During the Second World War – known to the Soviet Union as “The Great Patriotic War” – few would have dared to speak out publicly to counter the Kremlin’s official line, even in the darkest days. In the subsequent Cold War, a similar sentiment was generally employed.
What Moscow said was the absolute truth, even if facts offered a different narrative.
Yet, as Russia’s “special military operation” is now in its 15th month, and shows no signs of ending in a Russian victory, the Kremlin has a very vocal critic in Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin. The mercenary chief has not only countered the official propaganda from Russia’s Ministry of Defense but this week took to the social messaging platform Telegram to blast the claims that Russia had inflicted heavy losses on Ukraine in the Donbas.
“I think that these are just some wild fantasies,” he wrote on Telegram on Monday.
Russia Will See More Losses in Ukraine
Just weeks after the Wagner Group succeeded in capturing the city of Bakhmut in Ukraine last month, during which the unit took heavy casualties, Prigozhin has publically decried the loss of villages on the urban center’s outskirts to Ukrainian forces.
“Now part of the settlement of Berkhivka has already been lost, the troops are quietly running away. Disgrace!” Prigozhin claimed.
Russian Army units, which took control of the city from the Wagner Group on June 1, are also reported to be giving ground. The mercenary unit had been fighting to capture the city since last summer. It has evoked comparisons to the Second World War battle of Stalingrad – and Bakhmut has been essentially razed to the ground. Most of its pre-war population of 72,000 had fled, and fewer than 2,000 of the residents had remained this year, most living in shelters with no access to running water, heat, or electricity.
More Troops Needed – A Lot More Troops
On Wednesday, Prigozhin called upon Moscow to provide him with upwards of 200,000 troops to halt the long-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive.
“I need 200,000 people,” Prigozhin said in a recent Telegram post, as quoted in an article by The Moscow Times. “Less than 200,000 on the Luhansk-Donetsk frontline will not cope. We are ready to take full responsibility.”
He further added on social media, “Near Bakhmut in three places, in Toretsk there is a large accumulation, and soon they will begin to cut Kurdyumovka and Ozaryanovka. The Belgorod region is bursting at the seams. In Zaporizhzhia, they lost the most serious settlement. Now they will hit the north and south in the Donetsk direction and there will be no time. Aviation will not save [the situation].”
As Ukraine liberates captured territory, the situation on the ground is expected to only get worse, the mercenary leader further lamented.
“We understand that at least another 50 percent of the inhabitants of this territory will help the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Therefore, as soon as they go a little deeper, then they will go to Berdyansk and Mariupol, and it will be impossible to stop them,” Prigozhin further warned.
Moscow has already attempted to cast the Ukrainian offensive as stalled, with Kyiv’s forces taking massive losses. It is still impossible to know if the actual long-expected counteroffensive has even started in earnest, but it is clear that hyperbole from the Kremlin won’t be enough to stop an attack when it comes.
That is why Prigozhin’s comments are so notable.
With “allies” like him, Moscow barely needs an enemy. The Wagner Group head has increasingly sounded like a spokesperson for Kyiv.
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.