By Guy Faulconbridge
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group, has warned that Russia could face a revolution similar to those of 1917 and lose the conflict in Ukraine unless the elite takes the war seriously .
Russia’s most powerful mercenary said his political outlook was dominated by love for the fatherland and President Vladimir Putin, but warned Russia was in danger of unrest.
Prigozhin said there was a supposedly optimistic view that the West would tire of war and China would broker a peace deal, but he didn’t really believe in that interpretation.
Instead, he said, Ukraine was planning a counteroffensive aimed at pushing Russian troops back to its borders before 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea. Ukraine would try to encircle Bakhmut, at the center of intense fighting in the east, and attack Crimea, he added.
“Most likely, this scenario will not be good for Russia, so we have to prepare for an arduous war,” he said in an interview posted on his Telegram channel.
“We are in a situation where we could lose Russia, that is the main problem… We have to impose martial law.”
Prigozhin said his nickname “Putin’s chef” was silly because he couldn’t cook and had never been a chef, joking that “Putin’s butcher” might be a more appropriate nickname.
“They could have given me a nickname right away – Putin’s Butcher, and everything would have been fine,” he said.
If ordinary Russians continued to bring their children home in zinc coffins while elite children “shake their ass” in the sun, he said, Russia would face turmoil of the type of revolutions of 1917 which started a civil war.
“This fracture can end like in 1917 with a revolution,” he said.
“First the soldiers will stand up, and after that their relatives will stand up,” he said. “There are already tens of thousands – relatives of those who were killed. And there will probably be hundreds of thousands – we cannot avoid this.”
The Department of Defense did not respond to a request for comment.
Prigozhin criticized Russia’s post-Soviet policy towards Ukraine and called the implementation of what the Kremlin calls “the special military operation” unclear, contradictory and confusing.
Russian military leaders, he said, repeatedly “screwed up” during the war. The stated goal of demilitarizing Ukraine, he said, has failed.
Prigozhin said Soviet leader Josef Stalin would not have accepted such a failure. A cross-border attack in Russia’s Belgorod region indicated failures of military leadership, he said, warning that Ukraine would seek to strike deeper into Russia.
Russia needed to mobilize more men and direct the economy exclusively towards war, Prigozhin said.
Wagner, he said, had recruited about 50,000 convicts during the war, of whom about 20 percent had perished. About the same number of his contract soldiers – 10,000 – had perished, he said.
In Bakhmut, Prigozhin said, Ukraine suffered casualties of 50,000 to 70,000 wounded and 50,000 dead.
Reuters is unable to verify victim statements on either side, and neither Russia nor Ukraine release figures on their own victims. Ukraine said Russian losses were far greater than its own losses.
Prigozhin said Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu should be replaced by Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev while Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov should be replaced by Sergei Surovikin, dubbed “General Armageddon” by Russian media.
Asked about his political credo: “I love my homeland, I serve Putin, Shoigu must be judged and we will continue to fight.”
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Alex Richardson)