Wagner chief Prigozhin hands Bakhmut over to Russia’s army a day after admitting 20,000 of his mercenaries had been killed capturing the completely obliterated city
- Yevgeny Prigozhin said Wagner will leave control of Bakhmut to Russia’s army
- The mercenary group has been instrumental in Russian success on the frontlines
- But taking Bakhmut came at a huge cost with roughly 20,000 Wagnerites dead
The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group today declared his troops had started transferring their positions in the flashpoint eastern Ukraine city of Bakhmut to the Russian military.
The battle for Bakhmut has raged for nearly one year, levelling the city and wiping out waves of Wagner recruits who have led Russia’s assault on the industrial hub.
‘We are withdrawing units from Bakhmut today. We are handing over positions to the military, ammunition and everything,’ Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a video released on social media.
‘We pull back, we rest, we prepare and then we will get new tasks,’ Prigozhin told his troops on the frontlines.
Prigozhin will withdraw having largely achieved his goals to wrest Bakhmut from Ukrainian control – though Kyiv has refused to acknowledge the city is completely lost.
But his success has come at a grave cost.
Earlier this week, he conceded that around 20,000 of his troops had been killed in the battle for Bakhmut, roughly 10,000 of which were prisoners recruited from Russian jails.
The eye-watering casualty figures are the result of the group’s sordid WWI-style human wave tactics that see recruits deployed as cannon fodder to soak up Ukrainian bullets and draw artillery fire.
Yevgeny Prigozhin makes a statement on the start of withdrawal of his forces from Bakhmut and handing over their positions to regular Russian troops
Founder of Wagner private mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin talks to Wagner fighters in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Bakhmut, Ukraine
Yevgeny Prigozhin holding a Russian national flag in front of his soldiers holding Wagner Group’s flags in Bakhmut, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine
An aerial view shows destructions in the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released on May 21, 2023
Russia’s private army Wagner claimed the total control of the east Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, the epicentre of fighting, earlier this week
The 61-year-old Kremlin ally toured Russian prisons last year to persuade inmates to fight with Wagner in exchange for a promised amnesty on their return – should they survive.
READ MORE: Defence Secretary Ben Wallace arrives in Kyiv for talks with Ukraine counterpart Oleksii Reznikov
Many of them were simply marched into the most hotly contested parts of the frontline in and around Bakhmut – the region with the highest attrition rate in the war.
Not only were Wagner battalions sent to the battlefield with little to no training and expected to cover ground under heavy artillery fire, but they were forced to do so with little support from the Russian regular army.
Prigozhin on several occasions accused Moscow’s army units of desertion and retreat, leaving Wagner men exposed in key pinch points.
It remains to be seen whether conquering Bakhmut is worth the cost for Russia and the Wagner group.
But Prigozhin’s declaration of Wagner’s retreat from the frontlines was corroborated by Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar, who today said Kyiv’s intelligence had observed regular Russian units coming into replace the mercenaries.
Prigozhin’s announcement came shortly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of again terrorising Ukrainians by launching a wave of Iranian-made attack drones at targets across his country, though added that air defence systems successfully blew them out of the sky.
‘The enemy continued to terrorise Ukraine by launching 36 Shaheds. None reached their target,’ Zelensky said in a social media post.
‘I’m grateful to our air defence forces for the 100 per cent result.’
Ukrainian service members ride atop of a BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle near the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine May 23, 2023
A Ukrainian service member operates an unmanned aerial vehicle inside a dugout at a position near the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine May 23, 2023
An explosion of a drone is seen in the sky over the city during a Russian drone strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 25, 2023
Ukrainian service members walk to an armoured personnel carrier outside of the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine May 23, 2023
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of again terrorising Ukrainians by launching a wave of Iranian-made attack drones at targets across his country last night
The Ukrainian military said Russia was probably targeting key infrastructure and military facilities in the western regions of Ukraine.
Russia subjected Ukraine to a campaign of aerial bombardments on infrastructure including energy facilities during the winter months but these attacks have diminished recently.
And Kyiv has become increasingly adept at taking down waves of Russian cruise missiles and drones after appealing to Western allies for greater air defence capabilities.
Russian-installed authorities in the Crimean peninsula meanwhile announced their air defence systems had intercepted several drones targeting various parts of the territory annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
‘Six drones were shot down or blocked… in different parts of Crimea,’ governor Sergei Aksyonov announced on social media, adding that no-one had been injured in the attack.
Separately, Russia’s FSB security service said it had arrested two Ukrainians who had allegedly planned to target nuclear power plants in the country.
The aim was to cause ‘serious economic harm to Russia and damage its reputation’, the FSB alleged in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.
Also on Thursday, Russia’s foreign ministry announced a visit to Moscow by China’s special envoy for Ukraine, Li Hui, who has been touring European capitals.
His visit to the Russian capital, where he is expected to meet Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday, comes after Li met Zelensky in Kyiv.
China says it is a neutral party in the Ukraine conflict, but has been criticised for refusing to condemn Moscow for its offensive.
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