Wagner’s Prigozhin says Russia could face revolution unless elites get serious about war
Wagner mercenary group fighters wave flags of Russia and Wagner group on top of a building in an unidentified location, in the course of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, in this still image obtained from a video released May 20, 2023. Press service of "Concord"/Handout via REUTERS
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group, warned that Russia could face a revolution similar to those of 1917 and lose the conflict in Ukraine unless the elite got serious about fighting the war.
Russia's most powerful mercenary said his political outlook was dominated by love for the motherland and serving President Vladimir Putin, but cautioned that Russia was in danger of turmoil.
Prigozhin said there was a so-called optimistic view that the West would get tired of war and China would broker a peace deal, but that he did not really believe in that interpretation.
Instead, he said, Ukraine was preparing a counteroffensive aimed at pushing Russian troops back to its borders before 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea. Ukraine would try to encircle Bakhmut, the focus of intense fighting in the east, and attack Crimea, he added.
"Most likely of all, this scenario will not be good for Russia so we need to prepare for an arduous war," he said in an interview posted on his Telegram channel.
"We are in such a condition that we could fucking lose Russia - that is the main problem ... We need to impose martial law."
Prigozhin said his nickname "Putin's chef" was stupid as he could not cook and had never been a chef, quipping that "Putin's butcher" might be a more apt nickname.
"They could have just given me a nickname right away — Putin's butcher, and everything would have been fine," he said.
If ordinary Russians continued getting their children back in zinc coffins while the children of the elite "shook their arses" in the sun, he said, Russia would face turmoil along the lines of the 1917 revolutions that ushered in a civil war.
"This divide can end as in 1917 with a revolution," he said.
"First the soldiers will stand up, and after that - their loved ones will rise up," he said. "There are already tens of thousands of them - relatives of those killed. And there will probably be hundreds of thousands - we cannot avoid that."
The defence ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Prigozhin criticised Russia's post-Soviet policy towards Ukraine and cast the implementation of what the Kremlin calls the "special military operation" as unclear, contradictory and confused.
Russia's military leadership, he said, had "fucked up" repeatedly during the war. The stated aim of demilitarising Ukraine, he said, had failed.
Prigozhin said Soviet leader Josef Stalin would not have accepted such failure. A cross-border attack into Russia's Belgorod region indicated the failures of the military leadership, he said, warning that Ukraine would seek to strike deeper into Russia.
Russia needed to mobilise more men and to gear the economy exclusively to war, Prigozhin said.
Wagner, he said, had recruited around 50,000 convicts during the war, of whom about 20% had perished. Around the same amount of his contract soldiers - 10,000 - had perished, he said.
In Bakhmut, Prigozhin said, Ukraine had suffered casualties of 50,000-70,000 wounded and 50,000 dead.
Reuters is unable to verify casualty claims from either side, and neither Russia nor Ukraine release figures on their own casualties. Ukraine has said Russian losses are far higher than its losses.
Prigozhin said Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu should be replaced by Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev while Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov should be replaced by Sergei Surovikin, nicknamed "General Armageddon" by the Russian media.
Asked about his political credo: "I love my motherland, I serve Putin, Shoigu should be judged and we will fight on."
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Alex Richardson)