The leader of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group has warned that his country could face revolution if its forces continued to struggle in Ukraine, and urged its leaders to send their own children into battle and subject the nation to a life “like North Korea” to win the war.
Yevgeny Prigozhin also acknowledged that some 20,000 Wagner fighters had been killed in the battle for Bakhmut, the town in eastern Ukraine that Russia claims to have taken last weekend but which Kyiv says is still contested.
Mr Prigozhin has repeatedly accused Russia’s top military officials of depriving Wagner of vital ammunition and other resources, and accused the country’s elite of valuing their lavish lifestyles over the pursuit of victory in Ukraine.
“We are now in a state where we could simply lose Russia. So we must introduce martial law, announce new waves of mobilisation, transfer everyone possible to the production of ammunition ... and work only for the war,” he said in an interview posted on social media.
“Russia needs to live like North Korea for a certain number of years, close all borders, stop messing around, take all its kids back from abroad and work hard. Then we will get some result,” he added.
Without directly criticising Russian president Vladimir Putin, Mr Prigozhin said that the Kremlin’s declared bid to “demilitarise” Ukraine had actually achieved the opposite, while also making the embattled country the centre of global attention.
“We made Ukraine a nation that is known throughout the world. They are like the Greeks or Romans in their heyday. As for ‘demilitarisation’ – if at the start ... they had, let’s say, 500 tanks, now they have 5,000. If then, they had 20,000 people who could fight, now they have 400,000,” he said.
Mr Prigozhin again condemned Russia’s wealthy elite, saying their children were on social media “smearing themselves with [suntan] cream” while “ordinary people’s children are arriving in zinc [coffins].”
“This divide can end as in 1917 with a revolution, when first the soldiers rise up, then their relatives rise up. And it’s pointless to think there are only a few hundred of them – there are now tens of thousands of relatives of those killed. There will probably be hundreds of thousands. We can’t escape this,” he said.
“The greed of the elite’s children will end with people putting them on pitchforks. I advise the elite of the Russian Federation to gather your kids, send them to war, and when you go to their funerals, when you start burying them, then people will say – now everything is fair.”
Mr Prigozhin said Wagner had recruited some 50,000 convicts, about 20 per cent of whom had been killed in the battle for Bakhmut, where about the same number of the group’s contract fighters had also died. He also claimed that in the same, months-long battle, about 50,000 Ukrainian soldiers were killed and at least the same number injured.
Such assertions cannot be verified and neither country’s military reveals its casualty figures, but it is clear that tens of thousands of people have been killed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and millions of civilians have been displaced.
Moscow’s military is facing further scrutiny after a small group of Russian anti-Putin guerrillas launched a raid from Ukraine into Russia’s Belgorod region this week, in an operation they said exposed the true weaknesses of the country’s defences.
“We will continue to respond to such actions by Ukrainian militants promptly and extremely harshly,” Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu vowed after the military said it had killed more than 70 insurgents. The guerrillas rejected Moscow’s account of the battle.