According to Wagner’s Russian boss, more than 20,000 people died in the Battle of Bahmuti
KYIV, Ukraine — The head of Russia’s private army, Wagner, says his force lost more than 20,000 fighters in the protracted battle for Bahmut, and about 20% of the 50,000 Russian convicts recruited to fight in the 15-month war died in the eastern Ukrainian city. .
The figure was in sharp contrast to Moscow’s widely disputed claims that it had lost just over 6,000 troops in the war, and was higher than the official estimate of Soviet losses in the 1979-89 war in Afghanistan, which put it at 15,000. Ukraine has not said how many of its soldiers have died since Russia’s February 2022 full-scale invasion.
Analysts believe that the nine-month battle for Bakhmut alone cost the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers, including convicts who reportedly received little training before being sent to the front.
Russia’s invasion goal, the “demilitarization” of Ukraine, backfired because Kiev’s army was strengthened by supplying weapons and training to its Western allies, Wagner CEO Yevgeny Prigozhin said in an interview with pro-Kremlin political strategist Konstantin Dolgov on Tuesday.
Prigozhin also said that Kremlin forces killed civilians during the war, which Moscow has repeatedly and vehemently denied.
Prigozhin, a wealthy businessman with long ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is known for his often profanity-laced temper and has made unverifiable claims in the past, some of which he later retracted.
Earlier this month, his spokespeople released a video of him yelling, cursing and pointing at about 30 uniformed bodies on the ground, saying they were Wagner fighters who had died in a single day. He claimed that the Russian Ministry of Defense had starved him of ammunition and threatened to give up the fight for Bahmut.
In the interview on Tuesday, he also said that it is possible that Kiev’s expected counteroffensive in the coming weeks – with continued Western support – could push Russian forces out of southern and eastern Ukraine and the annexed Crimea.
“A pessimistic scenario: the Ukrainians get missiles, they prepare troops, of course they continue the offensive, they try to launch a counterattack,” he said. “They are attacking Crimea, trying to blow up the Crimean bridge (for the Russians). land), cut off (our) supply lines. So we have to prepare for a tough war.”
Ukraine’s general staff said on Wednesday that “heavy fighting” was taking place in Bakhmut, days after Russia announced it had fully captured the devastated city.
Bakhmut is in Donetsk province, one of four provinces that Russia illegally annexed last fall and only partially controls.
The head of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said Kiev forces were “continuing their defensive operation” in Bakhmut and had made unspecified “successes” on the outskirts of the city. He did not provide further details.
Ukrainian officials insisted that the battle for Bahmut was not over.
A Ukrainian commander in Bakhmut told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the Ukrainians plan to push the Russians out of all occupied territory.
“But now we don’t have to fight in Bahmut, we have to surround it from the side and block it,” said Yevhen Mezevikin. “Then we must ‘sweep’ it. That is more appropriate, and that is what we are doing now.”
Elsewhere, Russian forces shot down a “large number” of drones in Russia’s southern Belgorod region, a local official said on Wednesday, a day after Moscow said its forces had foiled a cross-border raid in the region from Ukraine.
According to Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, the drones were intercepted over the province overnight, and another was shot down on Wednesday near the local capital, also known as Belgorod. He said no one was injured, but unspecified administrative buildings, residential buildings and cars were damaged.
Ukrainian officials did not immediately comment.
Gladkov, the region’s governor, said on Wednesday he had “questions for (Russia’s) Defense Ministry” following the attack, which reportedly caused alarm among locals and embarrassed the Kremlin.
Under a QDuring a conversation with residents on social media, Gladkov agreed with one participant who said the Russian army’s actions in Belgorod “raise some questions.”
In Moscow, Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defense chief, vowed to respond “immediately and extremely harshly” to such attacks in the future.
Russia said the day before that it had repelled one of the worst cross-border attacks of the war, with the defense ministry saying more than 70 attackers were killed in a battle that lasted about 24 hours in the Belgorod region. He made no mention of Russian casualties.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konasenkov said local troops, airstrikes and artillery routed the attackers.
Twelve local civilians were wounded in the attack, officials said, and an elderly woman was killed during the evacuation.
The details of the incident in a rural area about 80 kilometers north of the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, far from the front lines of the nearly 15-month war, are unclear.
Moscow blamed Ukrainian military saboteurs for the break-in, which began on Monday. Kiev described it as an uprising by Russian partisans against the Kremlin. It was impossible to reconcile the two versions, it was impossible to say with certainty who was behind the attack, or to be sure of his goals.
The region is a Russian military center with fuel and ammunition depots. Moscow officials declined to say how many attackers were involved in the attack or to comment on why efforts to bring down the attackers were taking so long.
The Belgorod region, like the neighboring Bryansk region and other border areas, has seen sporadic spillovers from the war, which Russia launched in February 2022 with its invasion of Ukraine.
At least three civilians were killed and 18 others were wounded in Ukraine on Tuesday and overnight, the Ukrainian presidential office reported on Wednesday, including in the southern Kherson region, where two elderly people were killed in airstrikes.
Yuras Karmanau contributed to this report from Tallinn, Estonia.
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