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Moscow’s division deepen as Wagner chief claims Russian troops fled Bakhmut posts amid Ukrainian advances

The divisions between Russia’s defense ministry and its notorious Wagner group continue to play out in public with mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin suggesting Tuesday that Russian forces have fled their posts in Bakhmut.

In a video posted to the Telegram messaging app, the once top ally to President Vladimir Putin claimed that units from Russia’s military “fled from one of our flanks” and exposed his forces to Ukrainian assaults, which he said were “tearing up the flanks,” according to multiple reports.

Priogzhin’s claims of a Russian retreat were echoed by Ukraine’s Third Assault Brigade, which said that forces from Russia’s 72nd Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade fled Bakhmut Tuesday. 

Ukrainian soldiers fire targets on the front line in the direction of the city of Ugledar, Donetsk, Ukraine as Russia-Ukraine war continues on April 18, 2023. (Photo by Muhammed Enes Yildirim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

“The Third Assault Brigade thanks you for publicizing our success at the front,” the brigade said in a direct message to Prigozhin on Telegram, adding that “Wagnerites” were also among the troops that abandoned their posts

Prigozhin further warned that while brutal fighting continues to play out on the Bakhmut front, which Russia has failed to fully capture despite immense efforts over the last six months, Ukrainian forces are also regrouping in the Zaporizhzhia region – an area Western defense analysts say Kyiv needs to start ousting Russia from its borders.

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“They are absolutely clear: the counter-offensive will be on the ground, not on television,” Prigozhin added according to The Moscow Times. 

The Wagner chief said his forces, which have taken significant loses, will not leave their posts in Bakhmut, though he also claimed that Russian troops were abandoning their positions because of “stupid” and “criminal orders.”

“Soldiers should not die because of the absolute stupidity of their leadership,” he reportedly added.

wounded in Bakhmut

Blood stains stretchers from previous casualties, as a Ukrainian armed forces brigade remains ready to receive casualties, and for an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive, at a hidden stabilization point in the Donetsk region in the Bakhmut direction, on April 27, 2023.  (Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images)

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Prigozhin further claimed that he had also been informed that if his soldiers left their positions in the Bakhmut sector that it would “be regarded as treason against the Motherland.”

“(But) if there is no ammunition, then we will leave our positions and be the ones asking who is really betraying the Motherland,” he continued according to a Reuters translation, issuing his repeated threat to pull his hired soldiers from the war if they do not receive proper supplies. “Apparently, the one (betraying the Motherland) is the person who signed it (the order to supply too little ammunition.)”

The divisions between the Wagner chief and the Russian defense ministry have become increasingly evident for months.

Founder of Wagner private mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin speaks next to the bodies of what he says are Wagner fighters killed in Russia-Ukraine conflict, in an undisclosed location, in this still image taken from video released May 5, 2023. (Press service of “Concord”/Handout via Reuters)

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It is unclear where Prigozhin stands when it comes to Putin, but Kremlin officials have taken steps to limit Wagner’s ability to continue bolstering its combat power including revoking its ability to recruit incarcerated men and inadequately supplying its fight forces on the front lines. 

There has also been debate between the two fighting powers as to who has lead the charge in the highly contested Bakhmut sector. 

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