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”.
“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.”
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.
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.