Bakhmut Frontline 'Will Crumble' Without Wagner Fighters—Prigozhin

Russia's front line in eastern Ukraine "will crumble" if Wagner fighters "roll back" from the heavily contested city of Bakhmut, according to mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Speaking in a video translated and posted online by Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to Ukraine's internal ministry, Prigozhin can be seen discussing the role of Wagner Group mercenary fighters in hot spots of fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The paramilitary recruits have been fighting alongside Russia's conventional military forces to try and capture the embattled Donetsk city of Bakhmut, which has experienced heavy fighting and bombardment for months.

If the Wagner fighters are taken out of the equation, "it is clear the front line will crumble," Prigozhin said in the video. Ukrainian forces may then advance to Russia's borders or "maybe even further," Prigozhin added.

Ukrainian Fighters Bakhmut
Ukrainian servicemen load a shell into a howitzer to fire towards Russian positions near the front line town of Bakhmut on March 2, 2023. The front line of Russia's offensives in eastern Ukraine, including Bakhmut, "will crumble" if Wagner forces retreat, according to mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin. DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images

"In general, the situation will be hard for all the paramilitaries that protect the interests of Russia," the Russian billionaire continued.

Calling the Wagner Group "cement," he said the mercenary force "stabilizes" the front and "prevents the enemy from breaking through."

"If we step back, then we will go down in history forever as the people who took the main step to losing the war," he said.

The video, which does not have a time stamp or date, has appeared on Twitter and in Ukrainian media, but was not publicly posted to the paramilitary outfit's official Telegram page.

However, former FSB officer and "milblogger" Igor Girkin, also known as Igor Strelkov, said the video had been recorded two weeks prior to it surfacing, without detailing his sources. Writing on Telegram, he said the Wagner Group "affects the overall strategic situation on the front to a very small extent."

On Saturday, the Washington-based think tank the Institute for the Study of War said Russian forces had "made one limited confirmed advance near Bakhmut" that day. Moscow's forces had likely gained an advantage to launch a "turning movement," the think tank added.

This could force Ukrainian forces to abandon their defensive positions to avoid encirclement, the ISW argued, although it said Russian fighters had not yet succeeded in driving Kyiv's forces from the city.

Wagner Group fighters had made gains in the east and northeast of the city, according to the ISW, citing Russian sources. The mercenary force had "committed its most advanced and prepared elements to assault operations in the area," the think tank added.

Kyiv has also sent in elite units to support its forces in Bakhmut, the British defense ministry said on Saturday, adding the city was under "increasingly severe pressure."

Ukraine's General Staff of the Armed Forces said on Sunday they had repelled Russian attacks in and around Bakhmut, but that Russian forces were still attempting "to surround the city."

Civilians are evacuating Bakhmut on foot after it became too dangerous to flee in vehicles, the Associated Press reported on Saturday,

Newsweek has reached out to the Ukrainian and Russian defense ministries.