The founder of the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary unit, admitted on Sunday that Ukrainian troops are not backing down from Russian advances in Bakhmut.
“I clarify the situation. The Armed Forces of Ukraine are not retreating anywhere. The Armed Forces of Ukraine are fighting to the last. In the northern quarters of Artemovsk, there are fierce battles for every street, every house, every stairwell,” Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a Telegram post. “Of course, it is pleasant that the media want the APU to retreat, but this does not happen either in the northern quarters, or in the southern or in the eastern.”
Bakhmut, which is in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, has been the focus of Russian attacks for months, enduring numerous shelling incidents. Control of Bakhmut has been the goal of Russia, but its troops have been unable to declare definitive victory despite reports of gains following the fall of the nearby city of Soledar.
According to a Sunday report from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Russian troops “continued offensive operations around Bakhmut and Vuhledar but have slowed the pace of their offensives along the western outskirts of Donetsk City.”
“Russian conventional forces, reserves, and Wagner forces have already committed tens of thousands of troops to the effort to seize Bakhmut, reportedly suffering many thousands of casualties in that effort. Bakhmut had a pre-war population of slightly over 70,000,” the ISW added in its report.
Rajan Menon, director of the Grand Strategy program at Defense Priorities, told Newsweek on Sunday, “The combination of Wagner and Russian regular forces has been trying to take Bakhmut and (nearby and smaller) Soledar for months now and despite superiority in numbers and firepower, especially in artillery, they were just recently able to take Soledar.”
He added: “Not exactly a good showing from what had been hailed as the world’s second superpower. Plus, Wagner in particular has taken massive casualties, especially the hapless prisoners Prigozhin recruited to fight with promises of pardons.”
Menon concluded, “At the moment RUS seems to have surrounded Bakhmut from 3 sides? So why is UKR hanging on? Their aim is to make this as costly as possible for RUS and also to tie up their troops there so they can’t be used elsewhere, or even push further west into UKR controlled Donbas. It’s a bloody battle but it underscores UKR morale and RUS military incompetence.”
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has asked the West for more military aid to help combat Russian aggression. Taking to Twitter on Friday, he thanked President Joe Biden for a new aid package that is heading to his war-torn country.
“Thank you POTUS for the new $2.2 billion defense aid package. It’s important to strengthen the UA Defense Forces. Together with U.S. we stand against terror! The more long-range our weapons are and the more mobile our troops are the sooner Russia’s brutal aggression will end,” Zelensky tweeted.
Since Russia’s invasion, the Ukrainian president has continually lobbied for Western-made fighter jets. However, Biden reiterated to reporters last Monday that he has no plans to send Zelensky any F-16 fighter jets.
Biden’s remarks followed Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki telling reporters that his country would only transfer aircraft to Ukraine if the move is in agreement with other NATO countries. Morawiecki added that Poland would also “act in full coordination” with any such requests.
Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, posted to Telegram on Monday, saying, “The work on obtaining F-16 figures is ongoing. We have possible signals from Poland, which is ready to transfer them to us in coordination with NATO.”
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