Wagner Group chief impassive as Russian casualties soar in Ukraine
The head of the Wagner Group of mercenaries watched impassively as his fallen fighters were stacked up in black body bags in a gloomy makeshift morgue in eastern Ukraine.
“Their contracts have finished. They will go home next week. They died heroically at the front,” said Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Kremlin-linked tycoon who controls the private paramilitary group.
Prigozhin could then be seen looking on as more bodies were loaded from a lorry on to stretchers. “So long, guys. Happy new year!” he said, according to a video published by his own media outlet.
Prigozhin was visiting the front line in Bakhmut, a town in eastern Ukraine that has witnessed some of the bloodiest fighting. “That’s how Prigozhin sends off his Wagner members,” Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister, wrote on Twitter. “They are just thrown on top of each other in black bags, like garbage.”
Although Bakhmut is of little strategic importance, Russia has sacrificed vast numbers of troops in an as yet unsuccessful attempt to take the town. “Everyone wants to know when we will capture [Bakhmut],” Prigozhin told state media. “[But] every house has become a fortress. Our guys sometimes fight for more than a day over one house. Sometimes they fight for weeks over one house. Every ten metres there is a defensive line.”
The British Ministry of Defence said yesterday that Ukraine had sent reinforcements to the region and Russia was unlikely to make any breakthrough in Bakhmut soon. “Both sides have suffered high casualties,” the MoD said.
Bakhmut has been devastated by the fighting, and fewer than 10,000 people out of a prewar population of 70,000 remain in the ruined town, once known for its sparkling wines. It is believed that Prigozhin, who served nine years in a Soviet prison for robbery, wants to capture it to boost his influence in Moscow. Some analysts have said that the Wagner chief may have ambitions to succeed President Putin.
Prigozhin has openly recruited inmates from Russian prisons for the war in Ukraine, offering them their freedom in return for a six-month tour of duty. Up to 35,000 convicts are thought to have taken up his offer. Russian law does not allow prisoners to be given amnesty in return for military service.
In a separate video Prigozhin could be seen telling a group of injured fighters that they were expected to stay at the front even if they had lost limbs. “The fact that they have been left without legs, without arms, without their eyesight doesn’t mean they [can] go home,” Prigozhin said. “They can carry out duties that don’t require both legs. They can work as sappers. If another mine explodes, their metal leg will be blown off and we’ll weld another one on.”
Moscow said yesterday that 89 of its troops died when US-supplied Himars missiles hit a building housing Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine. The Russian defence ministry said the main reason for the carnage, in which according to Ukraine 400 lives were lost, was the unauthorised use of mobile phones by the troops, giving away their location. The ministry added that a commission was investigating the circumstances of the attack and the culprits would be brought to justice.
Body of third Russian found in India
A shipping engineer from Murmansk has been found dead in India, the third Russian to die in the country in suspicious circumstances in the past two weeks. The body of Sergei Milyakov, 51, was found early yesterday morning in his cabin aboard the ship MB Aldnah anchored at Paradip port in Jagatsinghpur, in the eastern state of Odisha. The ship was said to be en route from Bangladesh to Mumbai.
Paradip port’s chairman said an investigation into the death had been launched.
It comes after two wealthy Russians died in a hotel in Odisha last month. Pavel Antov, 65, who was a member of the ruling United Russia party and founder of Vladimir Standard, a Russian sausage company, was discovered lying in a pool of blood at the Hotel Sai International in Rayagada on December 24.
Antov had been travelling with a group of friends to celebrate his birthday, one of whom was Vladimir Bidenov, a 61-year-old businessman. He was also found dead at the same hotel two days earlier.
Reports suggested that Bidenov had either died from a heart attack or a stroke, and his body was found surrounded by bottles.