Russian Prigozhin demands capture of Bakhmut, Ukraine says fighting continues

Russian Prigozhin demands capture of Bakhmut, Ukraine says fighting continues

(Updates with Ukraine denying information)

May 20 (Reuters) – The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed full control of the city of Bakhmut on Saturday, but Ukraine rejected the claim, saying fighting was still going on.

Prigozhin made the claim in a video in which he appeared in combat uniform in front of a line of fighters holding Russian flags and Wagner banners.

“Today (Saturday), at 12 noon, Bakhmut was completely taken,” Prigozhin said. “We have completely taken over the entire city, from house to house.”

Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatyi told Reuters: “This is not true. Our units are fighting in Bakhmut.”

Bakhmut has been the focus of the longest and bloodiest battle of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which is nearing the end of its 15th month.

Distant explosions could be heard in the background as Prigozhin spoke during the video, in which he said his forces would withdraw from Bakhmut starting May 25 to rest and retrain, handing over control to the regular Russian army.

Prigozhin mocked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and US President Joe Biden, who were taking part in a Group of Seven summit in Japan on Saturday where the Ukraine war was prominent among world leaders.

Addressing Zelensky, Prigozhin said that “Today, when you see Biden, kiss him on the top of the head, say hello from me.”

Prigozhin repeated complaints he has frequently made in the past that his forces suffered far greater than necessary losses due to inadequate support and ammunition supplies from the army. This month he threatened to withdraw troops from him after posting a furious tirade against Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu while he stood in a field of bloody corpses.

Because of the Russian bureaucracy and the “whims” of Shoigu and the chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, “five times more men died than they should have,” he said in Saturday’s video.

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

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

“Russian leaders will likely continue to view the capture of Bakhmut as the main 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 it acquired enormous symbolic importance for both sides due to the intensity of the fighting and the magnitude of the losses. (Additional reporting by Olena Harmash; Writing by Mark Trevelyan, Editing in Spanish by Manuel Farías)

Source: Ambito

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