Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner fighters, made a bold assertion that his forces had successfully captured the city of Bakhmut. However, Ukraine swiftly rejected this claim, emphasizing that the fighting was still ongoing. Prigozhin made his proclamation in a video appearance, dressed in combat fatigues alongside fighters holding Russian flags and Wagner banners, as he confidently declared the complete capture of Bakhmut. Nevertheless, a Ukrainian military spokesperson contradicted this statement, stating that Ukrainian units were actively engaged in combat within the city.
Bakhmut has become the epicenter of a prolonged and fierce battle during the enduring war between Russia and Ukraine, which has now raged on for a staggering 15 months. The reverberation of distant explosions provided a backdrop to Prigozhin’s video, wherein he announced that his forces would begin withdrawing from Bakhmut on May 25. This strategic move would allow his troops much-needed rest and retraining while transferring control of the city to the regular Russian army.
During the video message, Prigozhin took the opportunity to taunt Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and U.S. President Joe Biden, who were both attending a Group of Seven summit in Japan where the Ukraine conflict took center stage. Prigozhin amusingly suggested that Zelenskiy should pass on his regards to Biden by playfully instructing him to kiss the top of Biden’s head.
Furthermore, Prigozhin vented his frustrations regarding what he perceived as insufficient support and ammunition supplies from the Russian army. He contended that his forces had endured unnecessary heavy losses, expressing his displeasure and previous threats to withdraw his troops. Prigozhin specifically directed his criticism towards Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, blaming him, along with Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov, for the higher casualty rate due to bureaucratic hindrances and their actions.
Although British defense intelligence acknowledged the likelihood of Russia deploying additional battalions to reinforce the Bakhmut sector in response to Ukrainian advances, Prigozhin himself acknowledged that Bakhmut held little strategic importance. Nevertheless, the intense fighting and significant losses suffered by both sides granted the city a profound symbolic significance.
The conflicting narratives and the ongoing battle in Bakhmut epitomize the volatile and intricate nature of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The situation remains fluid, and the interpretation of Bakhmut’s significance within the broader context of the war continues to be a subject of debate.