Thursday, 1 Jun 2023

Thousands of Russian troops retreat more than a mile in Bakhmut, Ukraine says

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Thousands of Russian troops have abandoned their positions in Bakhmut – the Kremlin’s number one target in its failing winter offensive, Ukraine said.

Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, who heads Ukraine’s ground forces, said Russian units in some parts of the town had retreated by up to two kilometres (1.2 miles) as the result of counter attacks.

It comes after Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the notorious mercenary Wagner Group, accused a Russian brigade of fleeing on Tuesday, ‘pissing away’ a swathe of land.

The oligarch has been a vociferous critic of the military top brass, saying his fighters have only been supplied 10% of the shells they need to seize control of the town.

His latest expletive-ridden rant appears to contain a thinly veiled – but explosive – reference to Vladimir Putin.

Without naming names, Prigozhin said a ‘happy grandfather’ was convinced that all was going well with Russia’s campaign.

He then added: ‘If he turns out to be right, God bless everyone. But what should the country do . . . if it turns out that this grandfather is a complete asshole?’

Prigozhin has previously poured scorn on Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff, but has avoided all personal criticism of Putin.

But the Russian president has often been dismissed as the ‘grandfather in the bunker’ by Kremlin critics, and opposition figure Olga Romanova remarked ‘there aren’t that many alternative’ targets.

Prigozhin’s Wagner units have led a months-long Russian assault on the eastern city – scene of the bloodiest ground combat in Europe since World War Two – suffering heavy losses.

And Ukrainian forces say the offensive is stalling.

In a statement, Ukraine’s Third Separate Assault Brigade said: ‘It’s official. Prigozhin’s report about the flight of Russia’s 72nd Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade from near Bakhmut and the “500 corpses” of Russians left behind is true.’

A Russian brigade is typically formed of several thousand troops.

In his nightly address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky named the Third Brigade and noted its report ‘about the flight of Russia’s 72nd Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade from near Bakhmut’.

The Russian defence ministry has not commented on the reports but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged that the war was ‘very difficult’.

Insisting Bakhmut ‘will be captured and will be kept under control’, he said: ‘This is a very difficult operation, and, of course, certain goals have been achieved in a year.

‘We managed to beat up the Ukrainian military machine quite a bit. This work will continue.’

He claimed progress has only been slow because Russia is not ‘waging war’ in Ukraine.

‘Waging war is a completely different matter – it means complete destruction of infrastucture, it means complete destruction of cities,’ he said.

‘We are not doing this. We are trying to preserve infrastructure and preserve human lives.’

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