Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov offered to replace oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin's Wagner PMC in the battle of Bakhmut on Saturday night, following threats from the mercenary group that it would withdraw due to insufficient Russian government support.
Kadyrov said that he had sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, requesting to redeploy his Akhmat forces to the highly contested Ukrainian city.
"This site [Bakhmut] is still in the area of responsibility of PMC 'Wagner.' In light of recent events, I would like to state that the Chechen units are ready to rid this settlement of the presence of Ukrainian and NATO bandits, Kadyrov said in a Telegram post late Saturday. "The Chechen units are ready to fulfill any order of Supreme Commander Vladimir Putin, there is no doubt about that."
The Chechen leader said he was confident in the ability of his troops to seize the city despite the possibility of an impending Ukrainian counteroffensive, as they had already proven their combat effectiveness during the difficult taking of Mariupol.
Kadyrov said that his forces have been training new soldiers, and had purchased 989 new vehicles, including 129 armored vehicles.
Prigozhin asked Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to prepare for the transfer of positions between Wanger and Akhmat, according to a copy of a letter shared by the Wagner head's Concord press service.
Why is Wagner withdrawing from Bakhmut?
Wagner's proposed May 10 withdrawal was due to the denial of artillery shells, and the resulting "loss of combat capability" of Wagner, Prigozhin said in the letter. He noted that his forces had received only 32% of the shells that his PMC had requested since October 2022.
Prigozhin had first issued the deadline for withdrawal on Friday. He has long complained of the Russian Defense Ministry starving his forces of ammunition. In mid-April, Prigozhin had said that at least 6,000 artillery shells were needed to support an advance of 100-200 meters per day in Bakhmut. Denial of the munitions would mean more mercenary casualties.
The Ukrainian National Resistance Center cast doubt on the withdrawal on Friday, saying that the threat was to discredit Shoigu, a rival of Prigozhin. The Wagner chief has attacked the defense minister for his conduct of the war multiple times, as has Kadyrov.
The center said that there was every indication that Prigozhin intended to seize the city by May 9, to coincide with the Russian Victory Day celebration.
Shoigu sought to weaken Wagner by refusing the group ammunition, the National Resistance Center assessed. It noted that Shoigu had also denied the PMC the ability to replenish its ranks through contracts with convicts.
Bakhmut has been the focal point of heavy fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces for months. Ukrainian forces have dug trenches throughout the area, requiring the Kremlin to send waves of soldiers to overwhelm their positions.