‘Time is running out’ In a new video, Yevgeny Prigozhin directly disputes Russia’s main argument for its war against Ukraine
For much of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the outspoken head of the Wagner Group paramilitary cartel Yevgeny Prigozhin has trashed the military leadership in Moscow, carefully but sometimes dangerously flirting with criticisms that might be considered indirect attacks on the Russian president himself. Is Prigozhin Putin’s “anger translator”? Is he acting as some important vent for broader frustrations among Russian combatants? Is he a necessary nuisance to be jettisoned at the first opportunity? Whatever explains why Yevgeny Prigozhin is permitted to speak so openly and outlandishly, he released some of his most virulent commentary yet on Friday, June 23, 2023. Meduza summarizes those remarks below.
In a new video released by his press service on Friday, Wagner Group head Yevgeny Prigozhin said that Russia’s Defense Ministry deceived both Russian society and Vladimir Putin when it claimed the country faced an imminent threat from Ukraine in the leadup to February 2022.
On the contrary, Prigozhin said, the situation in the Donbas before the full-scale war was no different from the way it had been since 2014: Russian and Ukrainian troops were exchanging fire, but there was no “insane aggression” from Ukraine, and Ukraine had no plans to join NATO in an attack on Russia, said the catering tycoon.
The video, which Prigozhin’s press service called the “first part” of an interview, is about 30 minutes long. Prigozhin spends almost the entire time criticizing Russia’s military leadership overall and Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu in particular.
“[Right now,] the Ukrainian army is crushing through the Russian army, we’re getting washed in blood, nobody’s providing reserves, and there’s no control,” said Prigozhin. At the same time, he added, the Defense Ministry and General Staff “are still hoping they can win this war.”
“But since there’s no control, there are no military successes, the Defense Ministry’s leadership is deliberately deceiving the president,” he continued. As a result, he said, “We hear for days on end about 60 destroyed Leopard [tanks] and about how 3,000 enemy soldiers were destroyed,” which he called “complete and total nonsense.”
Prigozhin went on to call the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion an “incompetently planned operation”: “A handful of dipshits decided for some reason that they were so cunning that no one would realize what they were doing with their military exercises, and nobody would stop them when they went to Kyiv,” Prigozhin said. He added that Russia’s army would have succeeded if “the degenerates hadn’t formed extra-long convoys,” given their troops too little ammunition, and sent “naked and barefoot soldiers” into battle.
The mercenary leader also said that Sergey Shoigu “killed thousands of people — the most capable part of the army” in the war’s initial days. By mid-March, he said, the defense minister had become a “shaky old man” who only cared about getting out of the situation he found himself in personally. At that point, Prigozhin said, Shoigu should have been put on trial for causing the loss of “tens of thousands of our guys’ lives.”
According to Prigozhin, the war was only necessary so that “a bunch of lowlifes could revel and promote themselves.” He claimed that a decree awarding Shoigu the rank of marshal and a second Hero of Russia star was prepared before the full-scale war even began.
In addition, Prigozhin said, the war was important for oligarchs, whom he called “the clan that’s actually controlling Russia right now.” He said the oligarchs wanted to make Viktor Medvedchuk the president of Ukraine, and that the former Ukrainian lawmaker returned to Kyiv specifically for this purpose. Meanwhile, in Ukraine’s occupied territories, he said, the oligarchs have been dividing up assets. “Our sacred war against those who wrong the Russian people has turned into racketeering, into theft,” he added.
Commenting on the current situation on the front, Prigozhin said the Defense Ministry’s leaders are still engaging in “deep deception,” and that the truth won’t come to light until this “horde of scoundrels, realizing they’ve pissed away a huge chunk of territory, get together and say they’re regrouped into more favorable positions.” That, he said, is what happened in Kherson and Lyman, from which Russia’s troops were forced to retreat earlier in the war. In the meantime, he said, Russian soldiers continue to die and get seriously injured. “Time is rapidly running out,” he said.
In a separate post on Telegram, Prigozhin accused Shoigu and General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov of responsibility for the “genocide of the Russian people, the murder of thousands of Russian citizens, and the transfer of Russian territory to the enemy.”