Russian Commander Prigozhin Claims Bakhmut Captured, Ukraine Says Fighting Continues


KYIV (Reuters) Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Saturday that Wagner fighter jets had completed the occupation of Bakhmut, but Ukraine dismissed the claim and said fighting was still going on.

Prigogine made this claim in a video in which he appeared in combat uniform in front of a line of fighters carrying Russian and Wagner flags.

“At noon today, Bakmut was completely trapped,” Prigogin said. “We completely occupied the whole city from house to house.”

Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevati told Reuters:
“That’s not true. Our forces are fighting at BaKhamut.”

Bakhmut was at the center of the longest and bloodiest battle of Russia’s war in Ukraine. The war is nearing the end of 15 months.

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

Prigozhin taunted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and U.S. President Joe Biden, who were taking part in a Group of Seven summit in Japan on Saturday where the Ukraine war was front of mind for world leaders.

Addressing Zelenskiy, Prigozhin said:
“Today when you see Biden, kiss him on the top of his head, say hi to him from me.”

Prigozhin repeated complaints he has frequently made in the past that his forces suffered far heavier losses than necessary because of inadequate support and ammunition supplies from the army. Earlier this month he had threatened to pull his troops out after publishing a furious tirade against Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu while standing in a field of bloodied corpses.

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. His victory declaration said Ukrainian forces had pushed back some of the Russian forces after heavy fighting around the city last week.

Britain’s Defense Intelligence Agency said on Saturday it was “very likely” that Russia had deployed up to several battalions to reinforce the Bakhmut district, following Ukraine’s tactical success on the flank of the city. It was an “amazing effort by the Russian military command,” the newspaper said.

“Russian leadership will likely continue to view the occupation of Bakhmut as the most important immediate war goal to achieve some degree of success in the conflict,” he said on Twitter.

Prigozhin himself admits that while the pre-war town of Bahmut, population 70,000, had no strategic importance, the intensity of the fighting and the scale of casualties had acquired it a very symbolic importance for both sides.