RRussia has declared the months-long battle for Bakhmut to be over and has announced the complete capture of the city in eastern Ukraine. The private army Wagner had completely conquered the city with the help of artillery and air support from the Russian armed forces, the Defense Ministry in Moscow announced on Sunday night. The head of the Wagner mercenaries, Yevgeny Prigoshin, had previously announced that the city, which had been extremely hard fought for months and which had meanwhile been almost completely destroyed, would be taken. There was initially no confirmation from the Ukrainian side.
Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin congratulated the Wagner troops and the Russian army. The Russian armed forces would have guaranteed Wagner the necessary protection on the flanks, Putin said, according to his press service. “All outstanding fighters are honored with state awards.”
The Battle of Bakhmut is considered the longest and most costly of the Russian war of aggression, which began 15 months ago with the invasion of the neighboring country. At that time the city still had 70,000 inhabitants, but now it is largely in ruins. Nevertheless, the Ukraine did not give up Bakhmut to prevent a breakthrough of the Russian troops further inland. President Volodymyr Zelenskyj had ordered not to give up the symbolic city.
Ukrainian army speaks of danger for Russians
The spokesman for the Ukrainian Army Group East, Serhiy Cherevatyy, denied on the radio in Kiev that Bakhmut had been captured. On the contrary, Prigozhin’s troops were at the end of their rope and wanted to give up: they feared being surrounded by the Ukrainian defenders, said Cherevaty.
The US Institute for War Studies (ISW) based in Washington said it was at best a symbolic success for Prigozhin, if his account was correct. Strategically, Bakhmut is of no use, and the Ukrainian troops are also putting pressure on the northern and southern flanks of the city.
Bakhmut is the main part of the line of defense between the cities of Siversk and Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, established after the Russian conquest of Sievarodonetsk and Lysychansk. Should the city actually fall to the occupying forces, the route to the major cities of Slovjansk and Kramatorsk would open up for the Russian troops. This would bring a full conquest of the Donetsk region planned by Russia closer.
Prigozhin criticizes the Kremlin
On Saturday, Prigozhin, in uniform and holding the Russian flag, announced the capture of Bakhmut. At the same time, he once again criticized the Russian military leadership: “We not only fought with the armed forces of Ukraine, but also with the Russian bureaucracy, which threw a spanner in the works,” Prigozhin said in a video. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov made the war “for their personal pleasure”. Their whims and the military bureaucracy meant that “five times as many soldiers died as should have died”.