- Yevgeny Prigozhin threatened to withdraw Wagner Group fighters from Bakhmut over shell shortages.
- He issued an ultimatum to Russia’s defense minister and gave him 24 hours to respond.
- Prigozhin has previously sparred with Russia’s military brass over complaints of a lack of support.
The founder of Russia’s paramilitary Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has threatened to withdraw his mercenaries from Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, escalating his rift with Russia’s military leadership.
Prigozhin issued an ultimatum to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu over ammunition shortages in an interview with Russian military blogger Semyon Pegov published Saturday.
“Every day, we have stacks of thousands of bodies that we put in coffins and send home,” Prigozhin said, per Al Jazeera’s translation.
“If the ammunition deficit is not replenished, we are forced – in order not to run like cowardly rats afterward – to either withdraw or die,” he said.
—Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) April 29, 2023
Prigozhin warned that if Shoigu does not respond to his requests for more ammunition, Wagner fighters will withdraw from Bakhmut.
“We are patriots, and we will go to Bakhmut while we have the last cartridge, but these cartridges are left not for weeks, but for days,” he said according to the video’s subtitles, shared by Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to Ukraine’s internal affairs minister, on Twitter.
He issued the deadline on April 27 and said the defense minister had 24 hours to reply, which has now passed. It is not clear whether Shoigu responded.
Wagner mercenaries have played a key role in the bloody 10-month battle for the city of Bakhmut, where fighting rages on as Russian forces try to cut off Ukraine’s supply lines.
Prigozhin has complained that Wagner receives only 800 of the 4,000 shells per day that it currently requests, according to Washington DC-based think tank, The Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
He said that Wagner actually needed about 80,000 shells per day, which was its shell allowance before apparent Russian Ministry of Defense efforts to reduce Wagner’s influence, the ISW said.
In this handout photo taken from video and released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Wednesday, March 22, 2023, a Russian army’s howitzer fires at Ukrainian troops at an undisclosed location.
Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
In recent months Prigozhin has often complained about the lack of ammunition, which he has described as “shell hunger,” and accused Russia’s defense ministry of deliberately depriving his fighters.
He went as far as sharing a graphic image showing dozens of dead soldiers piled up in eastern Ukraine, which he blamed on the ammunition shortages.
In March, he claimed that the Kremlin was no longer speaking to him after he made complaints.
His latest comments stoke the long-running feud with Russia’s regular army leaders over his allegations of lacking support for his fighters and debates over credit for Russian victories in the war.