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Wagner chief warns Russia faces another revolution unless ‘fat’ elite get serious about Ukraine

The head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has warned that Russia could face a revolution similar to 1917 unless the Russian “elite” gets serious about fighting the war in Ukraine.

In an expletive-ridden interview with pro-Kremlin blogger Konstantin Dolgov, Prigozhin condemned the elite for exempting their children from the military draft, according to a translation by The Times.

With the death toll already in the tens of thousands, he said, class tensions could trigger an uprising similar to the events leading to the Bolshevik seizure of power 106 years ago.

Speaking on Telegram, Prigozhin said: “The children of the elite smear themselves with creams and show off on the internet, while ordinary people’s children come home in zinc [coffins], torn to pieces.

“I recommend that the elite of the Russian Federation gathers up its youth and send them to war.”

Prigozhin said their “fat, carefree” lives could spark outrage, leading working class citizens to storm the elite’s “villas” with “pitchforks”.

FILE - In this grab taken from video and released by Prigozhin Press Service Saturday, May 20, 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group military company speaks holding a Russian national flag in front of his soldiers in Bakhmut, Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday, May 21, 2023 that Russian forces weren't occupying Bakhmut, casting doubt on Moscow's insistence that the eastern Ukrainian city had fallen. (Prigozhin Press Service via AP, File)
Screen grab from video of Prigozhin holding a Russian national flag in front of his soldiers in Bakhmut (Photo: Prigozhin Press Service/AP)

“This divide can end as in 1917 with a revolution,” he added.

“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.”

Russia’s most powerful mercenary said his political outlook was dominated by love for the motherland and serving Russian President Vladimir Putin, but cautioned that Moscow 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 f**king lose Russia – that is the main problem … We need to impose martial law.”

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 on May 20, 2023, along with a statement by Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin about taking full control of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. Press service of "Concord"/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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 (Photo: Reuters)

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 “f**ked 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 added.

Wagner, he claimed, had recruited around 50,000 convicts during the war, of whom about 20 per cent had perished. Around the same amount of his contract soldiers – 10,000 – had perished, he said.

In Bakhmut, a small eastern city is believed to have fallen to Russia in recent days after a lengthy siege, Ukraine had suffered casualties of 50,000-70,000 wounded and 50,000 dead, Prigozhin added.

Ukraine has not said how many of its soldiers have died since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

(FILES) This video grab taken from a shooting by AFPTV shows an aerial view of destructions during fighting in the city of Bakhmut on February 27, 2023. Russia's private army Wagner claimed on May 20, 2023, the total control of the east Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, the epicentre of fighting, as Kyiv said the battle was continuing but admitted the situation was "critical". Bakhmut, a salt mining town that once had a population of 70,000 people, has been the scene of the longest and bloodiest battle in Moscow's more than year-long Ukraine offensive. The fall to Russia of Bakhmut, where both Moscow and Kyiv are believed to have suffered huge losses, would have high symbolic value. (Photo by AFPTV / AFP) (Photo by -/AFPTV/AFP via Getty Images)
President Zelensky said the city of Bakhmut had been destoyed by the fighting (Photo: AFPTV/AFP)

Earlier on Wednesday, the acting head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic announced plans to rename Bakhmut to Artemovsk, as it was under the Soviet Union.

“Bakhmut had the misfortune to be Ukrainian. Now it’s not Ukraine, it’s Russia. And it’s not Bakhmut — it’s Artemovsk,” said Denis Pushlin, who was installed as head of Donetsk following Russia’s illegal annexation.

Prigozhin has himself acknowledged that Bakhmut, a city of 70,000 people before the war, had no strategic significance, but it took on huge symbolic importance for both sides because of the sheer intensity of the fighting and the scale of losses.

A report by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) published on Wednesday concluded that the campaign “ended as a purely symbolic gesture that cost tens of thousands of Russian casualties”.

The battle of Bakhmut exposed several key flaws in Russian planning, the ISW said, which could have could have Wagner forces sitting out key parts of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Elsewhere, UK Defence Minister Ben Wallace arrived in Kyiv for an unannounced visit on Wednesday to meet his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksii Reznikov.

The Ukrainian defence secretary said the pair had a “very meaningful discussion” on increasing Kyiv’s defence capabilities and long-range weapons – including Storm Shadow missiles. 

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