Mercenary Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has called on Moscow to provide him with 200,000 troops in order to halt a long-promised Ukrainian counterattack, as attacks by Kiev’s forces reportedly bypass Russian defensive lines and carve into territory around the devastated Donetsk city of Pakhmut.
Prigozhin — known for his public bravado and criticism of the regular Russian military hierarchy — said in a video posted to his official Telegram channel on Tuesday that the Wagner Organization is the only armed force capable of stopping the Ukrainian offensive, which officials in Russia and the West say may have begun now.
“I need 200,000 people,” said Prigozhin, as quoted by The Moscow Times. Less than 200,000 people will fit on the front line between Luhansk and Donetsk. We are ready to take full responsibility.
Disagreements between Wagner and the Russian army over supplies at Bakhmut led Prigozhin to begin withdrawing his forces from the ruined settlement last month. Wagner is believed to have suffered significant losses in capturing Bakhmut, and his numbers were augmented by former Russian prisoners recruited to fight.
Prigozhin urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to announce a full national mobilization to expand his military forces, though he added that without an adequate three-month training period, these newly raised units would be “cannon fodder”. Wagner’s tactics reportedly relied heavily on such “fodder” in Bakhmut.
Prigozhin said Ukrainian forces had “already broken through the defense line” in several areas.
“Near Bakhmut in three places, in Toritsk there are large accumulations, and soon they will begin to cut Kurdyumovka and Ozaryanovka. The Belgorod region is bursting at the seams. In Zaporozhye they lost the most dangerous settlement. Now they will strike in the region. North-south in the direction of Donetsk and there will be no time .. Aviation will not save [the situation]. “
Prigozhin attacked the Russian Ministry of Defense again. “There is no management, no planning, no preparation, and no mutual respect,” he said. “And then all this will be replaced by tantrums at the top … We will now suffer huge losses, I am absolutely sure of that. We will certainly lose part of the regions.”
The southern front line south of Zaporozhye has been described as one of the most likely locations for the expected Ukrainian offensive. If Ukrainian forces could break the Russian lines there, they could drive south to liberate Melitopol and up the Sea of Azov coast, cutting off Moscow’s land bridge to Crimea.
Prigozhin said the situation in this region was “catastrophic”. He added: “Novodontskoye has already been taken. And if the troops retreat further, to a depth of 5-8 kilometers, then there will be an uncontrolled entry of the enemy.”
“We understand that at least another 50 percent of the population of this region will help the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Therefore, as soon as they go a little deeper, they will go to Berdyansk and Mariupol, and it will be impossible to stop them.”
Newsweek Contact the Russian Ministry of Defense via email to request comment.
Kiev maintains operational silence on the expected counterattack. Ukraine’s defense ministry spokeswoman Hanna Malyar said this week there would be no announcement of the start of the operation, though she also said units in some areas had now switched to “offensive actions”.
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