Yevheniy Prigozhin, head of the Wagner PMC mercenary group, loosed a rhetorical salvo against Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Thursday, claiming Ukraine’s army is pushing the Kremlin’s forces back at multiple locations and that top military leaders in Moscow are criminally negligent and threaten the security of the Russian state.
Prigozhin made the comments published on internet platforms on June 21 in response to Wednesday announcements by Ukrainian officials that Kyiv’s summer offensive was “going according to plan.” The Russian state media has widely reported that Ukrainian attacks are, purportedly, failing with heavy losses.
Prigozhin contradicted that official Russian narrative, saying the Ukrainian army has in fact seen successes infighting in the Zaporizhzhia Region, and named three villages recently lost by Russian forces.
"I cannot comment in any way on how the offensive is going by the Ukrainian armed forces. I can tell what is happening at our line of contact,” Prigozhin said. Ukrainian troops had recently taken control of the villages Pyatykhatky, Rabotyne and Urozhaine, he said.
Ukraine’s government by Thursday morning had not confirmed the liberation of Rabotyne and Urozhaine. Independent Ukrainian news reports of the capture of Pyatykhatky surfaced over the weekend and were confirmed by Ukraine’s Joint Forces South on Monday.
Prigozhin claimed, without offering evidence, that “above Tokmak” (a city deep behind Russian lines and 30 km to the rear of frontline positions in the Zaporizhzhia sector) a Ukrainian unit of 50-100 men was operating without much interference by the Russian military.
He likewise asserted that Ukrainian army commandos had crossed the Dnipro River in the vicinity of the town Hola Prystan and that Ukrainian regular army units would follow in due course. Russia’s high command was failing to deliver sufficient weapons and ammunition to frontline troops, Prigozhin said.
Russian losses of tactically important villages would, if not halted, reverse most territorial gains managed by Russian forces since the Kremlin invasion of Ukraine in Feb. 2022, Prigozhin warned.
“Russia will wake up one day and discover that Crimea has also been handed over to the Ukrainians. There is a direct betrayal of Russian interests. It is all happening against the backdrop of losses,” Prigozhin said.
“Troops need to be replenished. One man cannot stand in the line where two or three should stand. All these figures are being concealed. If this goes on, we will be left without the main thing – without Russia.”
Prigozhin singled out Shoigu as particularly responsible for the army’s shortcomings and called Shoigu out for, Prigozhin alleged, professional negligence.
"At what cost are we carrying out ‘special operation’ – at the cost of destruction of the Army…
"For what – so that some ‘Shvonder’ (Shoigu) could get a marshal's star, and his family members would be untouchable? The counterattack by the Ukrainian forces is causing us serious problems and losses. When trouble comes, we may be left without an army and Russia,” Prigozhin said.
Shvonder, a fictional character invented by Russian early 20th-century novelist Mikhail Bulgakov, is well-known across the former Soviet space as the literary archetype of an uneducated and recently appointed Communist boss owing his job solely to mindless and vociferous support of the party line.
Although obscure to most readers of fiction outside Russia, the works of Bulgakov – a member of the Russian aristocratic class displaced by Communist revolutionaries - are still taught in Russian schools as an important piece of Russia’s cultural heritage. Bulgakov was educated in Kyiv but forced to leave his family home there during the Russian Civil War.
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