After an incredibly dramatic few days in the ongoing stand-off between Wagner and the Kremlin, it appears the mercenary group’s chief has gotten his way and is receiving the ammunition he pleaded for in a series of expletive-laden videos last week.
UPDATE: New videos released on Tuesday morning suggest things are a bit more complicated than they first appeared, see below.
What’s the latest?
In an audio message released by his spokespeople on Monday, Prigozhin said: “According to preliminary data, we are beginning to receive ammunition.”
He added that “fierce” battles were underway in Bakhmut, but claimed his forces were advancing.
Prigozhin said that Ukrainian troops still controlled “approximately 2.36 square kilometers” of territory in the besieged city of Bakhmut.
But earlier in the morning, Prigozhin released a separate video in which he said: "In order not to spoil the holiday for anyone, the full video where I will tell you about the situation with ammunition will be shown exactly at 10:40, after the victory parade ends.
"And since it's 3:30 in the morning, we still have time - who knows, we might get ammunition. Then we won't show it."
Prigozhin published a video threatening to tell the "ammunition situation" on the frontlines it Wagner PMC doesn't get the ammunition they need until the end of the parade in Moscow. pic.twitter.com/yyZHJN2OrY— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) May 9, 2023
What's going on here?
The situation is a bit confusing – despite the message released by his spokespeople about receiving ammunition, Prigozhin went ahead anyway and released the video he threatened to reveal in the clip shown above.
In it he accused a Russian military unit of having fled its positions near Bakhmut in east Ukraine, now the epicentre of fighting.
"Today one of the units of the defence ministry fled from one of our flanks .. exposing the front," Prigozhin said, repeating a vow that his Wagner group will leave Bakhmut if the Russian military does not supply more ammunition.
Prigozhin said soldiers were fleeing because of the "stupidity" of Russian army commanders, who he said were giving "criminal orders".
"Soldiers should not die because of the absolute stupidity of their leadership," Prigozhin said.
He also questioned the Kremlin's ability to defend the country as Ukraine prepares for a spring offensive. "Why is the state not able to defend its country?" Prigozhin said, adding that Ukraine was hitting Russian border regions "successfully".
Prighozin also suggested some unnamed Kremlin officials were engaged in "treason", saying: "There is a crime going on, the destruction of the Russian people, treason against the motherland. It is a small group of people who I am sure military counter-intelligence will determine who they are.
"Those who are supposed to follow [Putin's] instructions have done nothing in 24 hours. They sit in meetings and drink tea. There they have a prostate massage and all sorts of other procedures."
This sounds familiar?
In a series of extraordinary videos on Friday, Prigozhin said he would withdraw his fighters “to lick our wounds” and avoid “facing a senseless death,” after he angrily accused Kremlin officials of withholding ammunition.
“On May 10, 2023, we will have to hand over our positions in Bakhmut to units of the defense ministry and withdraw Wagner units to rear camps to lick our wounds,” Prigozhin said in a statement on Telegram.
“I will pull out Wagner units from Bakhmut because in the absence of ammunition they are facing a senseless death,” he said, adding that he was waiting for “orders to leave Bakhmut.”
Earlier that day, Prigozhin released a shocking video (GRAPHIC WARNING) in which he appeared surrounded by the dead bodies of Wagner fighters.
Shouting into the camera, he said: “These are the Wagner PMC guys who died today, still bleeding fresh. Now listen to me – these are somebody’s fathers and sons. And those who don’t give us ammunition will be in hell.”
On Saturday Prigozhin asked Moscow to let him hand over his positions in Bakhmut to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
“I ask you to issue a combat order before 00:00 on May 10 concerning the transfer of the positions of the Wagner paramilitary units in Bakhmut and its periphery, to the units of the Akhmat battalion,” he said in a letter to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
The Akhmat battalion refers to combat units under the command of Kadyrov, who has ruled Russia’s Muslim-majority republic Chechnya for a decade and a half.
What’s the latest military situation in Bakhmut?
According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Russia made “marginal advances” in Bakhmut as of Monday.
It added: “Geolocated footage published on May 7 indicates that Russian forces likely made gains in western Bakhmut.
“Russian sources claimed on May 7 and 8 that Wagner fighters intensified assaults on Ukrainian positions in western Bakhmut and shelling of the area.”
The Ukrainian armed forces acknowledged on Tuesday morning that “heavy battles are fought for the cities of Bakhmut and Maryinka,” but said that “over the past day, 42 enemy attacks were repelled on the specified areas of the front.”
Analysts are divided over the strategic significance of Bakhmut as a military prize, but the city has gained important political stature, with both sides pouring significant resources into the fight.
Ukraine has said its strategy with the defense of Bakhmut is to degrade Russia’s ability to launch any further offensive in the coming months and buy time to ready its bid to recapture ground.
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