
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has launched several verbal tirades at Putin’s military leaders. He has accused them of ordering their troops to retreat from their positions and leaving Wagner fighters unprotected on the frontlines
Wagner private army mercenaries film themselves de-mining a road which they claim was mined by regular Russian troops as the mercenaries made their way back from the front
A Ukrainian soldier fires a mortar at Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, May 29, 2023
An aerial view shows destructions in the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released on May 21, 202
Wagner mercenaries have been fighting for Putin in Ukraine and are credited with seizing the embattled city of Bakhmut from Ukrainian armed forces after months of bloody warfare.
But their success has seemingly angered regular Russian army commanders.
Wagner chief Prigozhin has launched several verbal tirades at Putin’s military leaders. He has accused them of ordering their troops to retreat from their positions and leaving Wagner fighters unprotected on the frontlines.
The captured soldier identified himself as Roman Venevitin, commander of Russia’s 72nd Brigade.
Venevitin, who appeared to have a broken or wounded nose, confessed that he ‘opened fire on a Wagner PMC [private military company] vehicle while intoxicated from alcohol’.
He did so due to ‘personal animosity’, he claimed.
The shooting damaged a Ural supply truck but did not wound any Wagner soldiers, according to the private army.
Venevitin also confessed to leading a group of ten to 12 Russian army soldiers who ‘disarmed’ a Wagner rapid response group.
‘Does personal animosity have any place at all in war?’ an angry Wagner commander asked Venevitin.
‘No,’ the captured colonel replied sheepishly.
Wagner has a reputation for battering its own ‘traitors’ to death with a sledgehammer – but there is no suggestion the Russian colonel will face the same treatment.
A summary execution of a high-ranking Russian commander by Wagner forces would cause unprecedented chaos in Moscow’s ranks.
Founder of Wagner private mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin (right) speaks with servicemen during the withdrawal of his forces from Bakhmut and the handover to regular Russian forces
A Ukrainian soldier fires a mortar at Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut
The Wagner group is fighting in Ukraine on behalf of Vladimir Putin, but the relationship between them and Putin’s regular troops is one of mutual hatred
The capture of Venevitin came hours after Wagner mercenaries were forced to clear a road of mines which they claim had been laid by the regular army corps.
Prigozhin said hundreds of mines had been laid by the regular army to snare Wagner forces when they pulled out of Bakhmut after securing a rare victory for Putin in the war.
‘We discovered about a dozen places where various explosive devices were placed, ranging from hundreds of anti-tank mines to tons of [charges] from Zmey Gorynych self-propelled missiles,’ Prigozhin said.
‘Those who planted these charges were representatives of the ministry of defence… These [explosive] charges did not need to be stacked in order to hold back the enemy since it is in the rear area.
‘It can be assumed that they wanted to meet the advancing units of the Wagner PMC [Private Military Company] with these charges, even though we do not walk in columns.’
It highlights the rift inside the Kremlin forces fighting Ukraine, and some analysts see civil war as a possibility in Russia if Putin loses the war.
Despite huge losses, and a ban on recruiting prisoners from Russia’s penal colonies, Prigozhin is still thought to have up to 60,000 men at his disposal.
Wagner is one of several private armies in Russia. Chechen warlord leader Ramzan Kadyrov controls a heavily armed group of his own, and Russian energy giant Gazprom has set up its own private military company.