The head of the Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin and the leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov are laying the groundwork to blame the Russian Defense Ministry for “any Russian setbacks in the Bakhmut area,” according to a new assessment.
Prigozhin and Kadyrov likely hope to paint the Russian Defense Ministry and its conventional troops as “ineffective,” and lay the groundwork to “blame” the government department for failed operations around Bakhmut, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think tank said on Saturday.
On Saturday, Prigozhin said in a statement that at midnight on May 10, Wagner forces would be replaced by Chechen special forces in Bakhmut, which is “the moment when, according to our calculations, we will completely exhaust our combat potential.”
Writing on Telegram, Kadyrov said his “Akhmat” fighters were “ready to advance” to the ruined city of Bakhmut, and that he had contacted Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He had “already begun to develop our strategy of action” with the Russian Defense Ministry,” he said, adding: “The soldiers are on alert, we are just waiting for orders.”
The Wagner mercenary group has been key in Russia’s operations in Bakhmut, the embattled eastern Ukrainian city where Kyiv’s forces have faced off against Moscow’s fighters for months. But Prigozhin has heavily criticized the Russian Defense Ministry and the country’s senior military leaders for what he said was a lack of ammunition supplies.
Yet in a separate statement posted on Sunday, which was then reported by Russian state media, Prigozhin said mercenary fighters would receive “as much ammunition and weapons as we need to continue hostilities.”
Newsweek has reached out to the Russian Defense Ministry for comment via email.
Prigozhin has portrayed the battle for the Donetsk city “strictly as a Wagner – and now Akhmat – concern,” and excluded the role of Russian airborne forces in Bakhmut, the ISW said.
Such a move, marking the Russian oligarch as removed from the conventional Russian military, would let Prigozhin “save face” should Wagner forces fail to seize control of Bakhmut, the think tank said.
“The switch from Wagner to Akhmat troops may also set conditions to blame the Russian MoD [Ministry of Defense] for future failures down the line,” the ISW argued.
“If Akhmat forces experience similar difficulties to Wagner and are unable to completely capture Bakhmut, Prigozhin and Kadyrov may feasibly blame the MoD for failing to adequately support their efforts,” the think tank added. Should the Russian Defense Ministry fail to back their plan, it could be vulnerable to accusations that the Chechen forces would have swiftly captured Bakhmut, the ISW said.
However, Prigozhin and Kadyrov have “greatly exaggerated” their claims of combat power, the ISW said.
Chechen fighters have been present in Ukraine in small numbers, but they have not taken on a major combat role in Russian operations.
They are a “small core of combat-ready troops that appear to be very willing to deliver violence and oppression against either friend or foe,” the London-based Royal United Services Institute think tank said back in November.
“He had “already begun to develop our strategy of action” with the Russian Defense Ministry,” he said, adding: “The soldiers are on alert, we are just waiting for orders.”
The strategy will be kept simple, as usual, and will bring the same high rate of casualties. After all, a meat puppet is a meat puppet, no matter if he speaks ruskie or chechen gibberish.
“They are a small core of combat-ready troops that appear to be very willing to deliver violence and oppression against either friend or foe,”
On tiktok videos, they are a force to be reckoned with. On the battlefield, they will die, rot, and stink just like the rest of the cockroaches.