Russian Wagner Group leader says his force lost 20,000 men in battle for Bakhmut
Russian private army chief Wagner said his force lost more than 20,000 men in the long battle of Bakhmut, with about half of those who died in the eastern Ukrainian town being Russian convicts recruited to fight within 15 months. war.
That figure stands in stark contrast to Moscow’s widely disputed claims that just over 6,000 of its soldiers were killed throughout the war in January. By comparison, official Soviet troop casualties in the 1979-89 Afghan War were 15,000.
Ukraine has not said how many of its soldiers have died since the full-scale Russian invasion began in February 2022.
Analysts believe the nine-month fight for Bakhmut alone killed tens of thousands of soldiers, including Russian convicts who would have received little training before being sent to the front.
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin also said Russia’s invasion goal of “demilitarising” Ukraine backfired because Kiev’s military grew stronger through the supply of weapons and training of its Western allies.
In an interview published Tuesday evening with Konstantin Dolgov, a pro-Kremlin political strategist, Prigozhin added that Russian forces had killed civilians – something Moscow has repeatedly and vehemently denied.
Prigozhin, a wealthy businessman with long-standing ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is known for his bluster – often laced with obscenity – and has made unverifiable claims before, some of which were later backtracked.
Earlier this month, his media team released a video of him shouting, swearing and pointing at around 30 uniformed bodies on the ground, claiming they were Wagner fighters who died in a single day. He claimed that the Russian Ministry of Defense had deprived his men of ammunition and he threatened to give up the fight for Bakhmut.
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Prigozhin said in Tuesday’s interview that it was possible that Kiev’s planned counteroffensive in the coming weeks, given continued Western support, could push Russian forces out of the south and east. eastern Ukraine as well as annexed Crimea.
“A pessimistic scenario: the Ukrainians receive missiles, they prepare troops, of course they will continue their offensive, try to counterattack,” he said. “They will attack Crimea, they will try to blow up the Crimean Bridge (to the Russian mainland), cut (our) supply lines. So we have to prepare for a hard war.”
Prigozhin’s interview, posted on a Telegram channel with just 50,000 subscribers, has not been picked up by Russia’s biggest state-run or pro-Kremlin media outlets and is unlikely to be widely broadcast. Nor does it appear to have been mentioned by military bloggers, whose popular Telegram pages are important sources of wartime information for many Russians.
Ukraine’s general staff said on Wednesday “heavy fighting” continued inside Bakhmut, days after Russia said it had completely captured the devastated town. Bakhmut is in Donetsk province, one of four provinces that Russia illegally annexed last fall and only partially controls.
Ukrainian ground forces chief Oleksandr Syrskyi said Kyiv forces were “continuing their defensive operation” in Bakhmut and had achieved unspecified “successes” on the outskirts of the city. He gave no further details.
A Ukrainian commander in Bakhmut told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the Ukrainians had a plan to drive the Russians out of any occupied territory.
“But now we don’t need to fight in Bakhmut anymore, we have to encircle it from the flanks and block it,” Yevhen Mezhevikin said. “Then we should ‘sweep’ it. That’s more appropriate, and that’s what we’re doing now.”
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Elsewhere, Russian forces shot down “large numbers” of drones in Russia’s southern Belgorod region, a local official said on Wednesday, a day after Moscow announced its forces had crushed a cross-border raid in the region from Ukraine.
The drones were intercepted overnight, Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said in a Telegram message, and another was shot down on Wednesday just outside the local capital, also called Belgorod. He said no one was injured, but there was unspecified property damage.
Ukrainian officials had no immediate comment.
Gladkov said on Tuesday he had “questions for the (Russian) Defense Ministry” following the attack which reportedly alarmed locals and embarrassed the Kremlin.
During a question-and-answer session with locals on social media, Gladkov agreed with one participant who said the Russian military’s actions in Belgorod “raise some questions”.
In Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu pledged to respond “quickly and extremely harshly” to such attacks.
On Tuesday, Russia said it had repelled the cross-border raid, one of the most serious of its kind in the war. The Ministry of Defense said more than 70 attackers were killed in the battle, which lasted around 24 hours. He made no mention of Russian casualties.
Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said local troops, airstrikes and artillery routed the attackers.
Twelve civilians were injured in the attack, officials said, and an older woman died during an evacuation.
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Details of the incident in the rural area, some 45 miles north of the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv and far from the front lines of the nearly 15-month-old war, are unclear.
Moscow blamed the incursion that began on Monday on Ukrainian military saboteurs. kyiv described it as an uprising against the Kremlin by Russian supporters. It was impossible to reconcile the two versions, to say with certainty who was behind the attack or to know its objectives.
The area is a Russian military hub housing fuel and ammunition depots. Moscow officials declined to say how many attackers were involved or comment on why it took so long to quell the assault.
The Belgorod region, like the neighboring Bryansk region and other border areas, has seen sporadic fallout from the war, which Russia sparked by invading Ukraine in February 2022.
At least three civilians died and 18 others were injured in Ukraine on Tuesday and overnight, the Ukrainian presidential office reported on Wednesday, including in the southern Kherson region, where two elderly people died in airstrikes.