HANDOUT / AFP
This video grab is taken from footage posted on May 20, 2023 on the Telegram account of the press service of Concord – a company linked to the leader of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin. It shows Yevgeny Prigozhin in front of his soldiers in Bakhmout, Ukraine.
WAR IN UKRAINE – Through the voice of Vladimir Putin, Russia followed in the footsteps of the Wagner militia and claimed on Saturday evening May 20 the total capture of the city of Bakhmout, epicenter of the fighting in eastern Ukraine and theater of the longest and bloodiest battle in the country since the Russian assault in February 2022.
Russian President Vladimir Putin thus congratulated Wagner and the army for “the completion of the operation (allowing to) liberate Artemovsk (the Soviet name of Bakhmout, editor’s note) »according to a Kremlin statement picked up by Russian news agencies, including TASS.
“As a result of the offensive actions of Wagner’s assault units, with the support of the artillery and aviation of the “South” unit, the liberation of the city of Artemovsk is complete”said the Russian Ministry of Defense earlier.
The spokesman for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denied him this Sunday, May 21, the fact that the latter had confirmed the capture of the city of Bakhmout by Russian forces, after ambiguous statements on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Japan.
The Ambiguous Words of Volodymyr Zelensky
The press asked him: “President Zelensky, is Bakhmout still in the hands of Ukraine? The Russians say they took Bakhmout”. The Head of State replied: ” I do not think so “without it being clear whether he answered the first or the second part of the question. “You must understand that there is nothing” over there. “Today, Bakhmout is only in our hearts”he added.
“The president denied the capture of Bakhmout”then specified his spokesperson Serguiï Nykyforov on Facebook, taking up the words of Volodymyr Zelensky in a simplified version.
Sitting alongside US President Joe Biden during a meeting on the sidelines of the G7 in Hiroshima, the Ukrainian president obviously struggled to express himself on this subject, with a long, emotional and sometimes confusing response in English.
He seemed to suggest that Bakhmut was just a Pyrrhic victory for the Russians and that there was nothing left for the Ukrainians to lose there. “There is nothing in this place (…) just ruins and a lot of dead Russians”, did he declare. He pointed out that the Ukrainian soldiers had made ” well done “ and “We appreciate their excellent work”.
Moscow’s announcement therefore follows that of Evguéni Prigojine, head of the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, who had already claimed the capture of the city a few hours earlier.
Bakhmout taken in “224 days” according to Wagner
From Bakhmout, Yevgeny Prigojine – who is in conflict with the military hierarchy in Moscow – stressed that the capture of the city had taken “224 days” and that there was “that Wagner here”, not regular Russian army troops. According to him, his group will withdraw from the city from May 25 and leave its defense to the regular army, remaining available after rotation and training for future operations from Moscow.
If confirmed, the capture of Bakhmout would allow Russia to post victory after a series of humiliating reverses. It would also intervene before a major counter-offensive that kyiv says it has been preparing for months.
This claim also comes during a surprise visit by Volodymyr Zelensky to Hiroshima, Japan, for the G7 summit, where he is to meet his American counterpart Joe Biden after having already seen Emmanuel Macron and Narendra Modi in particular.
The President of the United States said to himself « impatient » to meet Volodymyr Zelensky, after paving the way for future deliveries of American-made F-16 fighter jets to help Ukraine ” to defend oneself “ against Russia, the White House said.
Moscow and kyiv suffered heavy losses in Bakhmout, a city of some 70,000 people before the Russian offensive, now largely devastated by fighting.
Russian forces made slow progress there while taking nearby locations such as Soledar further north. They controlled Bakhmout in recent weeks to more than 90%, no longer fighting in the city against a last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in its western part.
Ukraine says it has “partially surrounded” Bakhmout
However, Ukraine this week claimed more than 20 square kilometers from Russian forces north and south of the city, endangering Wagner’s flanks, which are held by regular Russian army troops. Ukraine thus assured this Sunday that it had “partially surrounded” Bakhmout. “The advance of our troops in the suburbs on the flanks, which continues, makes the presence of the enemy in Bakhmout very difficult. Our troops have partially surrounded the city”Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Maliar said on Telegram.
The commander of the Ukrainian ground forces, Oleksandre Syrsky, assured him this Sunday that his troops only controlled a part “insignificant” from the city. “Although we now control only an insignificant part of Bakhmout, the importance of its defense remains relevant (…) We continue to advance on the flanks in the suburbs of Bakhmout”he said on Telegram.
Yevgeny Prigojine had regularly complained in recent days of a lack of support from the Russian army, believing that the bureaucracy in Moscow was putting ” Sticks in the wheels “ of his group and that five times as many men had died in Bakhmout because of the “whims” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov.
Russia, which launched its troops to storm Ukraine on February 24, 2022, suffered serious setbacks on the front, being forced to withdraw from the vicinity of Kiev, then from the Kharkiv region and the city. from Cherson. The front was essentially fixed throughout the winter, with most of the fighting taking place in Bakhmout.
The two camps are now awaiting a major counter-offensive announced by the Ukrainian authorities, backed by Western arms deliveries. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said recently that his army had “need more time” to prepare for this attack.
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