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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Could Putin Declare the Wagner Group Traitors?

There were reports on Tuesday that Prigozhin has been told that he and his men would be regarded as traitors if they abandoned their positions in the city of Bakhmut.

Drone attack in Ukraine. Image Credit: Screenshot.
Drone attack in Ukraine. Image Credit: Screenshot.

The ongoing Battle of Bakhmut has evoked repeated comparisons to the Battle of Stalingrad during the Second World War. It is likely that Yevgeny Prigozhin – head of the infamous Wagner Group mercenary force – could have a greater appreciation for Friedrich Paulus, the commander of the German forces at Stalingrad.

As Paulus warned Adolf Hitler that his men could only hold out for a few more hours, the German dictator responded by showering a raft of field promotions on Paulus’ officers. In addition, he promoted Paulus to field marshal and quickly noted that no Prussian or German field marshal ever surrendered. The implication was that if Paulus surrendered, he would shame Germany’s military history – and Paulus was expected to die in the fighting or commit suicide.

There were reports on Tuesday that Prigozhin has been told that he and his men would be regarded as traitors if they abandoned their positions in the city of Bakhmut. However, the head of the mercenary unit has warned that he will withdraw from the front if they don’t receive ammunition and other supplies they need to press the battle.

“A combat order came yesterday which clearly stated that if we leave our positions (in Bakhmut), it will be regarded as treason against the motherland. That was the message to us,” Prigozhin said, according to a report from Reuters.

“(But) if there is no ammunition, then we will leave our positions and be the ones asking who is really betraying the Motherland. Apparently, the one (betraying the Motherland) is the person who signed it (the order to supply too little ammunition,” the Wagner Group leader added.

This is a reversal from Sunday, when Prigozhin announced his forces would remain in Bakhmut, following a row with the Kremlin last week. He had even claimed they were getting the necessary ammo.

Russian Army on the Verge of Collapse? 

However, the situation has also changed on the front, and Prigozhin claimed that it is Russian Army units that have abandoned their positions near Bakhmut, and said that instead of fighting, the entire Russian Defense Ministry is constantly “scheming.”

He implied that Russian troops see no reason to fight.

“That’s why our army will run. They will run because today the 72nd brigade [a division of the Defense Ministry] pissed away [a strategic foothold] where I lost 500 people… They just up and hauled ass,” Prigozhin stated in a lengthy post to Telegram.

“What will our country do… what will our children, grandchildren, the future of Russia do… if it turns out the grandpa is a complete jackass?” he pondered after repeatedly mentioning that the “happy grandpa” at home thinks everything is well. Prigozhin hasn’t specified who he meant, however.

Prigozhin has been locked in a feud with the Russian Defense Ministry, which has intensified as the Battle for Bakhmut has entered its 10th month.

Though it looks like Prigozhin and the Wagner Group will hold out for now – history should remember that the Germans controlled nearly all of Stalingrad before they were encircled. The German Sixth Army was destroyed in the battle. 

As for Paulus, he didn’t take his own life. He became the first German field marshal to surrender.

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Author Experience and Expertise:

A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.