Mercenary chief says Russian gains in Bakhmut at risk
The head of Moscow's Wagner mercenary force has warned Russia's position around the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut is in peril unless his troops get ammunition, the latest sign of tension between the Kremlin and the private militia chief.
Ukrainian military officials and analysts also reported leaders of Russia's 155th Brigade fighting near the town of Vuhledar, south of Bakhmut, were resisting orders to attack after sustaining severe losses in attempts to capture it.
For its part, the Russian Defence Ministry on Sunday said Russian forces had hit a command centre of the Ukrainian Azov Regiment in the south-eastern Zaporizhzhia region.
The ministry did not elaborate on the attack.
Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield accounts.
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said Russia's front lines near Bakhmut could collapse if his forces did not receive the ammunition promised by Moscow in February.
"For now, we are trying to figure out the reason: is it just ordinary bureaucracy or a betrayal," Prigozhin, referring to the absence of ammunition, said in his press service Telegram channel on Sunday.
The mercenary chief regularly criticises Russia's defence chiefs and top generals.
Last month, he accused Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and others of "treason" for withholding supplies of munitions to his men.
In an almost four-minute video published on the Wagner Orchestra Telegram channel on Saturday, Prigozhin said his troops were worried the government wanted to set them up as possible scapegoats if Russia lost the war.
"If Wagner retreats from Bakhmut now, the whole front will collapse," Prigozhin said.
"The situation will not be sweet for all military formations protecting Russian interests."
A Russian victory in Bakhmut, with a pre-war population of about 70,000, would give it the first major prize in a costly winter offensive, after it called up hundreds of thousands of reservists last year.
Russia says it would be a stepping stone to completing the capture of the Donbas industrial region, one of its most important objectives.
Volodymyr Nazarenko, a commander of Ukrainian troops in Bakhmut, said there had been no order to retreat and "the defence is holding" in grim conditions.
"The situation in Bakhmut and around it is very much hell-like, as it is on the entire eastern front," Nazarenko said in a video posted on Telegram.
Ukraine's military said late on Sunday Russian forces were attempting to advance on Bakhmut, shelling the city and nearby settlements of Ivanivske, Chasiv Yar, Kurdyumivka and Orikhovo-Vasylivka.
"The situation in Bakhmut can be described as critical," Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said in a video commentary.
To the north, Russian troops advanced towards the town of Bilohorivka, just inside the Luhansk region, and shelled several settlements in the direction of Kupiansk and Lyman, the Ukrainian military said.
Further south, it said Russian forces made preparations for an offensive in the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, shelling dozens of towns and villages including the city of Kherson, causing civilian casualties.
A woman and two children were killed by Russian mortar bombs in a village in Kherson region, the head of Ukraine's presidential office said.