| 15 April 2024, Monday |

Russian mercenary boss accuses top brass of Ukraine battlefield cover-up

On Thursday, Russian mercenary head Yevgeny Prigozhin fueled his conflict with the top brass by accusing them of lying to President Vladimir Putin and the Russian people about the extent of Russia’s losses and failures in Ukraine. Prigozhin, whose Wagner private army spearheaded Russia’s takeover of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut last month, is defying Defense Ministry directive requiring mercenary units like his to sign contracts by July 1.

Prigozhin portrays Wagner as Russia’s most effective fighting force, and has enjoyed unusual freedom to publicly criticise Moscow – albeit not Putin, on whose support he and Wagner ultimately depend.

Yet the order to bring militias under Moscow’s direct control suggested to some that he may have outlived his usefulness to Putin in challenging a military hierarchy that has failed to deliver the rapid victory he had hoped for.

In a series of emotional audio messages over two days, Prigozhin escalated his repeated criticism of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, a close Putin ally, and Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff – by accusing them of hiding Russia’s “very serious losses on the front” from Putin.

“Total trash is being put on the president’s desk. Shoigu and Gerasimov have a simple approach. The lie must be monstrous for people to believe it. That is what they are doing,” Prigozhin said in one message.

“It’s all being hidden from everyone. Russia will wake up one day and learn that (Russian-annexed) Crimea has been handed over to the Ukrainians …

“They are misleading the Russian people and if it keeps on like this we’ll be left without the most important thing: Russia.”

There was no immediate response from the Defence Ministry, which has ignored previous complaints, in public at least.

But it repeatedly says Russian troops have repelled all the attacks that Ukraine has launched in its two-week-old counteroffensive, inflicting a heavy cost in equipment and manpower while suffering only small losses itself.

Ukraine for its part has reported modest advances, which President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says have been “slower than desired”. Reuters is unable to verify the battlefield accounts.

  • Reuters