The paramilitary group Wagner, after claiming this weekend the capture of Bakhmout in eastern Ukraine, began Thursday the transfer to the Russian regular army of its positions in this devastated city.
This operation takes place at a time when the Russian army is in difficulty on the flanks in Bakhmout, having lost, according to the Ukrainians, 20 square kilometers north and south of this city against their forces.
It also comes after an incursion on Monday and Tuesday from Ukraine into the Russian border region of Belgorod by fighters that Moscow took more than 24 hours to repel, once again highlighting the difficulties facing its Russian forces.
“We are withdrawing the units from Bakhmout today. By June 1, most will be relocating to rear bases. We are handing over the positions to the military, the ammunition and everything there is,” Wagner boss Evguéni Prigojine said in a video posted on Telegram.
On these images, he will greet his men by giving them instructions and wishing them good journey, avoiding this time repeating his insults and his criticisms towards the Russian general staff, with which he is in open conflict.
“We retire, we rest, we prepare, then we will receive new tasks,” added Mr. Prigojine.
Bakhmout, an industrial city of some 70,000 people before the conflict, was the scene of the longest (triggered in the summer of 2022) and deadliest battle of the Russian offensive.
Mr. Prigojine on Wednesday assessed the number of dead in the ranks of his group at 10,000 inmates recruited from Russian prisons and a similar proportion, not precisely quantified, of his professional fighters.
The boss of Wagner claimed Saturday the conquest of Bakhmout “to the last centimeter” after fighting which almost completely destroyed this city.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has denied the loss of Bakhmout, while his army has claimed to still control an “insignificant” pocket in the west while carrying out offensives on the Russian flanks.
Ukraine is therefore counting on a breakthrough around this city in the hope of achieving its “tactical encirclement”.
Ukraine’s air force reported another Russian attack overnight using 36 Iranian-made Shahed drones, all of which were shot down in the air.
Russia “continues to terrorize Ukraine” with its night attacks, denounced Mr. Zelensky on Telegram.
“The enemy was no doubt targeting essential infrastructure and military sites in the south of the country,” the air force said.
The pro-Russian authorities of the Crimean peninsula, annexed in 2014 by Moscow, for their part said they had shot down six Ukrainian drones during the night.
Attacks on Russian soil
In Russia itself, the authorities were confronted on Monday and Tuesday with the largest armed incursion by a group of fighters from Ukraine since the start of the conflict.
This operation was claimed by two groups of Russians fighting alongside the Ukrainians, whose representatives have been identified as being figures of the far-right nebula on Russian soil.
If Moscow claimed to have “crushed” the group with the help of aviation and artillery, killing 70 people, the fighters, who organized a press conference in Ukraine on Wednesday, recognized only two wounded in their ranks.
The Russian security services (FSB) also claimed Thursday to have arrested “saboteurs” recruited by the Ukrainians, who planned to “blow up” power lines supplying nuclear power plants in Russia.
This embarrassing new episode for Moscow comes after a series of setbacks on the ground, with Russian troops forced to withdraw from the Kiev region, then from Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine and from the city of Kherson in the south.
The boss of Wagner had also jumped at the chance to criticize his rival, the Ministry of Defense, “totally incapable of countering” the incursions.
“What guarantee do we have that they won’t come to Moscow tomorrow?” “, he was alarmed on Wednesday.
On the diplomatic level, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Li Hui, sent by Beijing to Europe to discuss a political settlement of the conflict in Ukraine, would be visiting Moscow on Friday for “consultations” on this subject.
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