Wagner Group Chief Slams Russian Military, Says It Fled Bakhmut
The founder of the Wagner Group paramilitary forces Friday sharply criticized the Russian military, saying Russian troops had abandoned the flank in and around the eastern city of Bakhmut, allowing Ukraine troops to gain ground on all sides of the disputed city.
In a video released Friday, millionaire mercenary group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said that “the flanks are crumbling, the front is collapsing” around Bahkmut and that the “desertion” of the area allowed Ukrainian forces take control of the Chasov Yar-Bakhmut road, a key supply line Wagner forces had blocked.
Prigozhin again accused the defense ministry of withholding ammunition from the group, a claim denied earlier by the Russian Defense Ministry. He also mocked Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov’s description of the withdrawal of Russian troops as “a tactical retreat.”
Konashenkov had given a briefing earlier Friday in which he described Russian forces making advances and repelling Ukrainian forces, killing and wounding 900 troops in the Donetsk area. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar refuted this contention Friday.
Prigozhin said the attempts of the Defense Ministry to smooth over or sugarcoat the situation would lead to a great tragedy for Russia. He called on the ministry directly, saying that “you must stop lying immediately.”
Counteroffensive and grain
Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that there was no news to report on the status of restarting the grain deal that allows commodities to be shipped from Ukrainian ports to Africa and other areas with food shortages.
During his regular phone briefing with reporters, Peskov said talks in Istanbul involving Turkish, Russian, Ukrainian and U.N. officials continued, and there were no new decisions for an extension to the deal that is due to expire next Wednesday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an interview Thursday with European broadcasters that Kyiv was delaying the start of the counteroffensive because it lacked enough Western weapons to succeed without suffering too many casualties.
Zelenskyy said it’s possible that “we can go forward and be successful,” the BBC reported.
“But we’d lose a lot of people. I think that’s unacceptable,” he was quoted as saying. “So, we need to wait. We still need a bit more time. … In terms of equipment, not everything has arrived yet.”
Ukraine’s preparations for a counteroffensive received an important boost Thursday when Britain announced it was supplying long-range cruise missiles to Ukraine, giving Kyiv the capability to hit Russian troops well behind the front lines.
British Defense Minister Ben Wallace confirmed to British lawmakers that the United Kingdom would donate Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine.
“The use of Storm Shadow will allow Ukraine to push back Russian forces based within Ukrainian sovereign territory,” he said without specifying how many were being delivered.
Storm Shadow missiles, which have a range of more than 250 kilometers, would give Ukraine the capacity to strike deep behind Russian front lines — as far as Moscow-occupied Crimea.
British media reports said Kyiv had promised, though, not to use the missiles to strike inside Russia’s territory.
The Kremlin threatened “appropriate” measures in response to London’s move.
“It will demand an appropriate response from our military that will definitely make the decisions required in military terms,” spokesman Peskov told reporters.