Wagner founder rejects claim that he is about to pull back from Ukraine, saying the group will fight there 'as long as our country needs us'

Wagner Group head Yevgeny Prigozhin
Wagner Group head Yevgeny Prigozhin attends the funeral of fighters at the Beloostrovskoye cemetery outside St. Petersburg, Russia, on December 24, 2022.AP Photo
  • The boss of Russia's Wagner Group denied reports he's set to reduce operations in Ukraine.

  • Bloomberg reported the pro-Kremlin group was making the move after seeing its recruitment hampered.

  • Yevgeny Prigozhin has been feuding with Russia's military and said his troops have been denied ammo.

The founder of the pro-Kremlin Wagner mercenary group fighting for Russia in Ukraine hit back at a report that the group will reduce its activities in Ukraine.

Sources with knowledge of Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin's plans told Bloomberg that he was preparing to reduce the group's presence in Ukraine, as he faces struggles to get manpower and ammunition amid an escalating feud with Russia's army.

Instead, he plans to focus on Africa, where Wagner has been accused of war crimes, the sources said.

But Prigozhin pushed back on the report on Thursday.

In a statement published by one of his companies, Prigozhin said: "I don't know what Bloomberg is reporting, but apparently they know better than I do what we will do next. As long as our country needs us, we are fighting on the territory of Ukraine"

Wagner, a private paramilitary group, has sent tens of thousands of mercenaries and former prisoners to fight in Ukraine. Prigozhin is a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Wagner has played a significant role in the war in Ukraine, and US officials have said that Russia's traditional military forces had started to copy the group's brutal tactics.

But the relationship with military top brass has soured, with conflicts flaring over who gets credit for Russia's limited recent successes.

Sources told Bloomberg that top Russian commanders were able to get Putin to doubt the group's abilities, saying that the results it did manage to achieve were only possible due to sending so many prisoners that it recruited to their deaths.

As a result, Prigozhin said earlier this month that he had been "cut off" by Putin, and accused Russia's military of denying ammunition to his group in an "attempt to destroy" it.

The Washington DC-based Institute for the Study of War think tank said Russia may be using the brutal fighting in the city of Bakhmut to try to weaken Prigozhin and his troops.

The UK Ministry of Defence said earlier this month that around half the prisoners that the group had recruited to fight in Ukraine have been killed or wounded.

Meanwhile, Wagner has been barred from recruiting more prisoners from Russia, the UK MOD said, predicting that it would struggle with troop numbers going forward.

The group currently has around 5,000 men in Africa, The Wall Street Journal reported. Its members have been deployed in around a dozen African nations, including the Central African Republic and Libya.

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