Equipments of Ukrainian servicemen of the State Border Guard Service are seen in the shelter in Bakhmut on February 16, 2023, as the head of Russia s mercenary outfit Wagner said it could take months to capture the embattled Ukraine city and slammed Moscow s monstrous bureaucracy for slowing military gains. AFP
Yevgeny Prigozhin, a millionaire with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an emotional audio statement released through his spokespeople decried “direct resistance” from the Russian military, “which is nothing other than an attempt to destroy Wagner."
Prigozhin said in a raised voice that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov are handing out orders “left and right” not to supply Wagner with ammunition and not to support it with air transport. The company has been actively involved in heavy fighting in the east of Ukraine.
This “can be likened to high treason in the very moment when Wagner is fighting for Bakhmut, losing hundreds of its fighters every day,” Prigozhin said in a raised voice.
Prigozhin's claims could not be independently verified, and there was no immediate comment from the Russian military.
The millionaire and his fighters have been alleging for weeks that the Russian military doesn't provide them with enough ammunition, as Wagner's push to take over Bakhmut, a key city in Ukraine's partially occupied eastern Donetsk region, stalled and turned into a grinding battle.
Emotional statements from Prigozhin and his fighters highlighted the long-brewing tensions between the private Wagner, which has an unclear legal status as Russian law prohibits private military companies, and the Russian military.
Prigozhin has repeatedly criticized Russia's top military brass in recent months, accusing top-ranking officers of incompetence. He also has increasingly raised his public profile, issuing daily messaging app statements to boast about Wagner’s purported victories and sardonically mock his opponents.
His criticism, however, appears to have fallen on deaf ears. Last month, Putin reaffirmed his trust in Gerasimov by putting him in direct charge of the Russian forces in Ukraine, a move that some observers also interpreted as an attempt to cut Prigozhin down to size.
On Tuesday, in his long-anticipated state-of-the-nation address, Putin profusely thanked his military, but made no mention of Wagner.