The founder of Russia’s Wagner mercenary force Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Monday that his representative had been denied access to the headquarters of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine after Prigozhin complained about a lack of ammunition.
Prigozhin had previously said that his troops fighting to seize the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut were being deprived of ammunition and that, if they were forced to retreat, the entire front would collapse.
Prigozhin said via his press service that he had written to the army’s top brass, saying his men urgently needed ammunition.
“On March 6, at 8 o’clock in the morning, my representative at the headquarters had his pass canceled and was denied access to the group’s headquarters,” Prigozhin said.
“We are continuing to smash the Ukrainian army in Bakhmut,” he said.
Wagner often appears to operate autonomously from the regular army, or even in competition with it — and in a video published over the weekend, Prigozhin complained that the ammunition that Moscow had promised it had not been delivered.
“If Wagner retreats from Bakhmut now, the whole front will collapse,” Prigozhin said. “The situation will not be sweet for all military formations protecting Russian interests.”
Reuters could not independently verify when and where the video was recorded. It was published not on Prigozhin’s usual press service Telegram channel, but on one that has associated itself with Wagner and disseminated news about Prigozhin.
On his usual channel, Prigozhin also mentioned the lack of ammunition, saying on Sunday: “For now, we are trying to figure out the reason: Is it just ordinary bureaucracy, or a betrayal?”
Prigozhin regularly criticizes the military hierarchy and last month accused Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and others of “treason” for withholding munitions.
A prominent opponent of Prigozhin’s, Russian nationalist ex-rebel commander Igor Girkin, said without citing evidence that the doom-laden video published at the weekend had been recorded at the height of that row, about two weeks ago.
In the nearly four-minute video published on the Wagner Orchestra Telegram channel on Saturday, Prigozhin said his troops were worried that Moscow wanted to set them up as potential scapegoats if Russia lost the war.
“If we retreat, then we will go down in history forever as people who have taken the main step towards losing the war,” he said.
“This is exactly the problem with ‘ammunition hunger’.”
Prigozhin delivered his sometimes repetitive monolog in what appeared to be a bunker, with a dim light casting his heavy shadow on the wall behind him.
He said his troops would wonder whether they were being “set up” for defeat by the top brass or even someone “higher.”
Prigozhin has used the war to become a public figure in Russia, and strong signs have emerged in the past month that the Kremlin wants to clip his wings after he began feuding with the defense establishment.
The Defence Ministry said last month it was “absolutely untrue” that Wagner was being starved of ammunition.