Prigozhin's last bluff? What will happen if Wagner Group really pulls out of Bakhmut
Having claimed conquest over Bakhmut, Wagner Boss Yevgeny Prigozhin says his troops will begin to leave the city Thursday and hand control over to the official Russian army. But there are plenty, especially inside of Russia, who have no interest in seeing Wagner go. A showdown with the Kremlin looms, writes Ukrainian journalist Anna Akage.
Tucked into his rambling, megalomaniacal and (according to Kyiv) premature victory speech in Bakhmut over the weekend, Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin offered one very precise piece of information:
The mercenary army that he leads would begin to pull out of the eastern Ukrainian city on May 25. On Monday, he repeated the vow, saying Wagner's withdrawal would be complete by June 1.
What happens now as we count down the days and hours to this would-be deadline will tell us more about the situation on the ground in Bakhmut than any declarations. But even more importantly, it may be decisive in the longstanding feud between Prigozhin and the upper echelons of the official Russian military hierarchy — and as such, crucial to the fate of the entire war.
"The operation to take Bakhmut lasted 224 days, the Bakhmut meat grinder," is how Prigozhin began his victory speech on Saturday. “To give the battered Russian army a chance to come to its senses."
He said that only Wagner fighters, who had to fight the Russian bureaucracy in parallel, took part in the battles for Bakhmut on the Russian side.
As he’d done before, he called out by name Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russian army commander Valery Gerasimov:
“who turned the war into their entertainment, who decided that their whims in the war would be fulfilled. But because of their whims, five times more guys died in the war than they should have. And some day in history, they will answer for their atrocities."
Of course, before considering history, observers on all sides are trying to verify what is the current status of Bakhmut. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has denied that Bakhmut has fallen. Other reports say Ukrainian forces have given up the center of the town. Most acknowledge that not much of anything remains in the city, even if it has taken on outsized symbolic importance.
"On the 25th, we will be withdrawing our units for rest and retraining," Prigozhin declared. "We will create the necessary defense lines and hand them to the military."
So will Wagner really leave so soon after the would-be victory?
Russian independent journalist Michael Nacke believes that Prigozhin wants to leave Bakhmut as soon as possible because he knows a Ukrainian offensive is ahead, which the official Russian army cannot repel, and which his battle-weary mercenaries are too tired to hold back.
"Prigozhin is still trying to escape the trap in which he has driven himself. He wants to somehow cling to this success and continue to try to bring down Gerasimov and Shoigu, thereby giving himself a life,” says Nacke. “The Wagner group has cut off from recruiting prisoners, has faced huge losses, and is suffering a shortage of supplies. It now makes Bakhmut into a potential trap. Prigozhin wants to avoid this."
Even if Prigozhin is in open conflict with Russia's top military command and has lost direct contact with Putin, he still has cards to play. He knows too many Kremlin secrets, and has his loyal fighters, bought media and telegram channels, not to mention strong popular support among Russian hawks.
Yet that may also spell his doom. Shoigu, for one, may indeed be doing everything possible so that neither Prigozhin nor his militants return to Russia, and are left to be wiped out by the Ukrainian army.
Kyiv, meanwhile, is busy poking Prigozhin, with Ukrainian army spokesperson Serhii Cherevatyi saying Saturday that they'd "wiped out his" group. "He is running away with his tail between his legs because he has lost his best personnel," Cherevatyi told Ukrayinska Pravda. "In fact, his Wagner group is essentially destroyed.”
Ultimately, any important military decision, especially something as important as the withdrawal of a significant number of troops from the combat zone, requires the personal approval of Vladimir Putin. And lately, the Russian president has been particularly loyal to his staff generals. Where does that leave Prigozhin? We may find out by Thursday.
— Anna Akage
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• Deadly Guyana school fire started by student: Police say that Monday’s deadly dormitory fire in Guyana was started by a student, reportedly angry that school authorities had confiscated her phone. The student was not injured in the fire, which called 19 children and injured dozens.
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The Patek Philippe Ref 96 Quantieme Lune watch that belonged to Aisin-Gioro Puyi, the last emperor of the Chinese Qing Dynasty who died in 1967, sold at auction for a record-breaking HK$49 million, or $6.2 million. This is the highest sale price for an emperor’s watch, with the winning bid coming from an Asian collector.
Alexandroupoli, how the Ukraine war made this sleepy Greek port a geopolitical hub
Once neglected, this small port in Thrace, northeastern Greece, has become a strategic hub for transporting men and arms to the shores of the Black Sea. Propelled by ambitious infrastructure and gas projects, the region dreams of becoming an alternative to the Bosphorus strait, reports Basile Dekonink in French daily Les Echos.
🛳️🗺️ “If you look north from Alexandroupoli, along the Evros River, you can see a corridor. A corridor for trade, for the transport of goods and people to the heart of the Balkans and, a little further, to Ukraine," explains the port's CEO, Konstantinos Chatzikonstantinou. According to him, the sudden interest in this small town of 70,000 inhabitants is explained by "geography, geography, and… geography.” In 2023, in a Europe fractured by a war on its eastern flank, Alexandroupoli offers, via the sea, strategic access to the heart of the Old Continent.
🇬🇷🇺🇸 Alexandroupoli has been, along with the Souda Air Base, the cornerstone of the U.S. presence in Greece: between 2019 and the end of 2021, 117,000 tons of U.S. military equipment passed through the port, including 70 planes and 165 armored vehicles. During the summer of 2022 alone, 2,400 "pieces" — the term used by the U.S. military to refer to vehicles, weapons, and ammunition — were transported, a record for Alexandroupoli.
💰 Everything is being done to increase the logistical possibilities of Alexandroupoli. The EU recently included it in the trans-European transport network, a community program aimed at connecting the continent's nerve centers: a first project worth €35 million has been launched to deepen the port, purchase cranes, build a bypass and new warehouses.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
“It is obvious that there is no victory for the poor Ukrainians on the battlefield.”
— Speaking at the Qatar Economic Forum in Doha, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said Ukrainian troops are unlikely to win the war and called for diplomatic resolution. The right-wing leader said the Russian invasion was the result of “failed diplomacy” and that an agreement between the U.S. and Russia was “the only way out.” Since the war started, Hungary has refused to break ties with Moscow and has not supported European sanctions against Russia or aid sent to Ukraine.
"Modi is the boss" Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an event Wednesday attended by an enthusiastic crowd in Sydney that included many Indian-Australians. Albanese compared Modi’s appearance at the Qudos Bank Arena to a Bruce Springsteen concert. — Photo: Narendra Modi Facebook account
✍️ Newsletter by Yannick Champion-Osselin, Chloé Touchard, Laure Gautherin, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Marine Béguin
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