The Wagner Group’s leader says that his forces are now pulling out of Bakhmut, and they have handed over control of Bakhmut to the Russian military.
This comes just days after Yevgeny Prgozhin claimed that mercenaries of his private military captured the eastern Ukrainian city.
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In a video posted on Telegram, the millionaire and long-time Vladimir Putin ally stated that the transfer will be complete by 1 June.
The Russian defense ministry did not immediately comment.
The city was heavily damaged and it was impossible to confirm whether Wagner forces had begun to withdraw.
The Ukrainian General Staff announced on Wednesday that heavy fighting continues inside Bakhmut, after a nine month battle which has claimed the lives of tens thousands of people.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister said that Wagner units were replaced by regular troops on the outskirts of Kiev, but Wagner fighters remained in the center.
Hanna Maliar stated that Ukrainian forces have still a foothold on the southwest outskirts.
After his invasion began to lose momentum, a Wagner victory in Bakhmut could be the boost Mr Putin needed.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a top Ukrainian presidential advisor, said Ukraine’s counteroffensive has already begun. He added that it shouldn’t be seen as a single event starting at a certain time.
He tweeted that “dozens” of “different actions to destroy Russian occupier forces were “taking yesterday, today, and tomorrow”.
Mr Prigozhin is in a long-standing feud with Moscow. During the 15-month-long war, he repeatedly chastised Russia’s military leadership for their incompetence and lack of proper supply to his troops.
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Wagner’s role in Bakhmut’s capture has elevated Mr Prigozhin, who has now used this to express his own views on the war.
According to the Institute for the Study of War, “Prigozhin… uses the perception that Wagner was responsible for the capture of Bakhmut in order to advocate for a ridiculous level of influence on the Russian war effort against Ukraine.”
It is rare for him to criticize Russia’s military performance so often under the censorious regime of Mr Putin.
His latest statements on Bakhmut come a day after again breaking with the Kremlin’s line on Ukraine.
He acknowledged that Russian troops killed civilians, and agreed with the western estimate of more than 20,000 soldiers lost in the battle to take the city.