The increasingly vitriolic owner of the Russian mercenary firm the Wagner Group hit out at Russia’s military elite by publishing a grim image of dozens of his fighters he said were killed after being deprived of ammunition while battling Ukrainian troops.
Yevgeny Prigozhin – founder of the Wagner private military company that is fighting on Moscow’s behalf in Ukraine – took a bitter public feud with the top army brass to a new level on Wednesday with the grisly photograph of corpses piled high, while laying blame for their deaths squarely with the top army brass.
“This is one of the places where the bodies of those who have died are gathered,” Prigozhin told a prominent Russian military blogger in an interview.
“These are guys who died yesterday because of so-called [artillery] ‘shell hunger’. Mothers, wives and children will get their bodies. There should be five times less [dead]. Who is guilty that they died? The guilty ones are those who should have resolved the question of us getting enough ammo.”
Wagner’s chief repeatedly accused the Russian defence ministry this week of deliberately starving his fighters of munitions in what he called a treasonous attempt to destroy the mercenary group.
The defence ministry, in a statement late on Tuesday, said such allegations were “completely untrue” and complained – without mentioning Prigozhin by name – about attempts to create splits that worked “solely to the benefit of the enemy”.
Undeterred, Prigozhin doubled down on his allegations, taking the unusual step of releasing the image of dozens of his dead fighters laying prostrate on the icy ground in eastern Ukraine, where Wagner is battling to try to take the small Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
It appears the Wagner boss’ public tirade achieved results. Prigozhin said on Thursday his troops had begun receiving additional supplies of ammunition after the row with Russia’s top army brass.
“Today at 6am, it was announced that the shipment of ammunition has started,” Prigozhin said in a statement on Telegram. “Most likely the ball is now rolling. So far it’s all on paper but, as we were told, the principal documents have already been signed.”
Prigozhin earlier released a copy of what he said was Wagner’s official request to the defence ministry for ammunition, with detailed tallies of shells used, requested and received – though he said he blanked out sensitive data such as the names of the shells.
“They’re still not giving us ammo. No steps to give us ammo have been taken,” said Prigozhin, alleging Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, and Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff, were withholding their signatures from shell approval forms.
Neither man has publicly responded to Prigozhin’s criticism in the past.
Prigozhin, a wealthy catering tycoon, has assumed a more public role since the war started. But he has faced pushback from the authorities in recent weeks amid signs of a move by the Kremlin and defence ministry to rein in his growing influence.
On Wednesday, he said he launched a social media campaign to try to secure artillery shells, adding Wagner had been reduced to begging military warehouses for ammunition, which he said was sometimes successful.
Despite the purported shortage, he said his fighters would keep trying to overrun Ukraine’s Bakhmut.
“Twice as many of us are going to die that’s all, until there are none of us left,” he said. “And when Wagner are all dead then Shoigu and Gerasimov will probably have to pick up a gun.”