The head of Russia’s shadow army He has tried to explain away his mercenary group’s failure to take the Ukrainian stronghold of Bakhmut by claiming that Ukraine has “500 lines of defense” there.
Ukraine’s military has fended off a Russian takeover there during months of brutal battles against the notorious mercenaries. Faced with relentless Russian attacks, the city has acquired enormous symbolic significance.
While pro-Kremlin pundits and Prigozhin himself have for weeks taunted the Ukrainians with threats that Bakhmut will soon fall to Russia, Wagner’s boss now seems to be acknowledging what Western experts and British intelligence have already predicted: Russia is unlikely to achieve major victories in the area anytime soon.
“It is a fortress in every home,” Prigozhin said in a video published by RIA Novosti. “The boys fight over each home, sometimes not just for one day. Sometimes for weeks more than one house. They take one home, they take a second, a third,” Prigozhin said.
But they still can’t break through the defenses.
“Say [there are] 500 [lines of defense] it probably wouldn’t be a mistake. Every 10 meters there is a line of defense,” Prigozhin said as he met his mercenaries.
One of the men under his command can be heard complaining in the footage that they do not have enough equipment or weapons to advance further into Bakhmut.
The admission by Wagner’s boss comes after Western intelligence noted that the manpower behind the Russian attacks in the area had been shrinking. Britain’s Defense Ministry noted in its latest assessment on Tuesday that while Russia has “increased the frequency” of attacks around Bakhmut, “many of these operations were poorly supported.”
A Ukrainian soldier near Bakhmut also says it seems the Russian side is “running out” of prisoners to send to the front.
In an interview with Radio New TimesYevgeny Oropai said Russian troops appear to be “out of breath” after unsuccessfully trying to storm Ukrainian positions around the New Year holidays, leaving Wagner with “heavy losses”.
But they are also learning from their own mistakes and are no longer carrying out as many “mindless” offensives, he said.
Both sides suffered staggering losses in and around the city, leading even some pro-Kremlin figures to question whether Russia’s offensive was worth the “mindless meat grinder” it had created for them.
But the city seemed to take on greater importance for Moscow after a series of crushing losses elsewhere caused the Russians to withdraw from territories Putin had proudly declared part of Russia. Bakhmut, seen in some ways as Russia’s “last stand” after Ukraine recaptured Kharkiv and Kherson, was also part of the Donbas region that Putin had labeled a priority after the Kremlin’s failure to take Kyiv.
Prigozhin, who for months has boasted that his boys are more ruthless and capable of doing what ordinary Russian troops cannot, posted a series of attention-grabbing propaganda videos said to come from Bakhmut in late December. , in which he ordered his mercenaries to fire. weapons and taunted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with invitations to meet at the front.
“Maybe at night we can meet up,” he said. “I am sitting, waiting for you near Bakhmut.”
Days later, however, Russian airborne troops were sent to the area to shore up Wagner’s operations, a move widely seen as evidence that all was not going according to plan by Russia’s tough shadow army chief.