The boss of the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigojine, said on Monday that his men controlled “about 70%” of the city of Bakhmout in eastern Ukraine, the scene of heavy fighting since last summer.
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“At present, Wagner’s units control about 70% of Bakhmout and continue the offensive for its complete liberation”, assured Mr. Prigozhin in a letter addressed to the Russian Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, and published by his press service on Telegram.
These statements were unverifiable from an independent source.
Mr. Prigozhin also said he expected a counter-offensive by Ukrainian forces for the end of March-beginning of April, intended according to him to “cut off Wagner’s units from the main forces of the Russian army”.
He asked Mr. Shoigu to “take measures” to prevent this situation from occurring.
Yevgeny Prigojine is in open conflict with the Russian military hierarchy, which he accuses of not knowingly delivering enough ammunition to his men and has publicly attacked Mr. Shoigu on several occasions.
A city of some 70,000 inhabitants before the war, Bakhmout has become, because of the length of the battle and the heavy losses incurred by both sides, the symbol of the struggle between Russians and Ukrainians for control of the industrial region of Donbass .
Russian troops have advanced in recent weeks north and south of the city, cutting off several Ukrainian supply routes and seizing the eastern part of the city.
Despite the threat of encirclement and the disputed strategic importance of the city, Ukrainian officials have confirmed their intention to continue to defend it for as long as possible.
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