Wavell Room
Image default
LandOpinion

Prigozhin opens a window into Wagner’s world

Wagner private military company (PMC) founder and boss Yevgeny Prigozhin has gained many epithets over the course of the war.  Most recently he has been the conflict’s Complainer-in-Chief.  The grievance has been over a topic testing all sides: ‘shell hunger’.  On 16 February 2023 four Wagner gunners posted a video on Telegram complaining about the lack of ammunition resupply.  This was not the first such video.  At the end of December 2022 Wagner artillerymen posted a similar clip and brazenly insulted Chief of the General Staff Gerasimov.

The MOD responded to the complaint with a statement of denial on 21 February 2023.  This provoked Prigozhin into posting a copy of Wagner’s ammunition demands for the Bakhmut front for 18-20 February.  This is the first occasion that such information has been revealed in the war.  Prigozhin intention was to embarrass the MOD – and his ploy worked.  But it also provided an unintended intelligence bonus.  This article examines what Prigozhin’s ammunition demand tells us about Wagner’s world.

Yevgeny Prigozhin: orchestra manager of industrialised death Source: AP/TASS

Over one million shells later

The ammunition demand, as stated, relates to 18-20 February for forces on the Bakhmut front.  Around 70% of the ammunition was destined for Wagner.  The balance was shared between three Russian Army airborne regiments (in reality depleted battalions tactical groups)1and troops from a ‘brigade’ of the Donetsk militia.  This was also likely no more than a weak battalion.

The one-pager shows a table with three columns.  The first column with 21 rows lists the ammunition types.  Unfortunately, these are not spelled out but Censor.net Editor-in-Chief Yuriy Butisov has made sensible guesses from hand-written text scrawled on the side.  The second column is the one-day demand.  The third and last column is a 10-day demand.  The latter is a legacy of the communist era.  Each working month was divided into three 10-day cycles.  Outputs or targets were set for each period.  These mattered because end-of-month bonuses, supplementing low salaries, depended on achieving the outputs.  The system was incitement to collective mendacity and corruption that blights Russia to this day.  How could an apparatchik in a Moscow government office possibly tell if Red October Factory No 1 in Omsk had achieved set monthly targets?

The 18-20 February ammunition demand for the Bakhmut front posted by Prigozhin Source: Prigozhin’s press service

In the right of the last column, someone, presumably Prigozhin, has hand-written the actual ammunition quantities received.  Line item 1 is believed to be 152 mm shells.2  The document claims 10,566 shells were demanded, but only 3,600 received.  This is still a large number in a relatively small sector and sufficient to maintain a sustained weight of fire for one day.

The other rows cannot be deciphered but in an indicative statement, Prigozhin said: ‘For a period of two days from February 18 to 20, 2023, the volunteers of the assault detachments were given: 1,660 rockets for salvo fire systems; 10,171 ammunition for large-calibre barrel artillery and mortars; 980 ammunition for tanks.’  These are also significant quantities of ammunition.  Over 10,000 rounds for artillery systems and mortars is more than the entire Ukrainian Army can afford to fire off in one day.  980 tanks rounds are sufficient to fully bomb up two tank companies. 1,660 rockets are sufficient for over 80 salvos from BM-21 Grads.

Prigozhin may complain over insufficient ammunition resupply, but the numbers are telling a story of significant ammunition expenditure.  If Wagner were to fire off 10,000 shells every day, this would be the equivalent of 3.5 million shells per year.  If the lower number of 3,600 shells is assumed, one year’s worth would be roughly 1.3 million shells.  ‘Shell hunger’ is a relative concept.

Russian weights of artillery and rocket fire have declined but they remain heavy.  At the time of writing (27 February 2023), spokesman for the Eastern Group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Serhii Cherevaty, reported ‘300 shellings…from various types artillery, rocket artillery, volley fire systems’ on the Bakhmut front.  As a rough rule of thumb, a ‘shelling’ may be multiplied by five (the number of shells fired before the firer moves), so this would imply around 1,500 shells and rockets.  Much lower daily ‘shellings’ are also reported.  Nevertheless, overall numbers suggest shell production, combined with reserve stocks and secret imports from North Korea, are sustaining the Russian war effort.

The reason for the shells: ‘meat attacks’

Prigozhin posted another image alongside the ammunition demand.  (Editor’s note: the image shows a large pile of bodies and we have chosen not to publish it here.  Viewer discresion is advised, but the source is Source: Prigozhin’s press service).  Revelling in also being the war’s ‘Shocker-in-Chief’, he wrote: Ammunition was not given to us and is not given.  It is now 10 o’clock in the morning on February 22.  No steps have been taken to issue ammunition.  What is the problem?  I will explain.  I am posting a photo below.  This is one of the gathering places of the dead . This guys who died yesterday due to the so-called projectile starvation.  There should have been 5 times less of them.’

Bakhmut today: a cemetery for Wagner fighters Source: Gazeta.ru

Coincidentally, on 18 February 2023, US National Security Council, John Kirby briefed Wagner PMC had likely suffered 30,000 killed and wounded since the start of the war, with half killed since December.  The true number may never be known because the mercenary group keeps minimal electronic records (with fighters are paid in cash, for example, and not through bank accounts).

Nonetheless, the number of dead may be an under-estimate.  At the beginning of December 2022, the DPR leadership reported just over 4,000 fatalities since the start of the war.  The Donetsk militia have been reluctant and even mutinous fighters.  Wagner’s zeks (convicts) have been used as cannon-fodder and threatened with execution if they fail to advance regardless of casualties.  The mercenary group has been involved in the heaviest fighting in the Popasna salient, Severodonetsk pocket, and today in Bakhmut.  The butcher’s bill since last summer must be big.  Prigozhin likes to boast of the fighting prowess of Wagner PMC.  But perhaps he will ultimately be remembered as the orchestra manager of industrialised death.

 

Sergio Miller

Sergio Miller is a retired British Army Intelligence Corps officer.  He was a regular contributor and book reviewer forBritish Army Review.  He is the author of a two-part history of the Vietnam War (Osprey/Bloomsbury) and is currently drafting a history of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Footnotes

  1. Units reported on the Bakhmut front are two BTGs of 137th Guards Airborne Regiment and one from 51st Guards Airborne Regiment. All are subordinate the Tula-based 106th Guards Tula Airborne Division.
  2. Used by Msta-S, Msta-B, 233 Akatsia, D-20, and D-1

Related posts

Fire and Manoeuvre: A Warning from History

Andy Johnson

Wavell Room 2018 Review

The Wavell Room Team

MDI Revisited: Evolving Towards a Revolution?

Dr Chris Tuck