Wagner chief says Zelensky's counter-offensive is 'full steam ahead'

‘Russia are mentally prepared for defeat’: Ukraine retakes territory near Bakhmut as panicking Wagner chief says Zelensky’s counter-offensive is ‘full steam ahead’

  • Yevgeny Prigozhin said Kyiv’s troops successfully attacked Russian positions
  • Russia’s defence ministry denied the claims in a clipped statement this morning

The panicking chief of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin has admitted that Ukrainian forces have counter-attacked Russian positions around Bakhmut, noting that the attack is going ‘full steam ahead’.

In his nightly address to the Ukrainian people, President Volodymyr Zelensky praised his troops and noted the low morale of the Russian forces.

He said: ‘The occupiers are already mentally prepared for defeat. They have already lost this war in their minds.

‘We must push them every day so that their sense of defeat turns into their retreat, their mistakes, their losses.’

Prigozhin has admitted that Ukrainian forces have counter-attacked Russian positions around Bakhmut.

Russia’s Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin has admitted that Ukrainian forces have counter-attacked Russian positions around Bakhmut. He said: ‘The situation on the flanks is shaping up according to the worst predicted scenario’

‘The situation on the flanks is shaping up according to the worst predicted scenario,’ Prigozhin said, signalling fresh misery for Putin’s troops.

‘Those territories, which were taken with the blood and lives of our comrades-in-arms for many months, every day, by tens or hundreds of metres are now being thrown almost without a fight by those [Russian army soldiers] who are supposed to hold our flanks.’

Prigozhin then directly addressed the long-suffering Kremlin defence minister Sergei Shoigu.

‘Given your super long experience, please can you come to Bakhmut?’ he asked sarcastically, poking fun at the defence minister’s civilian background in engineering.

Zelensky sought to manage expectations around the pushback in Bakhmut, telling reporters the long-awaited Ukrainian counter-offensive was yet to begin in earnest and declaring: ‘We still need a bit more time.’

But Prigozhin retorted that Zelensky was being deceptive: ‘When Volodymyr Zelensky said [the counter-offensive] hasn’t started yet, he was economical with the truth.

‘It is going full steam ahead – Ukrainian units are attacking successfully.’

In his nightly address to the Ukrainian people, President Volodymyr Zelensky praised his troops and noted the low morale of the Russian forces

Russia denied reports of gains made by Ukraine in Bakhmut, after both sides made claims.

‘The individual declarations on Telegram about a “breakthrough” on several points on the frontline do not correspond to reality,’ Russia’s defence ministry said.

‘The general situation in the special military operation zone is under control,’ it added, referring to Russia’s term for the invasion.

But in an updated statement on Friday morning the ministry claimed Russian troops had changed their position for strategic purposes.

It said units of the southern group of Russian forces were now in an improved defensive position in the Maloilinivka area, something which took into consideration ‘the favourable conditions of the Berkhivka reservoir’.

Berkhivka and Maloilinivka are both close to Bakhmut.

Responding to the statement, Prigozhin said what the Ministry of Defence was talking about ‘is unfortunately called “fleeing” and not a “regrouping”’.

Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Hanna Maylar said on Friday: ‘The enemy has suffered great losses of manpower. Our defence forces advanced two kilometres (around one mile) near Bakhmut. We did not lose a single position in Bakhmut this week.’

Russia’s Defence Ministry said Ukrainian forces had stepped up attacks north of the region while denying speculation by Russian military bloggers that the Kyiv forces had achieved ‘defence breakthroughs’.

Ukrainian official Anton Gerashchenko posted a video on social media which appeared to show Russian soldiers hastily retreating amid Ukrainian artillery fire

Pro-Russian military blogger Anatoliy Shariy shared an image of a Russian position that had been deserted and retaken by Ukrainian soldiers near Bakhmut

The two kilometres (1.2 miles) of territory retaken by Ukrainian forces south of Bakhmut this week represented a significant gain and will protect an important supply chain, according to commanders of Ukraine’s 3rd Separate Assault Brigade, a special forces unit that led the attack.

