The Russian private army, known as Wagner, claimed total dominance on Saturday over the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, considered the epicenter of fierce fighting. Although Kyiv admitted that the fighting was still going on, the situation was recognized as “critical”.
The strategic importance of Bakhmut
Bakhmut, a city traditionally devoted to salt mining and once home to 70,000 inhabitants, has become the scene of a protracted and bloody battle in Moscow’s offensive against Ukraine, which has lasted for more than a year.
The capture of Bakhmut by Russian troops, where both Moscow and Kiev are believed to have suffered significant losses, is given high symbolic value.
If confirmed, this defeat would allow Moscow to come back with victory after a series of humiliating failures, and would be a major counter-offensive that Kiev has been preparing for months.
The Wagner Proclamation about bakhmut
Wagner’s announcement came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky took part in the G7 summit in Japan.
It was the leader of the mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who stated in a video released via Telegram that the city had fallen into the hands of his men.
In the shot, the fighters wave Russian flags amid a landscape of ruins.
The current situation in Bakhmut
“Today, May 20, around noon, Bakhmut was completely taken,” Prigozhin said in the video, adding that Wagner’s soldiers would thoroughly search the captured city before handing it over to the official Russian army.
“We have an inspection on May 25 [Bajmut] completely, have set up the necessary defense lines and we will hand it over to our army, ”Prigozhin declared. “We go to the tent camps on our own.”
The contradictory claims about bakhmut
The deafening sound of artillery could be heard in the background in Prigozhin’s video. Meanwhile, Ukraine, which claimed successes in and around Bakhmut earlier this month, said fighting for the city continued.
“Intensive fighting in Bakhmut. The situation is critical,” Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Malyar wrote via Telegram. He added that Ukrainian troops “maintained defense” in the city’s “air zone”.
“From now on, our defenders control certain industrial facilities and infrastructure in the area,” he stressed.
So far, Agence France-Presse has been unable to verify either claim. Bakhmut, also known as “Bajmut’s meat grinder”, has been the main battlefield for Wagner’s troops, who are estimated to have suffered significant casualties during the protracted assault on the city.
disputes between the Russian army and Wagner
“The operation to capture Bakhmut, known as the Bakhmut meat grinder, lasted 224 days,” said Prigozhin, dressed in his camouflage uniform. Amid a growing public dispute with the official Russian army, Prigozhin claimed that Moscow’s losses would have been much less had it not been for the generals’ incompetence. He has been complaining for some time that Wagner was not given the right amount of ammunition.
“In Bakhmut, only Wagner was present,” Prigozhin claimed in the video. “Here we are fighting not only the Ukrainian army, but also the Russian bureaucracy.” While he did not reveal the exact number of Wagner fighters killed at Bakhmut, he said losses were “five times higher” due to Russian military management. He blames Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov for making the offensive “their own distraction”. “One day history will accuse them of their actions,” Prigozhin warned.
It is estimated that Wagner’s ranks included an unknown but significant number of ex-convicts recruited from Russian prisons by Prigozhin the previous year, who were promised amnesty on their return if they managed to survive. “Generals, former police officers, members of the FSB [servicio de seguridad] and ex-convicts acted as a united team here in Bakhmut,” Prigozhin said. Recently, it has launched unprecedented attacks against the Moscow military leadership.
Expectations of a counter-offensive Ukrainian
Over the past winter, the front in eastern Ukraine remained largely in a stalemate, with much of the fighting taking place around Bakhmut.
Now both sides are waiting for the start of an announced counter-offensive by the Ukrainian authorities, which are supported by arms shipments from the West. Zelensky has recently stated that his army needs more time before launching the attack.
Wagner’s proclamation of total control over Bakhmut has created uncertainty as the Russian mercenary group’s claims contradict Ukrainian statements.
The situation in Bakhmut remains critical and is far from resolved. Meanwhile, the dispute between Wagner and the official Russian military exposes internal tensions and accusations of incompetence.