Battles in Bakhmut: does Prigozhin fear a counterattack?

Is the Wagner boss planning to withdraw from Bachmut? The army is said to want to become more involved in other countries in the future – but the reasons probably lie deeper.

The most important things at a glance

The denial followed promptly: “I don’t know what Bloomberg is reporting, but apparently you know better than I do what we’re going to do next. As long as our country needs us, we’re at war in Ukraine,” said the head of the Russian newspaper Mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the world public know via Telegram.

The business channel previously reported that the mercenary group allegedly wanted to withdraw troops from Ukraine, possibly to devote more time to other places. But what would that mean for the war in Ukraine – and how seriously should such reports be taken? t-online provides an overview.

What is Prigozhin supposedly planning?

According to “Bloomberg”, the Wagner boss is preparing to withdraw parts of his army from Ukraine. The reason is that the Russian army prevented Wagner from receiving more personnel and ammunition from Russia, according to anonymous sources.

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Yevgeny Prigozhin: Does the Wagner boss want to withdraw his troops? (Quelle: Konkord Company Press Service/imago images)

Instead, Wagner is now planning to devote more time to her missions in Africa. The private army does not provide official figures showing where and with many soldiers the group is active. In principle, however, it is no secret that the mercenary force is active on the continent: A study from last February, which was co-financed by the CSU-affiliated Hanns Seidel Foundation, assumes that Wagner has soldiers stationed in more than a dozen African countries has: The study by the “Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime” names Sudan and the Central African Republic as the closest partners.

There are also numerous reports of operations in Libya, Mozambique or Mali: The Malian military junta is pursuing an anti-Western course and has brought Russian troops into the country to take action against jihadists and other terrorist groups.

What use are such threats to Prigozhin?

Prigozhin repeatedly complained about a lack of ammunition and a lack of support from the Kremlin. Only on Monday did the Wagner boss send a letter to the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, in which he called for reinforcements. Shoigu should take urgently needed steps, otherwise it would have “negative effects” on Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

The Wagner mercenaries are said to be active primarily in Bachmut, where the private army is advancing with heavy losses. Appropriately, Prigozhin recently announced that another 30,000 soldiers would be recruited by May. At times, prisoners from prison camps were also recruited for Wagner.

However, the skirmishes that Prigozhin is having with the Kremlin are only superficially of a purely military nature: the head of the mercenary force is repeatedly said to have ambitions to one day take Vladimir Putin’s place. Putin himself, on the other hand, is careful that no figure in his power apparatus can become a danger to him, which means that he always seems to be looking for counterweights.

For a long time, Prigozhin’s private army served the Kremlin to prevent the Russian army from becoming too powerful. At the same time, the lack of ammunition and the alleged lack of support are an indication that Putin may now be trying not to let the role of the Wagner troops and Prigozhin in Ukraine become too big.

Is a Wagner withdrawal realistic?

If you believe the latest analyzes by the “Institute for the Study of War” (ISW), it is quite conceivable that the Wagner mercenaries could leave Bachmut. However, this is less about a tactical decision to devote more time to Africa and more about the fear of a Ukrainian offensive: Prigozhin also expressed corresponding concerns in a recently published video. Allegedly, 200,000 reservists on the Ukrainian side are ready not only to attack Bakhmut, but also the entire Eastern Front and the Russian Belgorod Oblast.