Russia’s Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has given a rare and revealing interview with pro-Moscow blogger Konstantin Dolgov, fresh off the weekend declaration of victory over Bakhmut in Ukraine’s east.
“PMC Wagner completely liberated Artyomovsk [Bakhmut],” Prigozhin said, and for the first time made public how many Wagner fighters both participated and died in the campaign, which he previously said was 224 days of fighting. He revealed that the mercenary group lost 20,000 fighters in total at Bakhmut, half of which were convicts who had been recruited from prisons.
Prigozhin said in the interview which was published late Tuesday, “Throughout the [entire combat] operation, I recruited 50,000 prisoners, of which about 20% died. Exactly the same number died as those who signed up through a contract.” He described that an equal number of the Wagner deceased at Bakhmut had signed up with the St. Petersburg-based firm through regular means, or had already long been under contract.
He also continued to make remarks which will be seen as hugely provocative by the regular Russian military command and inside the Kremlin. “If PMC Wagner cannot hand the positions because the Russian army is not ready to take them over, then this means that PMC Wagner has risen to a level higher than the Russian army,” he said, also reaffirming that his forces will hand captured territory over to the military on June 1st.
“If they [the army] cannot take over [the positions], then the persons concerned must shoot themselves,” Prigozhin added. “There was only Wagner here [in Bakhmut],” he had early declared in a video posted to Wagner channels on Saturday.
“We fought not only the Ukrainian army here, we fought Russian bureaucracy,” Prigozhin asserted, which is a similar them he echoed from the fight for nearby Soledar.
But sure to unleash more controversy and commentary inside the Kremlin is his strongly suggesting in the interview that Putin’s war in Ukraine has backfired. Below are Prigozhin’s remarks in this section as presented in Newsweek:
Russia sought to “demilitarize” Ukraine, but has instead militarized it with some of the best weapons in the world, Prigozhin said, echoing the justifications Russian President Vladimir Putin gave when launching his full-scale invasion against the neighboring country on February 24, 2022.
“The special military operation was done for the sake of denazification and demilitarization. Thus, the denazification of Ukraine, which we talked about, we made Ukraine a nation that is known to everyone all over the world…Ukraine has become a country that is known absolutely everywhere.”
“Now, with regard to demilitarization…if they had 500 tanks at the beginning of the special operation, 1684945203 they have 5,000 tanks. If they had 20,000 people able to fight skillfully, now 400,000 people know how to fight. How did we demilitarize it? It turns out that the opposite is true—we militarized her hell knows how,” the Wagner chief said.
Yevgeny Prigozhin says that Russia’s objectives of “denazifying” and “demilitarising” Ukraine have failed miserably
“F*ck knows how, but we’ve militarised Ukraine!” pic.twitter.com/ZBIyo0Vd3A
— Francis Scarr (@francis_scarr) May 24, 2023
While holding up his Wagner forces as being “in first place in the world” in terms of military effectiveness, he conceded that at this point with the West’s backing Ukraine now has “one of the strongest armies.”
“They have a high level of organization, a high level of training, a high level of intelligence, they have various weapons, and moreover, they work on any systems, Soviet, NATO, anything, equally successfully,” he described of Ukraine’s armed forces.
It’s become clear that Putin has long tolerated Prigozhin’s negative commentary, giving him a remarkably wide berth, likely due to Wagner’s indispensability on the battlefield. For example, what Prigozhin said in this latest interview alone would be enough to get other Russian commentators or public figures arrested, killed, or at least severely censured.