Wagner boss admits he has lost 20,000 fighters in bloody battle for Bakhmut

Yevgeny Prigozhin on the likely outcome of war in Ukraine

Russia has lost more than 20 percent of its private mercenary fighters in the battle for the besieged city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, the chief of the Wagner Group has admitted. Yevgeny Prigozhin, in his latest tirade against the Kremlin commanders, said his force had lost 20,000 of its 50,000 fighters, half of which were convicted murderers and rapists pulled out of Russian prisons to fight in Ukraine, while attempting to encircle the defending soldiers in the city.

The internationally-recognised war criminal and confidante of Vladimir Putin added that he believed Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu, and the head of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine Valery Gerasimov, should be “hanged on the Red Square” for failing to supply his mercenaries with the ammunition necessary to survive, let alone achieve material gains on the frontlines.

During the interview with pro-Kremlin blogger Konstantin Dolgov, Prigozhin said: “For the [special military operation] I pulled out 50,000 inmates from jails. Twenty percent of them died.”

This figure stood in stark contrast to the widely disputed claims from Moscow that just over 6,000 of its troops were killed in the war as of January.

If true, the 20,000 death toll, suffered in just 10 months, exceeds the official Soviet losses sustained during a decade of war in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989.

Analysts have long suspected the fight for Bakhmut alone has cost the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers, both Russian and Ukrainian, but Prigozhin’s remarks constitute the first public acknowledgement of the huge losses.

Earlier this month, his spokespeople published a video of him shouting, swearing and pointing at about 30 uniformed bodies lying on the ground, saying they were Wagner fighters who died in a single day.

He claimed the Russian Defense Ministry had starved his men of ammunition, before he threatened to give up the fight for Bakhmut.

Prigozhin’s latest interview, posted on a Telegram channel that has only 50,000 followers, wasn’t picked up by Russia’s largest state-run or pro-Kremlin media and is unlikely to be widely seen.

Neither did it appear to get any mentions among military bloggers, whose popular Telegram pages are important sources of information about the war to many Russians.

Bakhmut lies in Donetsk province, one of four provinces Russia illegally annexed last fall and only partially controls. Its strategic value is questionable and many analysts claim that a Russian victory in the city would be Pyrrhic.

While Wagner and Russian forces have sacrificed tens of thousands of lives in human wave attacks, as well as hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition and artillery, trying to take Bakhmut, Ukrainian forces have been heavily fortifying the nearby cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, making a follow-up attack extremely difficult.

And despite claims by Wagner that they have already captured the city – Putin himself congratulated them on their success – the Ukrainian General Staff said on Wednesday that “heavy fighting” was continuing inside Bakhmut.

The head of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said that Kyiv’s forces “are continuing their defensive operation” in the city and had achieved unspecified “successes” on the city’s outskirts.

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Prigozhin has made a habit of calling out the Russian war cabinet for the failure of his mercenaries to avoid a costly victory (or defeat) in Bakhmut.

During his latest interview, he said he saw Shoigu and Gerasimov as complicit in the deaths of his fighters for failing to supply them with ammunition and weapons.

“Without a doubt the death penalty will be brought back, because we are in a state of war,” he said. “And the guilty people will receive their punishment – as a minimum, they’ll be hanged on the Red Square.”

He added that Russia’s invasion goal of “demilitarising” Ukraine had backfired because Kyiv’s military has become stronger than ever with the supply of weapons and training by its Western allies. Russia would now have to “prepare for a hard war”, he said.

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