The head of Russia’s mercenary army said he could envision Ukraine’s upcoming offensive pushing Moscow’s troops out of occupied territory – including Crimea – and warned of harsh days ahead if his fellow citizens don’t wake up to the war’s realities.
Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said Russia should be under no illusion it can simply outlast Western support for Ukraine, whose military has become a powerful force because of weapons supplied by its U.S.-led allies.
Addressing Ukraine’s much-anticipated counteroffensive in an interview posted online late Tuesday, Prigozhin said: “A pessimistic scenario: the Ukrainians are given missiles, they prepare troops, of course they will continue their offensive, try to counterattack. They will attack Crimea, they will try to blow up the Crimean bridge, cut off (our) supply lines. Therefore, we need to prepare for a hard war.”
Prigozhin said his private army lost more than 20,000 men in the monthslong battle for the eastern city of Bakhmut, where he claimed victory over the weekend even though Ukraine says it has gained ground on the outskirts. Prigozhin has said his fighters will leave Bakhmut on Thursday and it will be up to the Russian military, with which he has been feuding for months, to protect it.
Known for his bluster and sometimes outlandish statements, Prigozhin also said Russia could be looking at turmoil similar to the 1917 revolution if regular families continue to have their sons killed in battle while the elites remain unaffected.
"First the soldiers will stand up, and after that their loved ones will rise up," he said. "There are already tens of thousands of them, relatives of those killed. And there will probably be hundreds of thousands – we cannot avoid that."
A day after Russian authorities said they had quashed a cross-border raid from Ukraine, their forces repelled "a large number'' of drones in yet another attack in Russia’s Belgorod region. The drones were intercepted overnight, Belgorod Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said, reporting no injuries. Russia said the attacks are coming from Ukrainian military saboteurs, while Kyiv described them as an uprising against the Kremlin by Russian partisans.
A U.S. aircraft carrier arrived Wednesday in Oslo to prepare for joint exercises with the Norwegian military. Norway shares a 123-mile-long border with Russia, which objected to the exercises. The nuclear-powered USS Gerald R. Ford, the world's largest aircraft carrier, is making its first foreign port visit after launching in 2017. Prompted in part by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, neighboring Finland joined NATO in April.
Alexander Shiplyuk, one of three Russian experts on hypersonic missile technology arrested on suspicion of treason, has been accused of sharing classified information with China, Reuters reported. Shiplyuk, 56, maintains the information was not secret and can be found online.
Ukrainians likely responsible for drone attack on Kremlin, reports say
Ukrainian operatives were likely behind the high-profile drone attack on the Kremlin caught on video earlier this month, the New York Times reported, citing unnamed U.S. officials. A CNN report made a similar assertion, saying Ukrainians may have been responsible for the action.
The two-drone assault, thwarted by Moscow air defenses, was the latest in a series of covert operations inside Russian soil that have made the Biden administration uncomfortable because of their potential for expanding the war beyond Ukraine’s borders, the Times said.
U.S. intelligence agencies had not ascertained which unit Ukrainian unit orchestrated the attack and whether the country’s top officials knew about it, but some U.S. officials believe President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was not informed, the Times said.
The Kremlin called the incident an assassination attempt against President Vladimir Putin, who was not in Moscow at the time. Zelenskyy denied such a plot, saying, "We don’t attack Putin or Moscow."
Amid Western sanctions, Russia gets closer to China
Isolated by the West over its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has instead strengthened its connections to China, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said Wednesday.
Mishustin met with his Chinese counterpart, Li Qiang, in Beijing to sign agreements for energy exports and other trade deals. Though Western sanctions have cut Russia off from most markets, it continues doing business with China.
Speaking Wednesday, Mishustin did not mention the 15-month-old war but instead focused on Russia-China cooperation aimed at countering the United States' global leadership.
"Today, relations between Russia and China are at an unprecedented high level," Mishustin, the highest-ranking Russian official to visit Beijing since the war started, told Li.
Desertions a growing problem for Russians
Russia has grappled with a substantial increase in desertions since ordering a partial mobilization in September 2022, said the British Defense Ministry, citing research from independent Russian journalists that shows 1,053 cases between January and May 2023, more than in all of 2022.
The punishment for those trying to escape the war? Oftentimes a return to the war, said the ministry, pointing out those found guilty of desertion usually get suspended sentences, meaning they can be sent back to combat.
"Russia’s efforts to improve discipline have focused on making examples of defaulters and promoting patriotic zeal,'' the ministry said in its latest war assessment, "rather than addressing the root causes of soldiers’ disillusionment.''
Japan to give Ukraine 100 military vehicles
Japan held a ceremony Wednesday marking a planned donation of about 100 military vehicles and 30,000 food rations to Ukraine.
Japan’s government is seeking to ease its military equipment transfer policy under a new national security policy that allows its military a greater offensive role, a significant break from its post-World War II self-defense-only principle.
Japanese Vice Defense Minister Toshiro Ino handed a document to Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Korsunsky listing the three types of vehicles included in the donation in a ceremony at the Defense Ministry.
“We hope the invasion ends as soon as possible and peaceful daily lives return,” Ino said. “We will provide as much support as we can.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine updates: Wagner mercenary leader sees a hard war