Russia's Wagner group could soon cease to exist, founder tells blogger

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By David Ljunggren

(Reuters) - Russia's private Wagner militia, which is leading the assault on Bakhmut in Ukraine and has been active in Africa, could soon cease to exist, founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said in video remarks to a blogger that were released on Friday.

It was not immediately clear when Prigozhin had spoken and how serious he was being. Earlier this week he withdrew comments about the frontline he said had been a joke.

Prigozhin has complained repeatedly about how Russia is conducting the war in Ukraine. He often says the regular armed forces are not giving his men the ammunition they need and sometimes accuses top brass of betrayal.

"Now, with regard to the need in general for shells at the front, what we want. Today we are coming to the point where Wagner is ending," he told Russian war blogger Semyon Pegov.

"Wagner, in a short period of time, will cease to exist. We will become history, nothing to worry about, things like this happen," he continued.

Pegov posted the clip on his Telegram channel. Wagner did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prigozhin, known for his combative style and ironic sense of humour, said on Thursday he had been joking when he said his forces would stop shelling Bakhmut to allow Ukrainian forces to show the city to U.S. journalists.

Prigozhin said this week his troops were suffering heavy casualties due to a lack of support from Moscow.

Last week he expressed concern about a counter-attack by well-equipped Ukrainian troops at Bakhmut.

Wagner has in the past dispatched soldiers to fight in Syria and in conflicts across Africa.

In January, the United States formally designated Wagner as a transnational criminal organization, freezing its U.S. assets for helping Russia's military in the Ukraine war.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)