Translation of the Prigozhin video where he’s threatening to leave Bakhmut on May 9, and makes a mockery of the Russian law against disrespecting the armed forces. He’s announcing to all of Russia that the Special Military Operation failed, and it failed because of the incompetence of the Russian military.
And remember, we had Dmitri as our guest in this week’s Daily Kos The Brief podcast, the player is at the bottom of this story, or you can catch the podcast at your favorite podcasting platform.
By now, anyone following the war in Ukraine knows about Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder and CEO of the brutal Wagner Group mercenaries currently bashing their heads against Ukrainian defenses in Bakhmut.
But no matter how long you’ve read about him, how closely you’ve followed this war, and how many Wagner atrocities you might have witnessed, nothing can prepare you for the madness he displayed yesterday.
Prigozhin began his career trajectory into the ranks of Russia’s billionaire oligarchs as “Putin’s chef,” providing catering and restaurant services to the Kremlin. Somewhere along the way, he raised his own private army, Wagner Group Private Military Contractor, which to this day rapes and loots its way across Africa, ingratiating themseves with and protecting repressive, murderous regimes in exchange for rights to diamond and gold mines. In Syria, it’s oil and gas fields. It’s been good business.
But in Ukraine, it hasn’t been as fun because Prigozhin’s army has spent almost nine months getting ground down around Bakhmut. U.S. intelligence believes Russia has suffered 100,000 casualties over the past four months, 20,000 of them killed in action, half of those around Bakhmut. If those figures are accurate, that would mean that Wagner—a fraction of the size of the Russian army—has suffered at least half of all of Russia’s dead and wounded. It is an outsized impact, but it highlights just how ineffective the rest of the Russian military has been in advancing anywhere.
That’s not to say Wagner has been more effective. What Wagner has that the rest of Russian forces in Ukraine do not is a willingness to throw away the lives of its mercenaries. The bulk of those in Ukraine were recruited out of prisons, promised freedom if they survived six months, then thrown head-first into Ukrainian defenses without training or serious weapons. In April, Wagner reportedly increased those contract lengths to 18 months, greatly reducing the chances that any of these guys will ever walk out of Ukraine. There is a strategy, but it is a gruesome one. This is what it looked like back in February:
At first, the first group, usually of 8 people, is put forward to the finish line. The whole group is maximally loaded with [ammunition], each has a "Bumblebee" flamethrower. Their task is to get to the point and get a foothold. They are almost suicidal. Their [ammo] in case of failure is intended for the following groups.
The group gets as close as possible to the Ukrainians and digs in as quickly as possible. A white cloth or other sign is left on the tree so that the next group can navigate in the event of the death of their predecessors and find where shelters have already been dug and where there are weapons.
During the fire contact, the "Wagners" detect Ukrainian fire positions and transfer them to their artillery. As a rule, 120-mm and 82-mm mortars work in them. Up to 10 mortars simultaneously begin to suppress the discovered Ukrainian position. Artillery training can last several hours in a row.
During this time, 500 meters from the first group, the second group concentrates. It has lighter equipment. And under the cover of artillery, this group begins an assault on the Ukrainian position. If the second group fails to take a position, it is followed by the third and even the fourth. That is, four waves of eight people for one Ukrainian position.”
Now, Wagner has maintained this approach: Send wave after wave, each advancing a few meters and picking up the ammunition left behind by the dead men who came before them. Problem is, somewhere along the way, they lost much of that artillery support.
Whether the lack of artillery is indicative of broader Russian shortages or whether Russia’s Ministry of Defense is purposefully starving them to destroy a rival army, the lack of ammunition support has driven Prigozhin absolutely mad as his casualties mount. The human waves are still happening in Bakhmut, just without any ammunition to support them.
He now rails daily against Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov, blaming them—repeatedly, by name—for his inability to fully capture Bakhmut. Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has let the feud play out. He remains safe as long as the most powerful men in Russia are fighting each other.
These daily tirades have taken a particularly bizarre turn this week.
On Sunday, Prigozhin declared that “Russia is on the brink of catastrophe,” and threatened to pull his forces out of Bakhmut altogether if he didn’t receive ammunition that very day. It was an empty threat; he’s continued to complain about lack of ammunition in the days since, yet his forces are still pushing forward. But Sunday also marked the beginning of the strangest daily updates by anyone this war:
- On Sunday, he announced that Wagner had advanced 100-150 meters in Bakhmut, and suffered 94 dead.
- On Monday, he claimed his forces had gained 120 meters at the cost of 86 dead.
- On Wednesday, it was 160 meters advanced with 103 dead.
- On Thursday, he claimed 230 meters advanced and 116 of his “best fighters” killed.
Add that up, and Prigozhin admitted to 399 dead (and unmentioned wounded) to advance at most 660 meters—a total of 1.65 meters (5.4 feet) per dead Wagnerite. They could literally accomplish that by just falling forward.
Not only was this (admitted) loss of life horrific on its own, but it shattered a tenet of faith among Russian war bloggers that it was Ukraine being bled dry by Russia’s Bakhmut assault.
