Wagner boss 'secretly offered to help Ukraine attack Russian army if they let his notorious mercenaries capture Bakhmut'

15 May 2023, 10:21 | Updated: 15 May 2023, 10:33

Prigozhin wanted to capture Bakhmut from Ukraine, where Kyiv's forces are counter attacking
Prigozhin wanted to capture Bakhmut from Ukraine, where Kyiv's forces are counter attacking. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

The head of the notorious Wagner mercenary group secretly offered to give Ukraine information that would let them bombard the Russian army if they withdrew from parts of Bakhmut, leaked documents show.

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Previously unreported US intelligence that was leaked to Discord shows that Yevgeny Prigozhin has kept secret communications with Kyiv throughout the war.

The businessman, once so close to the Kremlin he was called "Putin's chef" but now a frequent critic of Russian failures in the war, threw thousands of his mercenaries into the meat grinder in Bakhmut.

He appeared determined to have his private soldiers, many of whom were convicted criminals recruited out of jail, capture the eastern city so he could claim it as a personal victory and shame the regular Russian military.

Read more: UK pledges hundreds of new attack drones ahead of Volodymyr Zelenskyy's surprise visit

Prigozhin has repeatedly criticised the Kremlin in videos
Prigozhin has repeatedly criticised the Kremlin in videos. Picture: Alamy

He has frequently lashed out at Russian commanders in his videos, and tried to publicly embarrass the Kremlin into supplying him with more ammunition so he could take Bakhmut.

There are questions over whether he is building influence to eventually take on Putin in the next presidential election.

The leaks do not say which Russian positions he was willing to give up.

He has criticised other Russian units during the siege of Bakhmut, where Ukraine has launched a counter-attack that threatens to undo months of small gains taken by Russia through attrition and brutal fighting.

The Bakhmut counter attack has been launched
The Bakhmut counter attack has been launched. Picture: Alamy

The Washington Post said two Ukrainian officials said Prigozhin has spoken to the HUR, Ukraine's intelligence agency, several times and had made the offer about Bakhmut more than once.

However, it was rejected over fears he was misleading them. The leaks suggest Kyiv believed Moscow knew about his communication, though it might not have been aware of his offer about Bakhmut.

There was also a suggestion from Ukraine's top spy, Kyrylo Budanov, that the Russian government might want to paint him as an agent for Kyiv.

Read more: Zelenskyy holds talks with Pope Francis in Rome as Italy pledges full support in Ukraine's fight against Russia

A document says he had secretly met with HUR officers in Africa, where Wagner has several contracts.

The leaks suggest he complained about how many fighters he had lost and asked Ukraine to attack regular Russian forces harder.

Prigozhin also told a Ukrainian spy that Ukraine should make an attack on Crimea, the peninsula Russia seized in 2014, because forces there had low morale.

The area around Bakhmut has been a bloodbath
The area around Bakhmut has been a bloodbath. Picture: Alamy

There is no part of Ukraine more important to Putin than the occupied peninsula, which is symbolic for many Russians.

He also told them he knew his own mercenaries were suffering from low morale and did not want to fight in Bakhmut.

Prigozhin mocked the leak on Telegram. He said: "Yes of course I can confirm this information, we have nothing to hide from the foreign special services. Budanov and I are still in Africa."

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