May 20 (Reuters) – Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Saturday that Wagner fighter jets had completed the occupation of Bakhmut, but Ukraine rejected the claim, saying fighting was still going on.
Prigozhin 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.
“Today at noon Bakmut was completely occupied,” Prigozin said. “We completely occupied the whole city from house to house.”
“This is not true, our troops are fighting in Bakhmut,” Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevaty told Reuters.
Bakhmut has been the focus of Russia’s longest and bloodiest battle in the Ukraine war, which is coming to an end after 15 months.
As Prigogine spoke in the video, a distant explosion was heard in the background. In it, Prigozhin said he would withdraw from Bakhmut from May 25 for rest and retraining, handing over command to the Russian regular army.
Prigozhin mocked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and US President Joe Biden at the G7 Summit in Japan on Saturday. The war in Ukraine was the top concern of world leaders at this summit.
Addressing Zelensky, Prigozin said, “If you see Biden today, kiss him on the top of his head and say hello from me.”
Prigogine repeatedly complained in the past that his army had suffered unnecessarily high losses due to inadequate military support and ammunition supplies. Earlier this month, he lashed out at Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu as he stood in a field of bloodied corpses, threatening to withdraw his troops.
Due to Russian bureaucracy and the “whims” of Mr. Shoigu and Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov, “five times as many soldiers as should have died,” he said in a video on Saturday.
His declaration of victory comes after heavy fighting around the city last week when Ukraine said it had pushed back some Russian forces.
Britain’s Defense Intelligence Service said on Saturday it was “highly likely” that Russia had deployed up to several battalions to reinforce the Bakhmut district after Ukraine gained tactical superiority on the flank of the town. It said it represented a “remarkable commitment of the Russian military command”.
“Russian leadership will likely continue to view the capture of Bakhmut as an important near-term war goal, which will allow them to achieve some success in the conflict,” he said on Twitter.
Prigozhin himself admits that before the war Bahmut, a city of 70,000 people, had no strategic importance, but the intensity of the fighting and the magnitude of the losses made the city of great symbolic importance to both sides. rice field.
Reported by Reuters Editing: Peter Graff
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