The Ukrainian army has set aside the claim by the head of the Russian mercenary force Wagner that he will withdraw his fighters from the battle for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, saying that the mercenaries are holding their ground and receiving reinforcements .
The Ukrainian military said on Friday that Wagner fighters were reinforcing positions in Bakhmut with the intention of trying to capture the destroyed city before Russia marked the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II. on May 9.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on Ukrainian television: “Now we are seeing them withdrawing (the fighters) from the whole line of attack where the Wagner fighters are, they are pulling (them) back. towards Bakhmut”.
In a video statement, Wagner’s boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said his men had been starved for ammunition by the Russian Defense Ministry and that he would withdraw his men, and expected Russian troops to move in. Bakhmut before May 10.
“My boys would not have suffered useless and unreasonable losses in Bakhmut without ammunition,” Prigozhin said in the video accompanying the written withdrawal notice to the head of the Russian general staff. , the Ministry of Defense and President Vladimir Putin as supreme commander.
The notice said “officials” had withheld supplies despite knowing that Wagner’s target date to capture the city was May 9, when Moscow held a Victory Day parade.
The battle for Bakhmut, which Russia sees as a springboard to advance to other cities in Ukraine’s Donbas region, has become the focus of attention. The fiercest of the warthousands of lives were lost on both sides during months of bloody urban warfare.
Despite Prigozhin’s announcement of the withdrawal, the Ukrainian military did not see any signs that Wagner forces were about to withdraw from Bakhmut, Ukraine’s military intelligence representative Andriy Chernyak told the RBK-Ukraine news agency.
The Ukrainian military also denied Prigozhin’s claim that Russian forces in Bakhmut lacked ammunition.
Ukrainian military spokesman Serhii Cherevatyi said: “Today alone, 520 rounds were fired from different types of artillery in Bakhmut and the surrounding area.
He said that Prigozhin was trying to explain how the deaths of his forces, more than 100 people a day, were due to lack of ammunition.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he could not comment on Prigozhin’s threat to withdraw troops and that it was a military matter.
Earlier on Friday, Prigozhin was pictured surrounded by the corpses of what he said were his Wagner fighters, shouting insults at Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov. Prigozhin said Shoigu and Gerasimov were responsible for “tens of thousands of Wagner dead and wounded”.
‘Smoke and Mirror’
Months of criticism of Prigozhin, military analysts say, make it clear that his words are rarely taken for granted.
Kimberly Marten, a professor at Barnard College and Columbia University specializing in Russian security affairs, said Prigozhin and his mercenaries were “essential elements of Russian military intelligence, because So we don’t believe anything he says.”
Marten notes that it would be reckless for any military commander to “notify” their intentions to their enemies five or six days in advance.
“It’s all smoke and mirrors, so we’re just guessing,” she said.
Yohann Michel, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said Prigozhin’s claim resembled an attempt to blame the failure to capture Bakhmut and an indication that capturing it remains elusive. catch.
Michel also questioned whether Prigozhin had the right to withdraw without the Kremlin’s permission: “If Putin wants him to go to war, he will force him in one way or another to do so.”
Austrian analyst Gerhard Mangott said that if Prigozhin did indeed withdraw, “it would be too quick for the regular Russian armed forces to take over the positions of Wagner fighters in and around Bakhmut”. .
“If he really meant it… then this would give the Ukrainian armed forces an opportunity to take some or all of Bakhmut from the Russians,” he said, adding that it would be a disaster for Putin and Shoigu.
Shoigu did not immediately respond to Prigozhi, but his ministry reported on Friday that he had ordered a top official to ensure a “continuous supply” of all weapons and military equipment needed. for the Russian army.
And to contrast Prigozhin’s vision, an official video shows Shoigu inspecting tanks and other military equipment destined for Russian troops in Ukraine.
At the end of last year, the United States estimated Wagner had about 50,000 combat personnel in Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 prisoners the company had recruited. In February, the United States estimated Wagner had suffered more than 30,000 casualties since the full-scale invasion began in February 2022, with about 9,000 of those fighters killed in action.