Russian mercenary warns of attack cutting off Russian forces
March 23, 2023

In a recent development, the owner of the Russian mercenary Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has reportedly sent an open letter to Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, warning that the Ukrainian army is planning an imminent attack aimed at cutting off his forces from the main body of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.

In the letter, which was published by Prigozhin’s press service on Monday, he claimed that a “large-scale attack” was planned for late March or the start of April. Prigozhin asked the defense minister to take all necessary measures to prevent the mercenary group from being cut off from the main forces of the Russian army, warning of “negative consequences” for the ongoing military operation.

Prigozhin, who is widely known as “Putin’s chef” due to his close ties to the Russian president, is the owner of the mercenary group, a private military company that has been involved in conflicts in Syria and Ukraine. The group is believed to be funded by the Russian state, although the Kremlin has denied any official links.

This is the first time that Prigozhin has published such correspondence with the defense minister, whom he has frequently criticized over the conduct of the war. Prigozhin claimed that Wagner forces currently controlled 70% of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which they have been trying to capture since last summer in the longest and bloodiest battle of the conflict.

In separate comments published by a regional news channel on Telegram, Prigozhin said there was a “high probability” that the southern Russian city of Belgorod would be one of the targets of the coming Ukrainian offensive. However, he did not provide any evidence to support his assertion that Ukraine might launch a full-scale attack on a Russian city.

Fierce fighting continued Tuesday in Bakhmut, but Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said there had been fewer attacks along the front line than usual over the past 24 hours. Zhdanov suggested that the decrease in fighting could be linked to the visit to Moscow by the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping. Putin is unlikely to display aggression on the front lines, especially given China’s call for a ceasefire and an end to the conflict.

In recent months, Russia has launched a massive winter offensive involving hundreds of thousands of called-up reservists and convicts recruited from jails. However, according to Ukrainian military expert Oleksandr Kovalenko, Russia has lost the initiative practically throughout the length of the front line.

The ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine has led to tensions between Russia and Ukraine, with both sides accusing each other of military build-up and provocative actions. The international community has called for an end to the violence and a return to dialogue to resolve the conflict peacefully.

As of now, it remains unclear if Prigozhin’s warning of an imminent Ukrainian attack is accurate or if it will lead to a renewed outbreak of violence in the region.

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