Vladimir Putin is ready to use his brutal security services to ‘put a stop’ to his longtime crony Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Wagner private army, says a new report.
The mercenary force chief appeared to brand the 70-year-old dictator a ‘complete a**hole’ and mock him as a ‘happy grandfather’ amid reports from the frontlines of a Russian retreat and Ukrainian gains around the besiged city of Bakhmut.
Prigozhin hinted later that his foul-mouthed onslaught was in fact aimed at Putin’s chief of the general army staff Valery Gerasimov, 67, who he blames for ammunition shortages at the front.
Another possible target was defence minister Sergei Shoigu, also 67, but many believe it was aimed squarely at Putin.
Independent news outlet Meduza reported its Kremlin sources saying Prigozhin has now crossed a ‘red line’ in his repeated attacks on Putin’s top brass and their failings to give his fighters ammunition to take Bakhmut.
Vladimir Putin is ready to use his brutal security services to ‘put a stop’ to his longtime crony Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Wagner private army, says a new report. The mercenary force chief appeared to brand the 70-year-old dictator a ‘complete a**hole’ and mock him as a ‘happy grandfather’ in a video posted online on Wednesday
Independent news outlet Meduza reported its Kremlin sources saying Prigozhin has now crossed a ‘red line’ in his repeated attacks on Putin’s top brass and their failings to give his fighters ammunition to take Bakhmut. Pictured: Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech during the Victory Day military parade at Red Square in central Moscow on May 9
‘If this continues, official security forces will certainly put a stop to it,’ said a source close to the Kremlin, reported Meduza.
It was unclear if this meant liquidation – a fate of multiple Putin foes – or arrest, possibly for treason, which could see the 61-year-old billionaire warlord jailed for up to 21 years.
The report says Moscow’s propaganda agencies have already received a ‘warning’ from the Putin administration that if Prigozhin continues criticising the Defence Ministry and reporting ‘failures on the front’, journalists should begin ‘portraying him as a traitor’.
Putin’s administration will turn on him if he ‘continues to break ranks’. The warlord has threatened to pull out of Bakhmut if his demands for ammunition are not met.
This is despite Prigozhin reportedly still having the ability ‘to enter into direct dialogue with the president’, his mentor.
But other sources say Putin no longer takes his calls.
The Wagner chief – whose mercenary forces operate not only in Ukraine but also Africa and Syria – is seen as being protected by close Putin cronies General Viktor Zolotov, head of the Russian national guard, and Tula governor Alexey Dyumin, formerly bodyguard to the dictator and tipped as a possible successor as president.
But it is unclear whether they can now save him after his latest tirade.
Meduza sources claimed Prigozhin’s profanity-laden diatribes may be the result of frustration that he failed in a personal promise to Putin to seize Bakhmut – Moscow’s primary target in its winter offensive and scene of the bloodiest ground combat in Europe since World War Two – by a certain date.
There has been speculation the deadline was May 9 – when Russia marked the annual Victory Day, commemorating the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany.
‘Because of this personal promise, he’s throwing the regular troops under the bus and making provocative statements. It’s unconventional behaviour,’ one source told the outlet.
It said ‘multiple’ Kremlin-linked sources said Prigozhin had crossed a ‘red line’ with latest outbursts.
Pictured: Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of Wagner private mercenary army, records a video appeal to Vladimir Putin, threatening to ‘leave Bakhmut on 10 May’
Russian forces made a humiliating retreat on Tuesday in the battle for Bakhmut, according to this dramatic aerial footage, on the same day Putin was forced to scale back his annual military parade due to his army’s devastating losses. Pictured: Russian soldiers are seen fleeing across an open field as they are pursued by a Ukrainian tank (left)
Prigozhin has expressed exasperation at the numbers of Wagner fighters killed – now lying dead on the frontline, or in graveyards across Russia – due to poor ammunition supplies. The warlord claimed the recent Russian retreat saw 500 of his Wagner forces dead – adding to the estimated tens of thousands already killed in Bakhmut.
In a recent video, Prigozhin delivered a message to camera in front of several uniformed corpses that lay on the ground behind him, covered in blood.
A former convict, Prigozhin rose to riches by staging lavish Kremlin banquets for Putin – hence his nickname as the dictator’s ‘chef’.
He also runs a propaganda empire including news agencies and troll factories pumping out pro-Putin social media messages in Russia and around the globe.
