Battle for Bakhmut grinds down Wagner’s mercenaries and cuts their notorious leader down to size

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the combative boss of Russia’s Wagner private military group, relishes his role as an anti-establishment maverick, but signs are growing that the Moscow establishment now has him pinned down and gasping for breath.

Prigozhin placed a bet on his mercenaries raising the Russian flag in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, albeit at a considerable cost to the ranks of his force and probably to his own fortune.

He spent heavily on recruiting as many as 40,000 prisoners to throw into the fight, but after months of grinding battle and staggering losses he is struggling to replenish Wagner’s ranks, all the while accusing Russia’s Ministry of Defense of trying to strangle his force.

Many analysts think his suspicions are well-founded – that Russia’s military establishment is using the Bakhmut “meat-grinder” to cut him down to size or eliminate him as a political force altogether.

At the weekend, Prigozhin acknowledged that the battle in Bakhmut was “difficult, very difficult, with the enemy fighting for each meter.”

In another video message, Prigozhin said: “We need the military to shield the approaches (to Bakhmut). If they manage to do so, everything will be okay. If not, then Wagner will be encircled together with the Ukrainians inside Bakhmut.”