Putin congratulates Wagner on ‘liberating’ Bakhmut: Russian dictator praises his mercenary group after it claimed victory in the besieged city – which is now totally destroyed – despite Ukraine denying it had fallen
- Estimates say up to 30,000 Russians have been killed or wounded in Bakhmut
- Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed his forces have full control of city
- Ukraine’s deputy defence minister rejected claim but admitted ‘critical’ situation
Vladimir Putin has congratulated Russia’s Wagner mercenary group and the national army on ‘liberating’ Bakhmut despite Ukraine insisting that fighting is not over yet.
The Russian despot commended Wagner just hours after the force said it had been victorious in the east Ukrainian city following more than 200 days of fierce fighting and bloodshed in which both countries have suffered numerous casualties.
A statement from the Kremlin quoted by Russia’s TASS news agency said: ‘Vladimir Putin congratulated the assault units of Wagner as well as all servicemen of units of the Russian armed forces who provided them with the necessary support and flank cover, on the completion of the operation to liberate Artemovsk (the Soviet-era name for Bakhmut).’
The Kremlin leader said that troops who had distinguished themselves should be given awards, Russian news agencies reported.
Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that his forces have full control of the besieged city in a video recorded in front of destroyed buildings as explosions are heard in the distance.
Ukraine’s deputy defence minister rejected the claim but admitted the situation was ‘critical’.
Vladimir Putin (pictured) has congratulated Russia’s Wagner mercenary group and the national army on their claimed capture of Bakhmut
Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin (pictured) claimed his forces have full control Bakhmut – which Kyiv denies – in a video recorded in front of destroyed buildings as explosions are heard in the distance
Wagner mercenaries have fighting in the longest and bloodiest of the war so far to take the eastern city and have previously claimed to have seized it
Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern command, said that Prigozhin’s claim ‘is not true. Our units are fighting in Bakhmut’ (pictured: rockets being launched at Russian troops in Bakhmut yesterday)
Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern command, also told the Associated Press news agency that Prigozhin’s claim ‘is not true’. ‘Our units are fighting in Bakhmut,’ he added.
Wagner mercenaries have fighting in the longest and bloodiest of the war so far to take the eastern city and have previously claimed to have seized it.
The now largely-destroyed city not a strategically important location for Russia, but Ukraine has poured large amounts of resources in defending it.
Western estimates say between 20,000 and 30,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded in Bakhmut, while Ukraine’s military has also suffered heavily.
In its latest intelligence update, the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said Russia’s redeployment of ‘up to several battalions’ in the area over the past four days followed Ukrainian tactical gains on the flanks of the largely destroyed city.
The MoD added: ‘With Russia likely maintaining relatively few uncommitted combat units in Ukraine, the redeployment represents a notable commitment by the Russian command.
‘Russia’s leadership likely continue to see capturing Bakhmut as the key immediate war aim which would allow them to claim some degree of success in the conflict.’
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is in Japan for talks with the leaders of the world’s most powerful democracies at the G7 summit.
A shocking before and after of Bakhmut highlighting the devastation caused by the conflict
Zelensky said on the Telegram messaging app that they also discussed Ukraine’s needs in de-mining and mobile hospitals during their first face-to-face meeting since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Reuters reported.
Kyiv has been preparing for a major counter-offensive to take back territory seized by Russia since February last year.
The news in Bakhmut comes after US President Joe Biden approved plans to train Ukrainian pilots on US-made F-16 jets, in a move that could tilt the balance in the war with Russia.
The F-16 training will be conducted using European-owned but US-made F-16s and will probably begin in the coming weeks.