Russia admits retreat in Bakhmut as Wagner chief accuses army of 'giving up'

Russia has admitted it was forced to retreat from parts of Bakhmut with mercenary group Wagner accusing troops of ‘giving up’ territory.

Chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said the Ukrainians had seized high ground overlooking the town and opened the main highway leading in from the west.

‘The loss of the Berkhivka reservoir – the loss of this territory they gave up – that’s 5 sq km, just today,’ he said on Friday.

Responding to Moscow’s claim that troops had changed their position for strategic reasons, Prigozhin stressed that the move had been a retreat ‘and not a regrouping’.

Wagner forces previously led the campaign in the city – the Kremlin’s main objective and the theatre of the war’s bloodiest fighting.

Prigozhin again criticised the military top brass, this time for allowing the front to ‘collapse’ by not giving his men enough supplies or putting up enough of a fight.

He said: ‘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 Russian army soldiers who are supposed to hold our flanks.

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‘The situation on the flanks is shaping up according to the worst predicted scenario.’

But he ultimately blames the Ryssian defence ministry for ‘not giving them the ammunition they asked for so they can cover the military with firepower’.

He said: ‘They have not given us weapons or military material in the hopes that Wagner will cease to exist. The front is collapsing.

‘And attempts by the defence ministry to publish statements to make things look better will bring overall tragedy to Russia.’

The Ukrainian advance near Bakhmut appears to have begun on Tuesday when a Ukrainian unit southwest of the city said it defeated a Russian brigade, recapturing a swathe of land. Prigozhin confirmed the Russian brigade there fled.

A Ukrainian military report on Friday described fighting in Bakhmut and Russian shelling of nearby towns, but made no mention of any advance or Russian withdrawal.

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President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russians were ‘already internally ready for defeat’ during his last nightly address.

He said: ‘They have already lost this war in their minds. We must put pressure on them every day so that their sense of defeat turns into their flight, their mistakes, their losses.’

The world has long been expecting a counter-offensive from Kyiv, which has been receiving hundreds of tanks and weapons from allies including the UK.

The recent action has fed rumours the attack from the capital, which has largely been on the defensive since the war started, is imminent.

But Ukrainian officials have played this down, with Mr Zelenskyy saying he needs more supplies from the west before his fighters can attack.

Prigozhin has essentially said this is a strategic lie, believing the campaign near Bakhmut is the start of Kyiv’s plan.

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