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Kyiv Rejects Wagner’s Claim of Bakhmut Capture,Describes Situation as Critical


In a recent development in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, conflicting reports have emerged regarding the control of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. The head of the Russian private army Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed that his fighters had successfully captured Bakhmut, while Ukrainian authorities vehemently denied the assertion and described the situation in the city as critical.

Prigozhin made the announcement in a video released on Saturday, where he appeared in combat fatigues alongside fighters holding Russian flags and Wagner banners. Asserting the capture of Bakhmut, he stated, “Today, at noon, Bakhmut was completely taken. We completely took the whole city, from house to house.” However, Ukrainian officials promptly rejected the claim and emphasized that heavy fighting was still ongoing in Bakhmut.

Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Malyar took to Telegram to provide an update on the situation, stating, “Heavy fighting in Bakhmut. The situation is critical.” Malyar further added that Ukrainian troops were actively defending the city’s “Airplane area” and maintained control over certain industrial and infrastructure facilities in the vicinity. Ukrainian military spokesperson Serhiy Cherevatyi confirmed the ongoing battle, informing Reuters that Ukrainian units were actively engaged in fighting in Bakhmut.

The report on Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify the competing claims regarding the city’s control. However, journalist Yulia Shapovalova, reporting from Moscow, noted that Prigozhin had previously made similar statements about Bakhmut that turned out to be false. The Russian authorities have yet to comment on his recent claims.

Questions now arise about who will assume control of the city if Ukrainian forces do not withdraw, as Prigozhin suggested that the city would be handed over to the Ministry of Defense. Bakhmut has been the focal point of the longest and bloodiest battle in Russia’s war in Ukraine, spanning over 15 months. The prolonged conflict has devastated the salt-mining center, which once housed a population of approximately 70,000 people.

During Prigozhin’s video message, distant explosions could be heard in the background, underscoring the continued violence in Bakhmut. Prigozhin taunted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and US President Joe Biden, who was attending a G7 summit in Japan, where the Ukraine war remained a prominent topic of discussion among world leaders. Prigozhin mockingly urged Zelenskyy to greet Biden on his behalf during their meeting.

Natacha Butler, reporting from Kyiv, highlighted the significance of Prigozhin’s timing, suggesting that his comments were intended to embarrass the Ukrainian president. Moscow’s frustration is likely fueled by seeing Zelenskyy engaging with the world’s wealthiest nations and holding discussions with Russia’s allies during the G7 summit. Moscow’s exclusion from the G7, previously the G8, occurred in 2014 after the illegal annexation of Crimea.

Prigozhin also reiterated previous complaints about inadequate support and ammunition supplies from Russia’s regular army, blaming them for heavier losses suffered by his forces. His recent threat to withdraw his forces followed a scathing condemnation of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, delivered while standing among a field of casualties.

The claim of victory in Bakhmut comes after a week of intense fighting in which Ukraine reported pushing back Russian forces. British defense intelligence suggested that Russia had deployed several battalions to reinforce the Bakhmut sector in response to Ukrainian tactical gains on the town’s flanks. The British defense intelligence further noted that capturing Bakhmut was seen as a key immediate objective for Russia’s leadership, allowing them to claim some degree of success in the conflict.

It is worth noting that while Bakhmut may lack strategic significance, its symbolic importance to both sides cannot be understated. The intensity of the fighting and the scale of losses have elevated its significance in the eyes of the conflicting parties.

As the situation in Bakhmut remains fluid, the conflicting claims regarding control of the city underscore the complexity and volatility of the Russia-Ukraine war. The international community continues to closely monitor the evolving situation and remains concerned about the humanitarian impact of the conflict on the civilian population caught in the crossfire.

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