Friday, September 29

Wagner leader claims full control of Bakhmut, but Ukraine denies this

The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhinclaimed full control of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut on Saturday, the focus of the longest and bloodiest battle of the war.

Reuters could not independently confirm the claim, made by Prigozhin in a video in which he appeared in combat uniform in front of a line of fighters holding Russian flags and Wagner banners.

“Today, at 12 noon, Bakhmut was completely taken,” Prigozhin said. “We completely took over the entire city, from house to house.” He also assured that his forces would withdraw from Bakhmut starting May 25 to rest and retrain, handing over control to the regular Russian army. Distant explosions could be heard in the background as Prigozhin spoke during the video.

Ukraine’s army denied on Saturday that Wagner’s forces have taken full control of the ruined eastern city of Bakhmut and said its troops continue to fight there. “That’s not true. Our units are fighting in Bakhmut,” military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatyi told Reuters.

Prigozhin mocked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and US President Joe Biden, who were attending a G-7 summit in Japan on Saturday where the war in Ukraine was a top priority for world leaders. Addressing Zelensky, Prigozhin said: “Today when you see Biden, kiss him on the top of the head, say hi for me.”

Prigozhin repeated complaints he has made frequently in the past that his forces suffered far greater losses than necessary due to inadequate support and ammunition supplies from the army. Earlier this month, he threatened to withdraw troops from him after publishing a furious tirade against the defense minister, Sergey Shoiguwhile standing in a field of bloody corpses.

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Due to Russian red tape and the “whims” of Shoigu and chief of staff Valery Gerasimov, “five times more guys died than they should have,” he said in Saturday’s video.

Their claim to victory followed fierce fighting in the city last week in which Ukraine said it pushed back some Russian forces.

British defense intelligence said on Saturday it was “highly likely” that Russia had deployed several battalions to reinforce the Bakhmut sector, following Ukrainian tactical gains on the flanks of the city. He said this represented a “remarkable commitment on the part of the Russian command.”

“Russia’s leaders will likely continue to view the capture of Bakhmut as the key immediate war objective that would allow them to claim some degree of success in the conflict,” he tweeted.

Prigozhin himself has acknowledged that Bakhmut, a pre-war city of 70,000, had no strategic importance, but acquired great symbolic importance for both sides due to the great intensity of the fighting and the magnitude of the losses.

The latest assessment of the Russian Ministry of Defense, published this Saturday, not confirmed yet the alleged capture of Bakhmut, and limits itself to reporting that “assault detachments are fighting in the western part, in the Bogdanovka and Yagodnoye areas”, as explained by the military spokesman, General Igor Konashenkov, in comments collected by the Russian agency TASS.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on Saturday that the situation in Bakhmut was critical, with Ukrainian troops maintaining a defense in the southwestern part of the city. «Heavy fighting in Bakhmut. The situation is critical», he said in the Telegram messaging application. “As of now, our defenders control some industrial and infrastructure facilities in the area and the private sector.”

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