The outspoken founder of the Wagner Group of mercenaries complained that Vladimir Putin has cut off all contact with him following his constant demands for more ammunition for his fighters in Ukraine.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, a catering mogul and Putin’s long-time ally, said in a message on his Telegram channel Thursday that he has been unable to get through to anyone at the Kremlin.
The apparent silent treatment came after Prigozhin publicly called on the Russian Ministry of Defense to supply ammunition to his mercenaries fighting to capture the key city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, which has seen some of the bloodiest battles since the start of the invasion.
“In order to stop me from asking for ammunition, they turned off all special [government] phone lines in all of the offices and [Wagner] units … and blocked all [my] passes to the agencies responsible for making decisions,” Prigozhin moaned.
A day earlier, Prigozhin bragged in a voice recording on the Telegram channel run by his press service that his fighters have taken full control of the eastern part of Bakhmut, which Russian forces have been desperately trying to capture for months.
“Everything east of the Bakhmutka River is completely under the control of Wagner,” he claimed.
The Post could not independently verify Progozhin’s claims, and Kyiv officials have not commented on the Russian forces’ latest purported gains in the region.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said Friday that Kyiv’s forces will fight on in Bakhmut because the battle is grinding down Russia’s best units ahead of a looming spring counteroffensive.
“Russia has changed tactics,” Podolyak said in an interview published by Italy’s La Stampa newspaper. “It has converged on Bakhmut with a large part of its trained military personnel, the remnants of its professional army, as well as the private companies.
“We, therefore, have two objectives: to reduce their capable personnel as much as possible, and to fix them in a few key wearisome battles, to disrupt their offensive and concentrate our resources elsewhere, for the spring counter-offensive. So, today Bakhmut is completely effective, even exceeding its key tasks.”
Earlier this week, Zelensky ordered the military to direct additional troops and resources to Bakhmut to bolster its defense.
Both sides have described the battles in Bakhmut as a “meat grinder,” but Kyiv’s decision to keep its forces there suggests it believes Moscow’s losses far exceed its own.
In a message posted on social media overnight, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine stated that Kyiv’s troops have repelled “numerous” attacks around Bakhmut.
Prigozhin has repeatedly and openly clashed with Russia’s military, including Defense Minister and Putin crony Sergey Shoigu.
Last month, he made headlines when he publicly accused the top brass of committing “treason” by starving his soldiers of desperately needed ammunition, leading to a high casualty rate in their ranks.
He later announced that the supply of ammunition had resumed, but on Thursday revealed that shortages had not been fully addressed.
“Now I can only ask [for more supplies] through the media and … most likely will be doing just that,” Prigozhin said.
On Friday, the Wagner Group boss released yet another update on the ammunition situation, in which he appeared to contradict himself while thanking Putin’s government for the “heroic” increase in the production of bullets and shells.
On the one hand, Prigozhin said his men had been “blown away” by the fact they had started to receive ammunition labeled as produced in 2023. He said ammunition was now being produced “in huge quantities, which cover all the necessary needs.”
In the same breath, he said he was “worried about ammunition and shell shortages.”
The US think tank The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in its latest update Friday that despite its incremental territorial gains, the Wagner Group appears to be taking a “temporary tactical pause” in the fighting to await reinforcements of Russians regulars while enlisting new mercenaries.
Prigozhin earlier today announced the opening of Wagner recruitment centers in 42 cities to replenish his private army’s ranks after heavy losses.
In January, the US estimated that Wagner had about 50,000 fighters in Ukraine. Kyiv officials have claimed that nearly 30,000 of Wagner’s fighters have deserted or been killed or wounded.
Analysts at ISW said that it seemed unlikely that the Wagner forces, having been severely depleted over months of fighting, would try to venture across the river into the center of the ravaged city.
With Post wires