And he is behind Wagner and several other private military companies in Russia.
But there are fears he has become too big a threat, eyeing the Russian presidency if Putin is toppled due to war failures or falls due to ill-health.
The main Russian push in Bakhmut has been by led by Wagner forces, mainly mercenaries, volunteers and convicts freed from jail to fight by Putin.
In a desperate attempt to seize the city earlier in the conflict, Wagner employed ‘human wave’ tactics, crashing unit after unit against Ukraine’s defences.
Estimates suggest as many as 40,000 Wagner fighters were killed.
Despite the massive push, Ukraine’s defenders have managed to cling on to parts of the city and stopped Russia from advancing any further west in the region.
Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin is the chief financier and unquestionable face of the Wagner group, has provided regular updates from the frontlines in Ukraine. He has grown increasingly critical of Russia’s efforts to seize Bakhmut
News of Prigozhin’s precarious position came after a Ukrainian unit said on Wednesday that it had routed a Russian brigade near the Bakhmut stronghold.
The incident underlined the task facing the Kremlin as it carries out what it calls a ‘very difficult’ military operation.
The unit’s claim appeared to buttress the comments by Prigozhin, who on Tuesday said the Russian brigade had abandoned its positions in the city.
Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, who heads Ukraine’s ground forces, said Russian units in some parts of Bakhmut had retreated by up to 1.2 miles as the result of counter attacks. He gave no details.
‘The special military operation continues. This is a very difficult operation, and, of course, certain goals have been achieved in a year,’ Tass new agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as telling a Bosnian Serb television channel.
‘We managed to beat up the Ukrainian military machine quite a bit,’ said Peskov, citing Russian missile strikes in Ukraine. ‘This work will continue’.
Peskov said he had no doubt that Bakhmut ‘will be captured and will be kept under control’. He also said the Russian campaign in eastern Ukraine was proceeding slowly because Russia ‘is not waging war’.
‘Waging war is a completely different matter – it means complete destruction of infrastucture, it means complete destruction of cities,’ he said. ‘We are not doing this. We are trying to preserve infrastructure and preserve human lives.’
Peskov’s comments did not address claims that Russia’s 72nd Separate Motor-rifle Brigade had abandoned positions on the southwestern outskirts of Bakhmut.
In a statement, Ukraine’s Third Separate Assault Brigade said: ‘It’s official. Prigozhin’s report about the flight of Russia’s 72nd Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade from near Bakhmut and the ‘500 corpses’ of Russians left behind is true.’
A Russian brigade is typically formed of several thousand troops.
‘Our army is fleeing. The 72nd Brigade pissed away three square km this morning, where I had lost around 500 men,’ Prigozhin said on Tuesday, complaining his troops were receiving only 10% of the shells they needed.
In a statement later on social media, Prigozhin said Wagner forces had advanced 170 metres (530 feet). Ukrainian troops were confined to an area of 2.25 sq. km. (just under a square mile) and were coming under pressure in western districts dotted with high-rise apartments.
Ukrainian military analyst Roman Svitan said the successes near Bakhmut amounted to the beginning of the counter-offensive.
‘We are the ones who launched the moves to advance,’ Svitan told Ukrainian NV Radio. ‘We can say that the offensive that we have been expecting for at least the past six months got underway about a week ago.’
Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar wrote on Telegram that pro-Kyiv units had not lost a single position in Bakhmut on Wednesday.
Russian troops invaded Ukraine in what Moscow calls a special military operation and initially captured large amounts of territory, but Kyiv’s forces pushed back.
Western officials estimate more than 200,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded since the war began on February 24, 2022.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of Wagner private mercenary army, points to piles of dead mercenaries as he rages against the Russian defence minister
In his evening video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy named the Third Brigade and noted its report ‘about the flight of Russia’s 72nd Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade from near Bakhmut’.
In Brussels, NATO’s top military official said the war would increasingly be a battle between large numbers of poorly trained Russian troops with outdated equipment and a smaller Ukrainian force with better Western weapons and training.
Admiral Rob Bauer, a Dutch officer who is chair of NATO’s military committee, noted Russia was deploying T-54 tanks – an old model designed in the years after World War Two.
In Washington, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said he had authorised the first transfer of forfeited Russian assets for use in Ukraine.