Russia Is Headed For Revolution, Warns Wagner Mercenary Leader

Yevgeniy Prigozhin said a high death toll and the unwillingness of middle-class Russians to fight could lead to 1917 all over again.
​Yevgeny Prigozhin wagner russia revolution
Yevgeny Prigozhin. PHOTO: Telegram 

Immediately after claiming his mercenary convict army captured the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, Wagner PMC boss Yevgeniy Prigozhin warned that the invasion of Ukraine has failed thus far and could lead to an internal revolution in Russia because of anger at economic and political elites.

Prigozhin, a one-time convict turned Putin-loyalist oligarch, said on his Telegram channel  that Wagner had lost at least 20 percent of the 50,000 convicts it recruited from prisons last year in 10 months of brutal human-wave attacks. These attacks eventually completely destroyed Bakhmut, formerly a city of 70,000 in the Donetsk area of eastern Ukraine, and left Ukraine’s army holding the high ground around the city. He also said Wagner had lost a similar number of its better-trained regular fighters, who have long operated in Syria, Libya and across Africa. 


Prigozhin’s statement of at least 20,000 dead in just the last few months of the siege is by far the highest estimate of Russian deaths offered by the leadership in the 14-month-old full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 

Western military analysts strongly suspect Russia has lost more than 200,000 soldiers killed or wounded since the start of the war, including about half that in the last five months. By contrast, Russia lost about 15,000 killed in 10 years of attempting to pacify Afghanistan in the 1980s. 

These losses and what Prigozhin claimed was the unwillingness of rich and middle-class Russians to volunteer for the war could lead to social strife that could threaten the Russian state.

“This divide can end as in 1917 with a revolution,” he said. “First the soldiers will stand up, and after that – their loved ones will rise up. There are already tens of thousands of them – relatives of those killed. And there will probably be hundreds of thousands – we cannot avoid that.”

In the Telegram interview with the pro-regime blogger Konstantin Dolgov, Prigozhin also described the invasion failing “spectacularly” and resulted in Ukraine being far more militarised. 


“If they, figuratively speaking, had 500 tanks at the beginning of the special operation, now they have 5,000,” he said. “If they had 20,000 fighters who knew how to fight, now they have 400,000. How did we ‘demilitarise’ it? Now it turns out that we militarised it — hell knows how.”

But Prigozhin didn’t take the failure as a sign that Russia should consider negotiations with Ukraine. Instead, he called for a total mobilisation of the country for war, sending all eligible men to the front and redirecting the rest of Russia’s workforce to work in munitions factories. 

“We are in a situation where we can simply fucking lose Russia,” Prigozhin said. “We must introduce martial law. We… must announce new waves of mobilisation; we must put everyone who is capable to work on increasing the production of ammunition,” he said. “Russia needs to live like North Korea for a few years, so to say, close the borders… and work hard.”

A senior NATO official involved in arming Ukraine, who lacks permission to speak on the record, told VICE News that they were baffled by Prigozhin’s logic. “I’m not going to comment on this beyond suggesting Prigozhin is close to understanding the actual situation, yet his policy suggestions indicate the wrong response: Losing half an army and much more than half of the well trained soldiers, while making virtually no progress on the battlefield would lead me to a very different conclusion.” 


“But Prigozhin is a troll and knows the only way to stay in Putin’s good graces is to out radicalise his many political opponents in Russia,” they added.

Prigozhin, and to a lesser extent, the pro-Moscow Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov, have been staunch critics of both the Ministry of Defense and Russian Army leadership. Just weeks ago, Prigozin accused the army of refusing to supply Wagner fighters with artillery ammunition, blamed the army leadership for Wagner’s apparently huge number of deaths, and threatened to remove his fighters from the battlefield before the victory. He has repeatedly suggested top army officials and their families go to the front to die and reclaim their honour.  

“Prigozhin is… using the perception that Wagner is responsible for the capture of Bakhmut to advocate for a preposterous level of influence over the Russian war effort in Ukraine,” the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, said in a daily update on the situation.

Prigozhin also announced he would withdraw the remaining Wagner fighters from Bakhmut and allow the regular Russian military to man the frontlines on the 1st of June.

“There’s two obvious motivations here,” said the NATO official. “The first is that Wagner is absolutely decimated and is no longer allowed to recruit prison zombies to fight for him. The second is he knows that Bakhmut is that old saying: ‘Created a desert and called it victory.’ He’ll be thrilled to see the Russian Army lose Bakhmut or more during the expected Ukrainian offensive. Then he can try to impress Putin and maybe get a chance to rebuild Wagner’s manpower.”

Ukraine has been preparing for a massive offensive for months – including training and equipping no less than six new brigades – that is expected to begin in earnest in the coming days or weeks. However, Ukrainian officials said Wednesday that there will be no formal announcement and operations to prepare for a battle – such as targeting Russian supply lines and supplies of ammunition and fuel – are already underway.