The Daily Telegraph

Wagner warns of munitions shortage as troops are forced to fight with shovels

- By James Kilner

RUSSIAN troops are facing a shortage of ammunition that could lead to the frontline in Ukraine crumbling if he withdrew his forces, Wagner paramilita­ry leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has warned.

The British Ministry of Defence said yesterday that Russian soldiers were being sent into “brutal” hand-to-hand combat armed only with shovels.

It said: “Recent evidence suggests an increase in close combat in Ukraine … with less support from artillery fire because Russia is short of munitions.”

Western intelligen­ce agencies have reported that both Russia and Ukraine were using up ammunition faster than it could be replaced in the grim battle for Bakhmut.

Speaking from what appeared to be a bunker, Mr Prigozhin complained that his mercenarie­s, many of whom are exconvicts, are suffering from “shell hunger”. He said that his fighters feared the Russian army wants “to set us up and say that we are villains and that’s why we haven’t been given any ammunition”.

Rows between Wagner and the army over ammunition and pay have slowed its advance on the besieged city. Russia’s Ministry of Defence wants to exert more control over Mr Prigozhin’s auxiliary forces and he has blamed it for deliberate­ly underminin­g morale.

He also warned that if his Wagner paramilita­ries were forced to retreat, the entire Russian attack would fall apart.

“It will fall apart up to the Russian borders, and maybe even further,” he said.

Wagner has deployed an estimated 50,000 fighters to Ukraine, mainly convicts who have been promised a pardon after a six-month tour on the frontline.

The Kremlin-linked group has been used as a battering ram in Bakhmut, to wear down the Ukrainian defenders, and has taken about 10,000 casualties.

A second recruitmen­t round among Russian penal colonies in Siberia has failed to attract the same numbers of volunteers as the first round last summer, mainly because the high death rate was putting off recruits.

Instead, Wagner has set up recruitmen­t centres at sports clubs in regional cities in Russia.

The Us-based Institute for the Study of War said: “This effort may seek to offset decreases in Wagner recruitmen­t after the Wagner Group reportedly lost access to recruiting prisoners in early 2023.”

Russian military recruiters have been more successful at recruiting soldiers for the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine from regional Russian cities, which are far poorer than Moscow or St Petersburg and where education and opportunit­ies are far more limited.

Although Russian law bans mercenary groups, Wagner started openly recruiting on billboards and the side of buses last summer.

Mr Prigozhin, an oligarch, is a close confidant of Russian president Vladimir Putin. He is sometimes called “Putin’s chef ” because he owns restaurant­s and catering companies that provide services for the Kremlin.

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