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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
Joe Barnes

Wagner Group planning withdrawal from Ukraine ‘to refocus efforts in Africa due to Kremlin dispute’

Yevgeny Prigozhin has denied he is preparing to withdraw. Photo: Reuters

The Wagner Group is preparing to refocus its efforts in Africa and away from Ukraine amid a long-running dispute with Moscow, it has been reported.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the mercenary group, has repeatedly accused Russia’s defence ministry of stymying his supply of ammunition and personnel.

Western analysts believe Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister, is trying to stifle Mr Prigozhin’s growing political influence over the Kremlin.

Wagner mercenaries have spearheaded Moscow’s eight-month attempt to capture the town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

Russian president Vladimir Putin, with his defence minister Sergei Shoigu (right). Photo: Mikhail Metzel/via AP

Mr Prigozhin’s private military has lost tens of thousands of men, mostly former convicts recruited from Russian prisons, during the assault.

After failing to capture Bakhmut, Mr Prigozhin is planning to shift focus back to Africa, Bloomberg news agency reported.

The suggestion will likely prompt concerns in Moscow after a top Ukrainian general said Kyiv’s armed forces were ready to launch a counter-offensive on Bakhmut.

“The attacker has not lost hope of taking Bakhmut at all costs, despite the losses of men and equipment. Very soon we will take advantage of this opportunity, as we did near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balakliya and Kupiansk,” Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, said.

Mr Prigozhin admitted earlier this month that his Wagner forces would have to “reset and cut down its size”.

Ukrainian soldiers fire at the frontline near Bakhmut. Photo: Roman Chop

Western officials have corroborated reports that the group has been forced to slow down after deliveries of artillery by Russia’s defence ministry were halted and prison recruitment drives blocked. A recruitment notice earlier this week invited applicants to come forward for a six-month stint in Ukraine or up to 14 months in Africa.

Those wanting to serve in Africa, where Wagner has contracts to protect mines and offer governments security services, were told they would be placed on reserve.

In response to the press reports, Mr Prigozhin denied Wagner was preparing a withdrawal from Ukraine.

“It seems that Bloomberg knows better than we do what we are going to do,” he wrote on Telegram. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2023)

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