Ukraine and Russia traded barbs on Wednesday about the extent to which the Kremlin’s soldiers hold the city of Bakhmut, which has been the focal point of Moscow’s effort to march across eastern Ukraine for months.
Ukraine’s military claimed control of “significantly” more than 20% of the city. It claimed that Russian tycoon Yevgeny Prigozhin’s allegation that his Wagner mercenary company had taken more than 80% of Bakhmut was false.
Russia’s Defence Ministry retorted that Wagner forces had captured three city blocks. And Russian forces, it said, had struck Ukrainian army reserves trying to break through.
After pulling back from an attempted advance on Kyiv last year in what Moscow calls a “special military operation”, Russia’s military has focused mainly on capturing Bakhmut as a stepping stone to advancing on cities further west in Donetsk region.
But its gains have been largely incremental over many months. Prigozhin has made a number of premature announcements in connection with Wagner’s position in Bakhmut.
Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern military command, dismissed Prigozhin’s latest 80% claim in a comment to Reuters.
“I was just in touch with the commander of one of the brigades holding the defence of the city. And I can confidently say that Ukrainian defensive forces control a considerably larger percent of Bakhmut’s territory,” he said.
Analyst Konrad Muzyka, director of the Rochan military consultancy in Poland, said his calculations bore out the Russian claim of 80%. “The big question is whether the current Russian tempo can be maintained,” he said on Twitter.
Ukrainian forces have hung on for months in Bakhmut, where the fiercest fighting of Moscow’s full-scale February 2022 invasion has killed thousands of soldiers and been dubbed the “meat-grinder”.
Prigozhin said on Tuesday his forces controlled most of Bakhmut, including the administrative centre, factories, warehouses and municipal buildings.
“Prigozhin needs to show at least some kind of victory in the city, which they have been trying to capture for nine months in a row and that’s why he’s making such statements,” said Cherevatyi.