It is night, behind Yevgeny Prigozhin lie a few dozen bloody corpses in a meadow. "These are guys from Wagner who fell today, the blood is still fresh," says the leader of the Russian mercenary group Wagner in a video posted on the Telegram channel of his press service on Friday night. "And now hear me, you dogs, they are some fathers and sons. And the scum that does not provide us with ammunition will eat their guts in hell!" Who he means by this, Prigozhin also says: "Shoygu, Gerasismov, where – dogs – is the ammunition? Look at them, dogs!"

Reinhard Veser

Editor in politics.

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Sergei Shoigu is Russia's Defense Minister, Valeriy Gerasimov is Chief of the Russian General Staff. With the nightly video, Prigozhin has further escalated his long-simmering conflict with the Russian army leadership. After the desolate nightly insults, which were accompanied by drastic images, Prigozhin followed up with another video on Friday. In it, Prigozhin, dressed in full combat gear and with his weapon on his shoulder, stands in front of a group of masked fighters and reads out a statement to the leadership of the armed forces, the "commander-in-chief and people of Russia," announcing that his men would leave positions in the embattled city of Bakhmut from May 10.

Prigozhin has been accusing the Ministry of Defense and the army leadership for months of abandoning his people out of jealousy over the successes of the Wagner fighters. Army units would not come to their aid, and they received only a fraction of the ammunition they needed. At the end of February, he had therefore issued an ultimatum to the army leadership for the first time: If his troops were not better supplied, Bakhmut could not be held. The Ministry of Defense denied the accusations, but Prigozhin announced a few days later that the delivery of the required ammunition had begun. Last week, Prigozhin threatened – without giving a date – with the withdrawal of his fighters from Bakhmut: "If the lack of ammunition is not resolved, we will be forced to withdraw in an organized manner so as not to flee like cowardly rats later."

Prigozhin: Only 30 percent of ammunition received

On average, his people have received only 30 percent of the ammunition they need in recent months, Prigozhin claimed. Since May 1, his fighters have been "almost completely" cut off from the supply of artillery ammunition. Nevertheless, the attacks on the Ukrainians would continue until May 10, "to celebrate the holiday sacred for Russians – May 9, Victory Day – with the splendor of Russian weapons." After that, the Wagner fighters would retreat into the hinterland to "lick our wounds" and avoid a "senseless death."

Even before the dispute over ammunition deliveries that broke out openly in the spring, Prigozhin had regularly attacked the Ministry of Defence, the army leadership and the political elite in Moscow. He claimed that their incompetence, convenience and corruption were the reason for the failures of Russian troops in the war in Ukraine. He has the support of far-right war advocates who are calling for a more brutal crackdown.

His allies in the army are generals who have a reputation for particular cruelty – such as General Sergei Surovikin, who was commander of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine from October to January. One such military man went directly into Prigozhin's service on Friday: General Mikhail Mizintsev, who was dismissed last week as deputy defense minister. Mizintsev is said to have commanded the Russian troops who besieged and destroyed Mariupol in the spring of last year – earning him the nickname "Butcher of Mariupol".

In the videos released on Friday, Prigozhin also attacked men "in expensive clubs" whose children were making YouTube videos, while volunteers were being slaughtered at the front through their fault. He said he would ensure that Defense Minister Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Gerasimov were held accountable "in front of their mothers and children" for the deaths and injuries of tens of thousands of fighters for whom they were guilty. Initially, there was no comment from the Kremlin on these incidents. Of course, you have seen the reports, said Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov, "but I can't comment on it because it concerns the course of the special military operation."