In a video shared on Telegram, Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin announced that the withdrawal of his private mercenaries from Bakhmut has already begun. Earlier in the week, Prigozhin said that the withdrawal of his private fighters would take place at any point between May 25 and June 1.
“We are withdrawing units from Bakhmut today,” Prigozhin says in the clip.
Surprisingly, however, Prigozhin said that some Wagner fighters intend to stay behind in Bakhmut to provide additional assistance to the Russian military in the event that it is needed. The decision follows months of talk from Prigozhin about potentially withdrawing Wagner troops over disagreements with the Russian Ministry of Defense over a lack of ammunition and weapons.
The BBC reported that its internal fact-checking body, BBC Verify, had geolocated the video clip to a region east of Bakhmut, next to a pharmacy.
The news comes as Russia claims to have taken full control of the city of Bakhmut, while Kyiv denies the claims and says that Ukrainian forces are working to encircle Russian troops in the city.
Does Wagner Have A Plan to Obtain New Weapons?
While Wagner is withdrawing from Bakhmut, the likelihood that the group will withdraw from the fight in Ukraine entirely remains low. Russian forces have relied heavily on Wagner troops since the early days of the conflict, with Wagner recruits – many of which were taken from Russian prisons – proving more dedicated than many of Russia’s official soldiers.
This week, the United States Department of State revealed that Wagner may be looking for new ways to obtain weapons in order to improve its performance in Ukraine. In a briefing on Monday, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said that Wagner is looking to file illegitimate paperwork with a plan to ship military hardware through the Republic of Mali, a country located in West Africa.
“In fact, there are indications that Wagner has been attempting to purchase military systems from foreign suppliers, and route these weapons through Mali as a third party,” he continued, adding that there is no evidence to suggest that any plans, or acquisitions of weapons, have been finalized.
The United States has previously imposed sanctions on entities and individuals who have aided Russian and Wagner forces, and Miller said that more information about the United States’ response to the plans will be released soon.
Jack Buckby is 19FortyFive’s Breaking News Editor. He is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.