The head of Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries, Yevgeny Prigozhin, issues an ultimatum to the Kremlin, May 5, 2023
Friday’s Coverage: Prigozhin Steps Up Attack on Kremlin Officials — “You Will Have You Guts Eaten Out in Hell”
Map: Institute for the Study of War
UPDATE 0958 GMT:
Despite — or because of the warning by Yevgeny Prigozhin that he might withdraw his Wagner Group mercenaries from Bakhmut, other Russian forces are bombarding the city with incendiary munitions.
Video from Ukraine’s special operations forces purportedly showing Russian forces blanketing the embattled city of Bakhmut with incendiary weapons. https://t.co/n0LP3Ik3pT
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) May 6, 2023
UPDATE 0950 GMT:
For the first time, Ukraine’s air defenses have downed a Russian hypersonic missile over Kyiv.
The Ukrainians used a recently-acquired US Patriot defense system to intercept the missile earlier this week.
Air force commander Mykola Oleshchuk posted on Telegram, “Yes, we shot down the ‘unique’ Kinzhal. It happened during the night time attack on May 4 in the skies of the Kyiv region.”
He said the Kh-47 Khinzal was launched by a MiG-31K warplane from Russian territory.
The Kinzhal has a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (about 1,250 miles) and flies at 10 times the speed of sound. It can be used on heavily-fortified targets.
Ukraine received its first Patriots in April from the US, Germany, and the Netherlands.
UPDATE 0854 GMT:
A 56-hour curfew began on Friday night in liberated Kherson city in southern Ukraine, amid expectation of a further Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Some residents left in cars and buses on Friday. Others stocked up on provisions.
Iryna Chupryna, a former real estate manager, explained, “Everybody understands it. It means it is necessary for our military.”
Ukrainian forces liberated Kherson city and other territory on the west bank of the Dnipro River last November. Russian troops have dug in on the east bank.
UPDATE 0630 GMT:
The European Union has authorized €1 billion ($1.12 billion) for the procurement of missiles and 155-mm artillery ammunition for Ukraine.
EU foreign policy head Josep Borrell said:
Today’s decision is another major step to deliver more ammunition to Ukraine. The Ukrainian Armed Forces need substantial amounts of ammunition to defend the Ukrainian people and territory. They need it fast.
The EU has now allocated €5.6 billion in military support to Kyiv, including €2 billion for ammunition.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: There are signs that Russia may be pulling back from its 11-month attempt to overrun the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.
The Wagner Group mercenaries, after five months of “human wave” attacks, are in more than 80% of Bakhmut. However, they have been able to complete the occupation, and Ukrainian defenders still have a route to the west.
Meanwhile, Russian commanders are preparing for an anticipated Ukrainian counter-offensive in the south of the country as well as elsehwere in the east. They may be rationing ammunition and supplies as part of their preparations.
US intelligence estimated that Russian forces, including Wagner’s men, have suffered about 100,000 casualties — including 20,000 killed — in the past five months. The Institute for the Study of War evaluates:
The massive losses suffered by Wagner in Bakhmut for the sake of tactical gains, as well as the overall shift of the Russian military towards a more cautious posture preparing for defensive operations, appears to be offering Ukrainian forces opportunities for fruitful counterattacks in various areas of the front.
Wagner’s Prigozhin Attacks Defense Ministry and Invasion Commander
On Friday, Wagner’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin issued a video ultimatum to the Kremlin: give my mercenaries ammunition or we will leave Bakhmut next Wednesday.
I am officially addressing the Chief of the General Staff, the Minister of Defense, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief. and the people of Russia.
I declare on behalf of the Wagner fighters, on behalf of the Wagner command, that on May 10, 2023, we are obliged to transfer positions in the settlement of Bakhmut to units of the Defense Ministry and withdraw the remains of Wagner to logistics camps to lick our wounds.
I’m withdrawing Wagner PMC units because without ammunition, they are doomed to a senseless death.
The demand followed an expletive-filled rant on Thursday, also filmed for social media, in which Prigozhin stood beside the bodies of his fighters: “These guys here are Wagner PMC [Private Military Company] who died today. The blood is still fresh. Film all of them!”
He directly assailed Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu and Chief of Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the overall commander of Vladimir Putin’s invasion:
“Shoigu, Gerasimov, where the fuck is our ammunition?….
You scum sit there in your expensive clubs. Your kids are all getting off on life, recording their little YouTube videos.
The head of the "Wagner" PMC Prigozhin insulted the military leadership of Russia and demanded ammunition from the Ministry of Defense against the background of dozens of dead mercenaries. pic.twitter.com/adofGwDajl
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) May 5, 2023
In a third video, posted later on Friday, Prigozhin again targeted Shoygu and Gerasimov for the deaths and injuries of “tens of thousands of Russian soldiers”: “I will make sure they will bear responsibility for it.”
The Kremlin did not directly respond to the mercenary chief, whose forces are also used for Moscow’s overseas operations in areas from Syria to African countries such as Mali and Sudan.
See also Why France Failed in Mali — and How Russia Took Advantage
However, a PR statement featured Shoygu instructing a senior official to ensure the “continuous supply of troops with all the necessary weapons and military equipment”.
“A former defense official who has worked closely” with Prigozhin spoke to The Guardian about the “blackmailing campaign”:
We have been used to a lot from Prigozhin, but this is certainly an escalation….He always pushes to get what he wants. It is unclear if this latest gamble will pay off.