The head of the Wagner private military group on Monday rejected a report that he had offered to share with Ukraine the positioning of Russian Army troops around Bakhmut in exchange for a withdrawal of Kyiv’s forces from the area in eastern Ukraine.
The Wagner group has been a driving force behind Russia’s monthslong battle to take Bakhmut, which has cost thousands of lives on both sides and reduced much of the city to rubble. Its founder, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, has publicly clashed with Russia’s military leadership over the fight for the city, accusing them of starving his forces of ammunition.
The Washington Post reported on Sunday that a U.S. intelligence document leaked on the messaging platform Discord said that Mr. Prigozhin told contacts in Ukraine’s military intelligence directorate that he was willing to betray the Russian army’s locations around Bakhmut if Kyiv agreed to withdraw from around Bakhmut. A Ukrainian official told The Post that Mr. Prigozhin’s offer — made “more than once” — had been rejected.
In an audio statement published on Monday by his press service, Mr. Prigozhin called the report “speculation” and a “hoax.” He suggested that Russia’s corrupt elites, who he said envied his fighters’ achievements on the front lines in Ukraine and were eager to tank his reputation, could be responsible.
Mr. Prigozhin’s mercenaries have taken lead in trying to capture Bakhmut, the site of the longest and one of the bloodiest battles of the war, while Russian troops have controlled the area around the city’s flanks. Over the last few weeks, Mr. Prigozhin has stepped up his accusations of incompetence against the Russian military leadership.
Despite openly feuding with top Russian officials, Mr. Prigozhin has been careful not to criticize President Vladimir V. Putin.
Dmitri S. Peskov, the spokesman for Mr. Putin, said that he wouldn’t comment on The Post’s report, but said that “it looks like another hoax.”