Prigozhin: Wagner will only fight on if separate from army 'clowns'

Wagner chief says his mercenaries will only fight on in Ukraine if they are separate from the Russian army ‘clowns who turn people into meat’

  • Prigozhin again took aim at Russian military officials as he celebrates turning 62
  • The Wagner Group leader said he would hand over Bakhmut city by June 5

Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin said today his mercenaries would fight on in Ukraine if left alone without having to rely on the ‘clowns’ running the Russian army.

Prigozhin, who continues to butt heads with Russian officials, said at a training camp on Thursday that he would pull his forces out ‘if the whole chain [of command] is 100 per cent failed and will only be led by clowns who turn people into meat.’

The group’s leader, who was celebrating his 62nd birthday, has offered up his forces in brutal human wave strikes into Ukraine since the war started, but has clashed with Russian commanders over strategy and ‘withheld’ supplies needed to sustain his assaults.

He also confirmed today that his men would finally leave the eastern city of Bakhmut on June 5 after handing it over to the Russian army. The Wagner Group captured the besieged city after months of grizzly shelling and surrounding trench warfare.

Founder of Wagner private mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin speaks with servicemen during withdrawal of his forces from Bakhmut in a video released Thursday, June 1, 2023

An aerial view shows destructions in the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released on May 21, 2023

A Ukrainian soldier covers his ears while firing a mortar at Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, May 29, 2023

Speaking to Russian reporters, Prigozhin looked on across a night scene lit by blasts and red flares against burst of automatic gunfire from his mercenaries.

‘Beautiful, isn’t it?’ he said. 

READ MORE: Moment Wagner chief EXPLODES with fury at Putin’s minions over Moscow drone attacks… as humiliated Vlad admits on TV his air defence was shoddy 

He spoke to journalists about the prosthetic legs which his wounded men have received, including those who continued to fight.

Prigozhin said his men wanted to rest at camps in Russian-controlled Ukraine for around a month and then things would become clearer.

‘It has been a tough year. Then we’ll see how it goes,’ he said.

The restaurateur-turned-mercenary has gained widespread notoriety during the 15-month war in Ukraine.

He has regularly insulted President Vladimir Putin’s top military brass, especially Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, over their performance.

Neither Shoigu or Gerasimov have responded to his insults in public.

Prigozhin said on Wednesday he had asked prosecutors to investigate whether senior Russian defence officials had committed any ‘crime’ before or during the war in Ukraine.

Despite their success in Bakhmut, many mercenaries have been killed in the handover to the Russian army. 

Ukraine claims to have killed scores of Wagner mercenaries as they leave. 

On May 25, as he confirmed the start of the handover, Prigozhin admitted 20,000 of his mercenaries had been killed capturing the completely obliterated city.

Bakhmut is considered to be of symbolic importance, contested since Putin’s initial wins dried up last year, but of limited strategic value to Russian forces. 

A Ukrainian soldier covers his ears while firing a mortar at Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, May 29, 2023

A Ukrainian service member smokes in a trench at a position near the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine May 23, 2023

An anti-Kremlin volunteer fighter is pictured alongside a captured Russian armoured personnel carrier 

Russian groups also claimed today they had launched yet another devastating strike into Russia, saying they were marching into the border town of Shebekino.

Fighters of the Russian Volunteer Corps said in a video shared on Telegram that they were moving on the town in Russia’s Belgorod region on the border of Ukraine.

Later, the group said fighters had hit the Interior Ministry’s department in the town with USSR-designed Grad multiple launch rocket systems.

Video appeared to show Russian district administration officials in the town burning documents amid fears the settlement would be taken by anti-Kremlin groups.

The Free Russian Legion, who made headlines last week as they apparently marched back east into Russia to take hold of bordering villages in Belgorod, also today announced a raid into Russia.

Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of Russia’s Belgorod Oblast, was forced to announce a ‘counter-terrorist operation’ when the Free Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps claimed to have taken the step of taking the fight to Russia on May 22.

Again today, he said Ukraine’s armed forces had repeatedly shelled Shebekino with Soviet-designed Grad 122 mm rockets, setting alight a dormitory and damaging an administrative building. 

At least nine civilians were injured in shelling in the region, he said. 

In unverified video posted on social media, plumes of smoke were shown rising above a large building in Shebekino as flames licked through the destroyed roof.

‘As soon as it calms down, we will continue the evacuation of people,’ Gladkov said. 

‘All temporary accommodation facilities are ready.’

Photo shared by Vyacheslav Gladkov on his Telegram channel shows the aftermath of Ukrainian shelling in the border town of Shebekino, Belgorod region, Russia, 31 May 2023

Anti-Kremlin Russian soldiers pictured speaking to camera during the last alleged assault

The founder of the Russian Volunteer Corps, Denis (C), known as “White Rex”, flanked by fighters in camouflage, attends a presentation for the media in northern Ukraine, not far from the Russian border, on May 24, 2023

Russia confirmed it had repelled three attempted incursions along its border with Ukraine by what it casts as pro-Ukrainian militants, while heavy shelling prompted a partial evacuation of civilians from the area.

The country’s defence ministry accused Ukraine of using what it cast as ‘terrorist formations’ to carry out attempted attacks on Russian civilians. 

READ MORE: How Putin-hating Russian rebels’ Belgorod incursion could play a huge role in Ukraine war: Experts say attack will ‘rattle’ Moscow and force them to spread troops more thinly ahead of Kyiv’s counter-strike 

‘The selfless actions of Russian servicemen repelled three attacks by Ukrainian terrorist formations,’ the ministry said. ‘No violations of the state border were allowed,’ the ministry said.

More than 30 Ukrainian fighters had been killed, along with four armoured vehicles destroyed, it claimed.

Kyiv has denied any involvement but Russian officials say the group of fighters is a proxy run by Ukraine.

The Russian Volunteer Corps also said in March that they had crossed into Russia’s Bryansk Oblast, on the border with Ukraine – but the attack was inconclusive.

Both groups claim they employ Russian citizens fighting against the regime. 

The Russian Volunteer Corps was founded by a far-right Russian national last August and comprises Russians who have been fighting in and for Ukraine against their own country. 

The Ukrainian military intelligence agency says the RVC is an independent underground group inside Russia that also has a unit in the Ukrainian Foreign Legion.

The Foreign Legion says it has nothing to do with the RVC. 

The Freedom of Russia Legion says it was formed in spring 2022 ‘out of the wish of Russians to fight in the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine against Putin’s armed gang’. 

It says it cooperates with the Ukrainian armed forces and operates under Ukrainian command. 

It has claimed responsibility for the previous attack in Belgorod and says it has been fighting in eastern Ukraine. 

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