Former Russian commander Igor Girkin, also known as Igor Ivanovich Strelkov, criticized Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner Group, and the Kremlin’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu over Moscow’s recent operations in Ukraine.
Grikin said in a Telegram post that the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary mercenary organization, cannot be disbanded following the battle in Bakhmut, which according to British defense officials is becoming intense and has weakened Ukrainian troops facing Moscow’s attacks.
The former Russian commander suggested that Russian troops along with Wagner should be withdrawn from the frontlines of the battlefield “for replenishment and reorganization, in order to subsequently be used in a more promising strategic direction to break through the front.”
But he also contended that removing Prigozhin from leading Wagner was “urgently necessary.”
Above, a member of Ukraine’s 10th Mountain Brigade looks towards the horizon before firing on Russian troops on March 2 in the Donetsk Region of eastern Ukraine. Former Russian commander Igor Ivanovich Strelkov, also known as Igor Girkin, criticized Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner Group, a private military force and Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu over recent Russian defense operations in Ukraine. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
“Since his political ambitions (multiplied by psychopathy, the organization’s demonstrative war crimes, a tendency to shamelessly and in many respects falsely self-promote and spread rotten ‘criminal concepts’ to the armed forces)—only harm both Wagner and the common cause of victory over ‘Ukraine,'” Girkin wrote.
He continued: “However, all of the above (except for ‘war crimes’) also applies to the non-plywood Marshal [Sergei] Shoigu. In short, it is necessary to drive [out] both and it is better to drive [out] both at once, because ‘two boots [become] a pair.'”
Regular Russian military troops and fighters with Wagner have advanced further into the northern suburbs of Bakhmut, which is now a major Ukrainian-held area “vulnerable to Russian attacks on three sides,” the British Ministry of Defense said on Thursday.
Ukrainian forces are now under increasing pressure from the Russian army, the British military intelligence said on Saturday. Ukraine is reinforcing the area with elite units and has destroyed two key bridges. One of them was important for connecting Bakhmut to the last main supply route to the city of Chasiv Yar.
“Ukrainian-held resupply routes out of the town are increasingly limited,” added the British defense update. Meanwhile the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) released a separate assessment, stating that the bridges’ destruction could be a preparation to a Ukrainian withdrawal.
“Ukrainian forces appear to be setting conditions for a controlled fighting withdrawal from parts of Bakhmut,” said the ISW on Friday. The D.C. think tank said the destruction of bridges probably suggested Ukrainian troops want to restrict Russian movement in eastern Bakhmut and limit westward Russian egress routes.
Girkin has previously criticized Prigozhin, with the two engaging in recent public spats as the Wagner Group failed to make major advances in eastern Ukraine.
The Wagner Group reportedly has been trying to recruit prisoners to fight in Ukraine, and reportedly threatened them with new criminal cases and solitary confinement should they refuse to join. Prigozhin claimed in February that the Group is no longer recruiting Russian prisoners for the war.
“The recruitment of prisoners by the Wagner private military company has completely stopped,” Prigozhin said at the time on the Telegram account of the company Concord, which he owns. “We are fulfilling all our obligations to those who work for us now.”
Girkin then commented on the statement, suggesting that the Wagner Group’s time in Ukraine is limited, and that the order to terminate prisoner recruitment came from the Kremlin itself.
“I believe that the termination of the recruitment was caused by an ‘order from above’. And (after some time) it will seriously affect Wagner’s ability to successfully assault one position after another head-on, as is happening now near Bakhmut,” he said at the time in a Telegram post.
Newsweek reached out to the Russian defense ministry for comment.