Zelensky said he met with the top military commanders on Friday, noting that he heard a report from General Oleksandr Syrskyi, whose forces ‘stopped the enemy and even pushed him back in some directions’.

The battle for Bakhmut, once a salt mining town, has been grinding on for eight months.

READ MORE: As Wagner chief Prigozhin becomes ever bolder in challenging Putin… who are the mercenary army’s other senior figures? 

Private Military Company (PMC) Wagner is a mercenary group which for years acted as Putin’s personal band of enforcers and is now heavily involved in the war in Ukraine

 

In his video statement, Prigozhin again accused the military leadership of refusing to provide the necessary ammunition to Wagner.

‘You must immediately stop lying,’ Prigozhin said, addressing the Russian military leaders.

‘If you fled, you must prepare new defensive lines.’

Prigozhin claimed that the Defence Ministry’s failure to protect Wagner’s flanks amounted to high treason and could result in a ‘great tragedy’ for Russia.

Ukrainian military officials have dismissed speculation that the fighting and forward movement in Bakhmut signalled that its anticipated counter-offensive was under way.

Zelensky said in remarks broadcast on Thursday that Kyiv was delaying the campaign because it lacks enough western weapons.

The comments were interpreted by some as designed to keep Russia guessing about Ukraine’s next move.

The territorial gains occurred near the Siversky-Donets canal, between the villages of Ivanivske and Kurdiumivka, according to a commander of the 1st Assault Battalion of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade.

He spoke on condition he be referred to only by his call sign of ‘Rollo’, in line with Ukrainian military protocols.

‘This was the enemy’s bridgehead which they intended to use in their future attacks along the canal, in the direction of Kostiantynivka,’ he said.

‘We had to neutralise the enemy and push them to the other side of the canal.’

Another commander and a military spokesman corroborated his account.

Kostiantynivka is part of an important logistics chain that leads to the city of Kramatorsk.

Rollo said the win followed other successful operations, including one that secured an access road near Khromove, north of Bakhmut, and another that allowed Ukrainian forces to reclaim lost positions in the Industrial College inside Bakhmut city.

57th Ukrainian brigade shoots Grad missile systems, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Bakhmut, Ukraine May 9, 2023

Smoke erupts following a shell explosion, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine in this screengrab obtained from a handout video released on May 7, 2023

The US-based Institute for the Study of War released a battlefield update this morning which seemed to echo the sentiments of Russian war bloggers.

‘Ukrainian forces continued to conduct successful but localised counter-attacks around Bakhmut on May 11, likely constraining Russian offensive efforts.

‘The deployment of low-quality Russian forces on the flanks around Bakhmut suggests that the Russian MoD has largely abandoned the aim of encircling a significant number of Ukrainian forces there,’ the Institute concluded.

The assault south of Bakhmut was followed by a reported increase in Ukrainian offensive actions near the city of Soledar on Thursday, Russia’s Defence Ministry said.

This still from GoPro footage shows Ukrainian troops advancing through devastated countryside close to Bakhmut towards Russian positions

Russia repelled 26 Ukrainian attacks carried out by more than 1,000 soldiers, the ministry said, adding that up to 40 tanks were involved.

The slow and grinding fight for Bakhmut has cost both sides heavy casualties, with Ukraine seeking to deny Russia any territorial gains despite the area’s marginal strategic significance.

Ukrainian forces are stationed in the city, while Russian troops are attacking from the north, east and south.

In other fighting, at least two people were killed and 22 injured elsewhere in the country since Thursday, according to figures from the Ukrainian President’s Office.

Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said a Russian strike hit the city of Kramatorsk, where some Ukrainian military units are based, destroying a school and residential building.

Russian shelling hit 11 cities and villages in the region, killing 12 civilians, he said.

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