Wagner’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin says more than 20,000 of his troops died in Bakhmut battle

In an interview with Konstantin Dolgov, a pro-Kremlin political strategist, published late Tuesday, Prigozhin’s criticism went further — questioning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rationale for waging war. some reasons. Prigozhin said Russia’s goal of “demilitarizing” Ukraine was backfiring because Kiev’s military had grown stronger with Western weapons and training.


While invading Ukraine, Putin also cited the need to strengthen Russia’s security and prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. Since the start of the war, Ukraine has applied to join NATO and cross-border attacks on Russian mainland have increased.

In Washington, Kirby speculated Wednesday about Prigozhin’s motives.

“And it’s probably a sick way of him… to claim credit for whatever they achieved at Bachmut, but also try to publicly embarrass the Ministry of Defense because the price is bloody and the treasure is Wagner’s, not the Russian military’s.”

In the interview, Prigozhin also challenged Moscow’s strong denials that Russian forces had killed civilians.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said it recorded 22,734 civilian casualties in Ukraine from February 2022 to early April 2023: 8,490 killed and 14,244 wounded, based on what it said were likely lower estimates.

Prigozhin, a wealthy businessman with longstanding ties to Putin, is known for his megalomania — often laced with obscenities — and has previously made unverifiable claims that he has since retracted.

Earlier this month, his media team released a video of him yelling, cursing and pointing at about 30 uniformed bodies on the ground, saying they were Wagnerian fighters who died in a single day. He claimed the Russian Ministry of Defense starved his men of ammunition and threatened to abandon the fight for Bakhmut.

Prigozhin, who has often warned Ukrainian officials that they are planning a counteroffensive, said in an interview on Tuesday that if the West continued to provide support, forces in Kiev could succeed in pushing Russian forces out of all the territories they held in southern and eastern Ukraine, and Annexed Crimea.

“A pessimistic scenario: The Ukrainians get the missiles, they prepare the army, and of course they go on the offensive, trying to fight back,” he said. “They’re going to attack Crimea, they’re going to try to blow up the Crimea bridge[to the Russian mainland]cut off (our) supply lines. So we need to prepare for a tough fight.”

Prigozhin’s acknowledgment of heavy losses seems to indicate the impact of Ukraine’s strategy. Ukrainian officials said their goal at Bakhmut was to exhaust and deplete Russian forces, distract them from protecting territories they occupy elsewhere, and buy time for more Western supplies of arms and ammunition to arrive and complete training.

Prigozhin’s interview, which was not reported by Russia’s largest state-run and pro-Kremlin media, was posted on a Telegram channel with only 50,000 followers, so it is unlikely to be widely seen in Russia. Nor did it be mentioned by Russian military bloggers, whose popular Telegram page is an important source of information for many Russians about the war.

On the battlefield, Ukraine’s general staff said on Wednesday that “heavy fighting” was continuing within Bahmut, days after Russia claimed to have fully captured the devastated city. Bachmut is located in Donetsk province, one of four provinces Russia illegally annexed last fall and only partially controls.

The head of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said Kiev forces were “continuing their defensive operations in Bakhmut” and had achieved unspecified “successes” on its outskirts. He did not elaborate.

A Ukrainian commander in Bakhmut told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the Ukrainians planned to trap the Russians.

“Now we don’t need to fight in Bakhmut. We need to flank it and block it,” Yevhen Mezhevikin said. “Then we should ‘sweep’ it. That’s more appropriate, and that’s what we’re doing now.”

Elsewhere, Russian officials claimed more attacks continued along the border after one of the worst incursions since the war began. Russian forces shot down a “significant number” of drones in Russia’s southern Belgorod region, a local official said on Wednesday, a day after Moscow announced its forces had crushed a cross-border attack from Ukraine.

Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said in a telegram that the drone was intercepted overnight and that another drone flew over the regional capital, also known as Belgorod, on Wednesday. Gorod) was shot down. He said no one was hurt but property was damaged.

Ukrainian officials were not immediately available for comment.

In Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu vowed a “swift and extremely severe” response to such attacks.

The incident took place in a rural area about 80 kilometers north of the eastern Ukraine city of Kharkiv, far from the front lines of the war, and the exact circumstances were unclear.

Moscow blamed the invasion on Ukrainian military saboteurs. Kiev described it as an uprising by Russian partisans against the Kremlin. It was impossible to reconcile the two versions, to determine who was behind the attack or what its purpose was.

The area is a military center for Russia, housing fuel and ammunition depots. Like the neighboring Bryansk region and other border regions, the Belgorod region has seen sporadic war spillovers.

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