The whole notion was idiotic. It is a basic military reality that absent massive advantages in military technology and doctrine (which Russia does not have), attackers suffer greater casualties than entrenched defenders. It’s common sense: Defenders can keep their heads down while attackers have to rush across open terrain, exposed to mines, grenades, gunfire, rockets, mortars, and artillery fire.
Ukraine has a clear rationale for Bakhmut’s bloody defense: bleeding Russia dry and trapping them in the area to take the pressure off other parts of the front while buying time for Ukraine’s new “storm” brigades to train combined arms warfare with their shiny new Western armor. The only way Russia’s even bloodier attack of the strategically unimportant city made sense (only Ukraine’s 58th largest) was to claim the opposite: It was Ukraine who was trapped there, bleeding itself dry.
Prigozhin’s weird daily flex laid waste to those ridiculous claims. It is Russians who are doing the bulk of the dying in Bakhmut. But nothing, nothing, nothing could prepare anyone for the biggest Thursday night surprise—one that had everyone watching from both sides of the war, wondering if Prigozhin had absolutely lost it.
I don’t particularly recommend you watch his video, but it’s here with the absolute strongest trigger warning possible. Prigozhin stands in the dark in front of a field of several dozen dead Wagner soldiers. He shines a flashlight at several, in case anyone has any doubts about what they’re looking at. I won’t sit there and count, but there are maybe 40-50 dead Wagnerites, lined up in several rows.
And he yells like a mad man. He yells Shoigu’s name, Gerasimov’s name, a stream of expletives in front of his macabre backdrop. He looks like this:
Here are the guys from PMC Wagner who died today. Still fresh blood. Get them all on video. Now listen to me, b*tches, damn, these are someone's fathers, and someone's sons. And those scum who do not give us ammunition will be in hell, there they will eat their remains, motherf*ckers! We're out of ammo, 70%! Shoigu! Gerasimov! Where the f*ck is the ammo? Look at them, b*tches! You sit, motherf*ckers, in expensive clubs! Your children enjoy life making videos on YouTube! You think that you are the masters of this life and that you have the right to dispose of the lives of these guys! You give us five times less ammo! They came here as volunteers and they are dying for you to feast in your mahogany cabinets!
Did Prigozhin train his forces on effective small-unit infantry assault tactics? Of course not. He is just as complicit in their deaths as every other Russian commander in this war. But he’s not looking in the mirror. He’s taking direct aim at his rivals at the Ministry of Defense.
Russia does not censor Telegram, and this video is being watched by millions of Russians not used to seeing images of their own dead. It is impossible to tell how the video will be received, or how Putin himself will take it. Wagner fans are responding with calls to storm Moscow:
Prigozhin did promise to leave Bakhmut if the ammunition situation didn’t improve. It clearly didn’t, and he’s still in Bakhmut. Then this tirade. What does it all mean? Stay tuned, because this story isn’t over.
There is one more weird Prigozhin story, and maybe someone can help make it make sense.
Last Friday, Mark Sumner wrote about the sacking of the general in charge of Russia’s logistics.
On Thursday, the man in charge of logistics for the Russian army, Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev, was fired. Mizintsev, known as the “Butcher of Mariupol” for his role in commanding the forces that destroyed that city early in the invasion, replaced former minister Gen. Dmitry Bulgakov last year. Mizintsev has now been replaced by Col. Gen. Alexei Kuzmenkov.
Why was Mizintsev fired after being hailed for clearing Mariupol and finally bringing the siege of the Azovstal steel works to an ugly conclusion? Speculation is that Mizintsev was sent to the showers after Col. Gen. Mikhail Teplinsky completed an inspection of the front lines, reporting that weapons and ammunition were not getting to the right people. In particular, the colonel general determined that Wagner Group mercenaries weren’t getting their fair share of artillery and small arms ammunition—the same complaint that Wagner Group owner Yevgeny Prigozhin has been making for months.
This is not a coincidence. Col. Gen. Teplinsky, in spite of the title, isn’t actually a part of the regular Russian military. He’s Wagner, wielding literally undefined authority (an “unspecified role”) in seeing that things are operating correctly at the front.
To recap, Mizintsev was fired based on a report written by a Wagner officer, accusing him of refusing to supply Wagner forces in Bakhmut. Got it?
So what the hell is this?
Again, Wagner hired the guy they got fired for not getting them desperately needed ammunition, on the same day that Prigozhin goes on his crazy rant in front of a sea of dead Wagnerites he says died from a lack of ammunition … and then they appoint him as their number two commander.
Seriously, what the hell?
The whole idea that this BRICS “alliance” (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) will somehow take over Western hegemony and come up with its own currency to supplant the dollar is patently absurd.
On Friday morning, Telegram sources indicate that on top of all the other things going wrong for Prigozhin, Ukrainian artillery has destroyed Wagner Group’s ammunition depots in Bakhmut.
Dimitri of WarTranslated has been doing the essential work of translating hours of Russian and Ukrainian video and audio during the invasion of Ukraine. He joins Markos and Kerry from London to talk about how he began this work by sifting through various sources. He is one of the only people translating information for English-speaking audiences. Dimitri’s followed the war since the beginning and has watched the evolution of the language and dispatches as the war has progressed.