Chief Wagner’s warning shows Russia fears ‘losing the initiative’ – ISW
The main financier of the Russian private mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has hinted that he fears that Moscow is “losing the initiative” in the war with Ukraine, according to military analysts.
A new report from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) claims that Prigozhin spoke to its affiliate media RIA FAN on March 17 and claimed that Ukrainian forces were preparing a large counteroffensive.
Coming at a crucial moment as the conflict enters its second year with question marks over Russia’s strategy, Prigozhin reportedly claimed that Ukrainian forces would carry out operations in the occupied eastern regions of the country from mid-April.
The ISW report, released on Saturday, March 18, said: “Prigozhin’s description of impending Ukrainian counter-offensives also implies that he believes Russian forces will soon lose the initiative to Ukraine and be forced to go on the defensive rather than pursuing blocked or unsuccessful offensives in the Kreminna, Bakhmut, Avdiivka or Vuhledar regions.”
He urged Russian forces to prepare for counter-offensives by preserving ammunition and equipment.
Prigozhin is believed to have described Ukrainian forces as having sufficient combat power to justify “the inability of the Wagner group to complete an envelopment or encirclement” of Bakhmut in occupied eastern Ukraine.
He claimed that Ukraine had at least 19,000 personnel deployed in Bakhmut, again in an attempt to justify Wagner’s lack of progress in the city.
Russian soldiers fighting for control of Bakhmut saw their “lowest rates” of offensive action amid “troop exhaustion” in the city, according to British intelligence.
The UK Ministry of Defense on Saturday March 18 found that Russia had one of the lowest local offensive action rates since January this year.
Russia made gains at Bakhmut with its troops having gained a foothold west of the Bakhmuta River, which runs through the center of the city.
According to the ISW, the Russian regional authorities could sever their ties with Prigozhin.
He said Prigozhin claimed authorities in Krasnodar Krai in southern Russia reneged on a prior agreement to bury the Wagner Group dead in the city.
The ISW report added: “Prigozhin also released a phone call in which a Goryachiy Klyuch official told a Wagner representative that Krasnodar Krai Governor Veniamin Kondratyev had stripped him of his authority to cooperate. with Wagner.
“Wagner’s military also released a threatening video call to local government saying they would ‘personally resolve the matter’ with the administration if they did not return the calls.”
Newsweek contacted the Kremlin for comment.