Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner private military company, has accused Moscow of being unable to defend Russia, in a withering condemnation of the Russian defense establishment on a day marking a historic military victory.
Prigozhin made the comments on his Telegram channel after he had earlier teased he would reveal his thoughts only after the Victory Day parade celebrations, so as not to spoil the mood of the events marking the Soviet role in defeating Nazi Germany.
Prigozhin has repeatedly criticized Russian commanders for their conduct in the war in Ukraine and has lambasted the Russian Defense Ministry for not providing him with the resources to fight for the Donetsk town of Bakhmut.
After Tuesday’s commemorations in Red Square, Prigozhin said his forces would remain in Bakhmut. Days earlier, he had warned he would pull out his forces from there due to a lack of ammunition.
“We’ll hang out for a few more days, and then we’ll figure it out. Therefore, all with the holiday of victory to our grandfathers. Why are we celebrating it is a big question,” he said.
Prigozhin said he had been instructed that if his troops left their positions, it would be considered “treason.” However, he in turn said if his troops were forced to leave their positions due to a lack of ammunition “who is betraying the Motherland?”
He said that if the Wagner troops leave their positions, then “the Ukrainians will come to Rostov” the Russian oblast on the border with Ukraine.
He claimed that a Russian unit had “fled from one of our flanks” which had exposed the front almost two kilometres (one-and-a-quarter miles) wide. “Today, everything is being done to make sure the front collapses,” he said.
Referring to cross-border strikes on the Russian city of Belgorod, which have been blamed on Kyiv, Prigozhin said that the people there “are not in a panic, but very much concerned. Why can’t the state protect its country?”
He said that Ukrainian forces are “tearing the flanks” in the Bakhmut direction, were regrouping in Zaporizhzhia and soon “a counteroffensive will begin.” He also blamed Russia’s commanders for their soldiers fleeing the trenches, saying that “a soldier should not die because of the complete stupidity of his leadership.”
“The leadership, local generals and colonels are obliged to carry out this stupidity, because the orders that are given to them from above are simply absolutely criminal,” he said, adding that there “there is a crime called the destruction of the Russian people, treason against the Motherland.”
Newsweek has emailed the Russian Defense Ministry for comment.