Ukraine’s counteroffensive to begin next week, says Wagner boss

Yevgeny Prigozhin blames Russia for a lack of ammunition and warns that Ukraine is sending its best units to Bakhmut.

Ukrainian soldiers
Service members from the Armed Forces of Ukraine fire a howitzer D30 on the front line, near the city of Bakhmut, Ukraine [Sofiia Gatilova/Reuters]

The head of Russia’s Wagner Group said Ukraine’s counteroffensive will likely start after May 2 as he warned that his mercenary fighters do not have enough ammunition.

Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Wednesday in an audio message posted to the Telegram app that Ukrainian counterattacks were “inevitable” and that Kyiv is sending well-trained units to the besieged city of Bakhmut, where bloody battles have raged for months.

But “we will advance at any cost, just to grind down the Ukrainian army and disrupt their offensive”, he said.

Ukrainian troops will start attacking next month, when the weather improves and the ground hardens, he added.

Wagner founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin
Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of Russia’s Wagner Group mercenary force [File: Concord Press Service/via Reuters]

Prigozhin, who has long rowed with the Russian defence ministry over a lack of arms, reiterated his dissatisfaction and said his fighters were suffering a high level of casualties.

He also questioned why Russian forces had yet to launch missions to take the nearby cities of Sloviansk or Kramatorsk to relieve pressure on Bakhmut.

Ukraine’s counteroffensive is expected this spring and in recent weeks, officials in Kyiv have said large-scale attacks could happen at any moment.

On April 11, Prigozhin said more than 80 percent of Bakhmut was controlled by his Wagner forces, which Ukraine has denied.

This photograph taken on April 23, 2023, shows a destroyed vehicle near a residential building damaged by shelling in the frontline city of Bakhmut
A destroyed vehicle near a residential building damaged by shelling in the front-line city of Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine [Anatolii Stepanov / AFP]

Russia says capturing Bakhmut would allow its troops to mount further offensives in eastern Ukraine, but Western analysts say the city’s fall would not mark a significant victory for Moscow.

Kyiv has also downplayed the strategic significance of Bakhmut for Moscow, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly refused to withdraw his forces.

If Moscow successfully takes the city, it would be Russia’s first major advance since a series of losses in the northeastern Kharkiv and southern Kherson regions last year.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies