Russian forces are handing control of Bakhmut to Moscow: Wagner
Kyiv: The head of the Russian private military contractor Wagner claimed Thursday that his forces have started pulling out of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine and handing over control to the Russian military, days after he said Wagner troops had captured the ruined city.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner’s millionaire owner with longtime links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said in a video published on Telegram that the handover would be completed by June 1. There was no immediate comment from the Russian defense ministry.
It was not possible to independently verify whether Wagner’s pullout from the bombed-out city has begun after a nine-month battle that killed tens of thousands of people.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said Thursday that Wagner units have been replaced with regular troops in the suburbs but Wagner fighters remain inside the city.
Ukrainian forces still have a foothold in the southwestern outskirts, Deputy Minister of Defence Hanna Maliar said.
Prigozhin’s Bakhmut triumph delivered a badly needed victory for Putin, whose invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has lost momentum and now faces the possibility of a Ukrainian counteroffensive using advanced weapons supplied by Kyiv’s Western allies.
Top Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said on Thursday that Ukraine’s counteroffensive was already underway, cautioning that it should not be anticipated as a “single event” starting “at a specific hour of a specific day.”
Writing on Twitter, Podolyak said that “dozens of different actions to destroy Russian occupation forces” had “already been taking place yesterday, are taking place today and will continue tomorrow.”
Prigozhin has a long-running feud with the Russian military leadership.