Putin Wagner Group ‘private army’ chief says his troops withdrawing from eastern town of Bakhmut
The head of Vladimir Putin’s Wagner Group “private army” said on Thursday his soldiers had started withdrawing from Ukraine’s eastern town of Bakhmut.
Yevgeny Prigozhin made the claim about the town which was captured days ago by his troops in some of the fiercest fighting since the Second World War.
The battles are believed to have left 20,000 Wagner soldiers dead or wounded, as well as many thousand regular Russian troops.
Ukrainian forces are also believed to have suffered heavy casualties.
Prigozhin said regular Russian troops would replace his fighters as they pull out of the town.
"We are withdrawing the units from Bakhmut. From today at five in the morning, May 25 until June 1, most of the units will rebase to camps in the rear. We are handing our positions to the military," he said.
The video was posted on Telegram by his press service, and showed Prigozhin dressed in battle gear and standing beside a war-damaged residential block.
Prigozhin announced the capture of Bakhmut on Saturday.
In the latest video Prigozhin, who has repeatedly voiced scathing criticism of Russia’s military top brass, said his forces would be ready to return to Bakhmut if the regular army was unable to manage the situation.
Ukrainian military chiefs ordered the defence of Bakhmut for months, even though it had no strategic importance, but they have succeeded in tying down Wagner and Russian units in the clashes ahead of a planned counter-offensive.
Ukraine’s army is already seeking to “shape” the battlefield, probing Russian defences ahead of the launch of a full-scale counter-offensive, with attacks also being carried out across the border in Russia by anti-regime forces.
Russian units in Ukraine are believed to be so worn down that they will struggle to counter-punch if the formidable defences which they have built up in eastern Ukraine are breached.
But while Ukraine may succeed in regaining swathes of territory, the likelihood of any breakthrough that would end the war appear remote.
Meanwhile, Ukraine said on Thursday it had shot down all 36 Iranian-made drones launched by Russia in overnight attacks which it said probably targeted critical infrastructure and military facilities.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said it had been an "uneasy night" but praised the work of air defences.
"Continuing to terrorise Ukraine, the enemy used 36 Shahed (drones). None of them reached their target. Thanks to our air defence forces for the 100 per cent result," he wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Since last October, Moscow, which launched its full-scale invasion in February last year, has regularly sent waves of drones to attack targets in Ukraine. Although they are slow, drones are cheaper and more expendable than advanced missiles.
"The enemy likely aimed to attack critical infrastructure and military facilities in the western regions of the state," the Ukrainian air force said on Telegram.
It said Iran-made Shahed 136 and Shahed 131 drones had been used.
The head of Kyiv's military administration said the capital had come under attack by several waves of drones but that all had been shot down. He said it was the 12th attack on Kyiv this month.
Regional and military authorities in southern and western Ukraine reported shooting down drones.