The Ukrainian military has rejected statements by the leader of the Wagner mercenary force in Russia, who claimed that his fighters would withdraw from the conflict in Bakhmut. It was reported on Friday that the Wagner group is strengthening its presence in Bakhmut, likely in an attempt to capture the city before Russia celebrated the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II on May 9th. According to the military, the mercenaries continue to hold their positions and even receive reinforcements.
According to Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister, the Wagner fighters are being withdrawn from the entire offensive line, where they were deployed and relocated to the Bakhmut direction. Maliar made this revelation during an appearance on Ukrainian television. In a video statement, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner group, claimed that his men were running low on ammunition due to neglect by Russia’s defense ministry. Prigozhin said he would withdraw his fighters from Bakhmut and expected the Russian army to replace them by May 10th.
On Sunday, the Wagner mercenary group of Russia announced that they had abandoned their previous plans to retreat from Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. They claimed that Moscow had promised to provide them with additional weapons.#Bakhmut #Bakhmut_2023 #WagnerGroup #Russia #Ukraine pic.twitter.com/gsjpzjN2G1
— News Live (@NewsLiveFree) May 8, 2023
In a video statement, Yevgeny Prigozhin stated that his fighters in Bakhmut would not be subjected to unjustified losses due to a lack of ammunition. The written statement detailed that despite knowing that Wagner’s objective was to capture the city by May 9th, when Moscow celebrates Victory Day, supplies had been held back by “bureaucrats.” Prigozhin addressed his withdrawal announcement to the head of the Russian general staff, the defense ministry, and President Vladimir Putin, who he called the supreme commander.
Wagner Group’s Withdrawal from Bakhmut Disputed by Ukraine
The battle for Bakhmut is considered a crucial point for Russia to gain access to other cities in Ukraine’s Donbas region. The conflict has been marked by intense urban warfare, leading to the loss of thousands of lives on both sides. Despite Yevgeny Prigozhin’s claims of withdrawal, Andriy Chernyak, Ukraine’s military intelligence representative, stated that they have not seen any indications of Wagner forces leaving Bakhmut. Chernyak made this statement in an interview with RBK-Ukraine news agency. Moreover, Ukraine’s military contradicted Prigozhin’s allegations that Russian forces stationed in Bakhmut lacked ammunition.
The Ukrainian army spokesperson, Serhii Cherevatyi, announced that 520 artillery rounds were fired in the Bakhmut area daily. Cherevatyi dismissed Prigozhin’s explanation of a lack of ammunition as an excuse for the significant loss of life among his forces, reportedly more than 100 per day. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov refrained from commenting on Prigozhin’s withdrawal threat, stating it was a military matter.
Earlier the same day, Yevgeny Prigozhin was photographed standing among corpses he claimed were his Wagner fighters. He was seen shouting insults directed at Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov. Prigozhin held Shoigu and Gerasimov accountable for the “tens of thousands of Wagner dead and injured” and demanded they take responsibility.
Illusion and Deception
Military experts have pointed out that Yevgeny Prigozhin’s eruptions should be taken with some salt, given his track record of using smoke and mirrors to deceive. Kimberly Marten, an expert in Russian security affairs at Barnard College and Columbia University, said that Prigozhin and his mercenaries are integral to Russian military intelligence, so their statements cannot be trusted. Marten added that no military commander would reveal their plans to the enemy, especially not five or six days in advance.
Military experts caution that Yevgeny Prigozhin’s statements should be taken with a little salt as they are often veiled in deception. “This is all deception, and we are only speculating,” said Kimberly Marten, a Russian security expert at Barnard College and Columbia University. Meanwhile, Yohann Michel, an International Institute for Strategic Studies analyst, opined that Prigozhin’s announcement was an attempt to shift blame for the Wagner force’s inability to capture Bakhmut, indicating that their goal remained unattainable. Michel also questioned whether Prigozhin had the autonomy to withdraw his troops without Putin’s approval, adding that “if Putin wants him to be involved in combat, he will find a way to ensure that he does.”
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