Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of Russia’s Wagner group, claimed that Russian fighters had successfully captured Bakhmut. However, this claim was swiftly rejected by Kyiv.
Appearing in front of a line of fighters holding Russian flags and Wagner banners, Prigozhin made the claim in a video posted on Telegram.
“Today, at 12 noon, Bakhmut was completely taken,” Prigozhin said. “We completely took the whole city, from house to house.”
Ukrainian military spokesperson Serhiy Cherevatyi told Reuters: “This is not true. Our units are fighting in Bakhmut.”
Currently at the end of its 15th month, the battle for control over Bakhmut has been the longest and bloodiest battle of the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Here, WION’s Sneha Swaminathan explains Bakhmut’s strategic significance in the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, in WION Datalabs.
The Wagner group’s chief said that his forces would withdraw from Bakhmut from May 25 for recoupment and rest and hand over the control to regular Russian army.
Kiss Biden on top of his head: Wagner chief to Zelensky
Wagner chief’s video announcing Russian capture of Bakhmut coincided with the meeting of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and US President Joe Biden in Japan’s Hiroshima on the sidelines of Group of Seven (G-7) summit.
Prigozhin taunted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on his meeting with Biden.
Addressing Zelenskyy, Prigozhin said: “Today when you see Biden, kiss him on the top of his head, say hi to him from me.”
Meanwhile, Prigozhin also repeated his grievances towards regular Russian army and defence ministry in Moscow. He said that his forces suffered far heavier losses because of the inadequate support and ammunition supplies from the army.
Because of Russian bureaucracy 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.
Capture of Bakhmut Russia’s key immediate war aim: British intelligence
British defence intelligence said on Saturday it was “highly likely” that Russia had deployed up to several battalions to reinforce the Bakhmut sector, following Ukrainian tactical gains on the flanks of the town. It said this represented a “notable commitment by the Russian command”.
“Russia’s leadership likely continue to see capturing Bakhmut as the key immediate war aim which would allow them to claim some degree of success in the conflict,” it said on Twitter.
Prigozhin has himself acknowledged that Bakhmut, a city of 70,000 people before the war, had no strategic significance, but it took on huge symbolic importance for both sides because of the sheer intensity of the fighting and the scale of losses.