Two days after threatening to withdraw from Bakhmut, the leader of the Russian mercenary Wagner Group said he would continue to lead the offensive on the Ukrainian city.
Yevgeny Prigozhin’s reversal came after he said on Telegram Sunday that Wagner had been “promised the amount of ammunition we’d need to continue fighting.”
On Friday Prigozhin had posted on his Telegram page that he was withdrawing Wagner’s mercenary troops “because in the absence of ammunition they are doomed to senseless death.”
Hours prior to Friday’s posting, Prigozhin—a billionaire oligarch known as “Putin’s Chef” for his ties to the Russian President and his role as a caterer to the Kremlin—had gone on an expletive-laden tirade, surrounded by dead bodies, in which he blamed Russian defense chiefs for the massive death toll.
In Sunday’s post, Prigozhin, who has a history of making empty threats, said Russian officials had “sworn to us that we will be provided with everything necessary in the flanks to not be cut off by the enemy.”
He added that the Kremlin had sent Gen. Sergei Surovikin to oversee Wagner’s actions and mediate between the mercenaries and Russia’s Defense Ministry.
In October, the Defense Ministry had appointed Surovikin to be the singular commander to lead all forces in Ukraine. His longtime alliance with Prigozhin had likely helped to increase the Wagner Group’s role in Ukraine.
Since then, however, Gen. Valery Gerasimov has risen in Putin’s opinion and has assumed a larger role in Ukraine as the Russian military’s Chief of the General Staff.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has been determined to hold Bakhmut, a regional transport and logistics hub that would otherwise give Russia an opening to advance on two bigger cities in the Donetsk region: Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. Last month Ukraine bulked up its defenses in Bakhmut ahead of an anticipated major counteroffensive.
In January, the United States toughened its previous sanctions against the Wagner Group, labeling it a transnational criminal organization responsible for human rights abuses.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby has noted that many of the Wagner Group’s forces have been convicts released from prison to be used as canon fodder.