Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin’s series of angry videos aimed at Russian leadership this week is likely a sign that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) has “deprioritized” the fight for Bakhmut, Ukraine, said the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
Prigozhin’s private mercenaries have played a key role in Russia’s fight for the eastern industrial city in Ukraine, which has been the site of heavy casualties and standstill battles for months. The once-close ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently begun severing ties with Kremlin leadership as well, often publicly criticizing the Russian military’s policies and praising Wagner’s success over Moscow’s troops in the 14-month-long invasion of Ukraine.
During his latest public rant, Prigozhin released a video attacking Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation Valery Gerasimov, calling both men “scum” and accusing them of withholding “stockpiles of ammunition” from Wagner fighters along the front lines.
In a separate clip, Prigozhin vowed to pull his mercenaries from Bakhmut by Wednesday if Moscow does not supply the mercenaries with additional military assistance, saying that his troops are “doomed to a senseless death” without ammunition.
The ISW wrote in its latest assessment Friday that Prigozhin’s “palpable desperation” in the video series is a sign that the Russian defense ministry has “deprioritized the Bakhmut offensive in favor of preparing to defend against an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive.”
“Prigozhin’s palpable desperation in the videos, one of which shows the corpses of recently deceased Wagner fighters, marks a significant rhetorical inflection in his continued pleas for increased Russian MoD support for Wagner in Bakhmut,” read ISW’s assessment. “His visible and visceral anger suggests that the Russian MoD has likely deprioritized Bakhmut and shifted operational focus elsewhere in the theater in ways that may seriously compromise Wagner’s ability to operate effectively.”
The think tank added that despite the struggle for military aid, Prigozhin has not shown a “willingness” to back down from his efforts to capture Bakhmut. ISW previously assessed that Russian forces were making incremental gains in the area, but advances have begun to slow.
Fighting for Bakhmut has resulted in heavy casualties and deaths for both sides of the war, particularly among Wagner forces and recruited Russian convicts fighting along the front lines. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby reported on Monday that Russia has suffered over 100,000 casualties in the past four months.
The ISW noted that the “losses suffered by Wagner in Bakhmut, alongside the likely de-prioritization of the Bakhmut effort by the Russian MoD, may leave Prigozhin and Wagner in a particularly bad spot” if he stays headstrong about achieving his goals in the city.
Newsweek has emailed the Russian defense ministry for comment.
Ukraine has been long-anticipated to launch a counteroffensive in the coming months, causing Putin’s troops to shuffle their defense positions near some of Kyiv’s key war goals, such as the Crimean Peninsula and in Russian-occupied territory in southern Ukraine.
The timing of Ukraine’s counteroffensive is uncertain, but its military has continued to show signs that the attack is near, including announcing on Friday that Kyiv had successfully trained 10,000 drone pilots as it seeks to liberate swaths of Russian-occupied land.