A new report based on leaks of classified documents claims that the leader of the mercenary group doing the lion’s share of Russia’s fighting around the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut offered Ukraine a deal to attack Russian troops.
The Sunday report in The Washington Post comes as Wagner Group owner Yevgeniy Prigozhin has stepped up his criticism of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
In April, the FBI arrested Jack Teixeira, 21, a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard in connection with leaking classified documents to fellow gamers on a network called Discord, according to The New York Times. The documents provided extensive intelligence gathered on the war in Ukraine.
According to the Post report on those leaked documents, Prigozhin in January offered to tell Ukraine where Russian troops were located in exchange for loosening its chokehold on Bakhmut.
The Post report said Prigozhin has maintained secret contacts with the Ukrainian military.
The report, citing Ukrainian and U.S. officials who were not named, said the offer was greeted with skepticism about Prigozhin’s motives and trustworthiness.
An informational-psychological operation was launched against Prigozhin by high-level Western experts, not Ukraine. First, Zelensky’s strange interview with the Washington Post came out, and now this publication on the front page of the same newspaper: pic.twitter.com/7K2D7Ts3Xz
— Spriter (@Spriter99880) May 15, 2023
The leaked intelligence documents show Prigozhin complaining about the toll the fight for Bakhmut has taken on his mercenaries and urging Ukraine to hit Russian troops harder.
Will Russia sue for peace with Ukraine?
In one leaked document, Prigozhin is characterized as urging an attack on Russian forces in Crimea due to low Russian morale.
Although the Post report noted that Prigozhin has taken some of his frustration with Putin public, it noted that Putin “might well regard Prigozhin’s offer to trade the lives of Wagner fighters for Russian soldiers as a treasonous betrayal.”
Last week, Prigozhin publicly vented about the lack of ammunition flowing to his mercenaries and used vulgarities to speak of Russian leaders, according to Newsweek.
Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, said Prigozhin has no access to Putin.
“The only way to express his dissent, disagreement, his anger, is to go public. That is why he has to post so many videos where he shows how fierce he is and how things have gone wrong, how difficult it is for him and his guys,” she said.
Writing for the Spectator, Sergey Radchenko said Prigozhin’s anti-Kremlin comments erode Putin’s standing.
“It does not actually matter if Prigozhin’s rants are a part of some Kremlin conspiracy to rein in the military, or simply a reflection of Prigozhin’s own frustrations and ambitions. What matters is the image he is projecting. This image is not favorable to Putin. It is an image of bourgeoning chaos, weakness, and of Putin’s inability to reconcile competing interests of warring factions. It is an image of Putin in terminal decline,” he wrote.
1. In the battle for #Bakhmut, Ukraine destroyed the final Russian group trapped in a pocket south of #Ivanivske. With no hope of relief and reportedly cut off from communications with the Russian command, the encircled Russian force south of Ivanivske was totally destroyed. pic.twitter.com/S5Eh1jgY1V
— Tim Hogan 浩勤 (@TimInHonolulu) May 15, 2023
On Monday, Ukraine reported that it had achieved some success in pushing back Russian forces around Bakhmut, which Russia has been trying to conquer for 15 months, according to Reuters.