Russian mercenary group U-turns on Bakhmut withdrawal

·3-min read

Russia's Wagner mercenary group appears to have ditched plans to withdraw from Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin had said on Friday his fighters, who have spearheaded a brutal months-long assault on Bakhmut, would pull out after being starved of ammunition and suffering "useless and unjustified" losses as a result.

But in an audio message posted on his Telegram channel on Sunday, he said: "We have been promised as much ammunition and weapons as we need to continue further operations. We have been promised that everything needed to prevent the enemy from cutting us off (from supplies) will be deployed."

Elsewhere, Russian missiles targeted an industrial site in the Mykolaiv region of southern Ukraine, while Ukrainian and Russian media reported multiple explosions across Russian-occupied Crimea.

Russia's defence ministry said its air defences had detected and destroyed 22 Ukrainian drones over the Black Sea overnight.

A spokesman for Russia's defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment after Wagner chief Prigozhin's latest statement.

Russian officials have repeatedly sought to allay concerns that their forces on the frontline have not received adequate supplies. Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday, referring to the Russian army as a whole, that they had "received the sufficient amount of ammunition" to effectively inflict damage on enemy forces.

On the Ukrainian side, Serhiy Cherevaty, spokesman for Ukraine's eastern command, said in response to Reuters questions about Prigozhin's comments that Russian forces have "more than enough" ammunition.

He said Prigozhin's comments are aimed at distracting from the heavy losses Wagner has taken by throwing so many troops into battle.

"Four hundred eighty-nine artillery strikes over the past 24 hours in the area around Bakhmut - is that an ammunition hunger?"

Ukraine has routinely dismissed Prigozhin's comments in the past as being aimed at a Russian audience and not reflecting reality.

Prigozhin's threat to pull out of Bakhmut highlights the pressure Russian forces are under as Ukraine makes its final preparations for a counter-offensive backed by thousands of Western-donated armoured vehicles and freshly trained troops.

The battle for Bakhmut has been the most intense of the conflict, costing thousands of lives on both sides in months of grinding warfare.

Ukrainian troops have been pushed back in recent weeks but have clung on in the city to inflict as many Russian losses as possible ahead of Kyiv's planned big push against the invading forces along the 1000km front line.

In Mykolaiv, governor Vitaliy Kim said in a social media post that a building and territory belonging to an unspecified enterprise were damaged overnight after Russian long-range bombers targeted his southern region with five Kh-22 cruise missiles.

Ukrainian air force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat told local television on Sunday morning that a total of six of those missiles had been fired at Ukraine overnight but that none had hit their targets.

In the eastern Kharkiv region, at least five people were injured after an S-300 missile struck a car park in the city of Balakliya, said governor Oleh Synyehubov.