(RFE/RL) — Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the owner of the mercenary group Wagner, has rejected a report saying he plans to scale back his military operations in Ukraine and instead concentrate on Africa, where Wagner was previously involved in local conflicts and businesses.
Responding to a March 23 report by Bloomberg, which cited its sources saying ammunition and personnel shortages had prompted Prigozhin to reconsider Wagner’s role in Ukraine, the man known as “Putin’s chef” said in a post on Telegram. ” I do not know what Bloomberg is reporting about.”
“Apparently, they know better than myself what we will do further. As long as we are needed by our nation, we will fight on the territory of Ukraine,” he added.
For several months, Russia and Ukraine have been locked in intense trench warfare along a front line of more than 120 kilometers in Ukraine’s Donbas region, including the cities of Bakhmut, Avdiyivka, and Maryinka.
Prigozhin has called the Bakhmut offensive a “meat grinder” and has clashed with Russian military officials over ammunition supplies while reportedly taking heavy casualties, depleting his forces.
The Bloomberg report said that Russia’s top military officials consider Prigozhin a threat and discontinued his practice of recruiting inmates from Russian penitentiaries to reinforce his ranks. It also said some officials see Wagner as an incapable group that has been unable to take Bakhmut.
Prigozhin himself in recent days has issued pessimistic statements warning of a likely Ukrainian counterassault.
Bloomberg said there had been no confirmation of Wagner forces being transferred to Africa, though it noted that online advertisements for potential Wagner contractors offer six-month tours of duty in Ukraine or for 9-14 months in Africa.
Prigozhin became known as “Putin’s chef” because of his company’s catering operations for the Russian leader.
Members of the Wagner mercenary group, thousands of whom were recruited from correctional institutions across Russia, have been actively involved in Russia’s ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine launched in February last year.
Several countries have declared Wagner a terrorist organization.