Russian private army chief Wagner says more than 20,000 of his soldiers died in the Battle of Bakhmut

Russian private army chief Wagner says more than 20,000 of his soldiers died in the Battle of Bakhmut

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian private army chief Wagner says his forces lost more than 20,000 fighters in the long battle for Bakhmutwith about 20% of the 50,000 Russian convicts he recruited to fight in the 15-month war dying in the city in eastern Ukraine.

The figure contrasts sharply with widely disputed claims by Moscow that it lost just over 6,000 soldiers during the war and is higher than the official estimate of Soviet losses in the Afghan war of 15,000 soldiers between 1979 and 1989. Ukraine has not said how many of its soldiers have died since the full-scale invasion of Russia in February 2022.

Analysts estimate that the nine-month fight for Bakhmut alone claimed the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers, including convicts who would have received little training before being sent to the front.

Russia’s invasion goal of “demilitarizing” Ukraine backfired because Kiev’s military grew stronger through the supply of weapons and training from its Western allies, said Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in an interview published Tuesday evening with Konstantin Dolgov, a pro-Kremlin political strategist.

Prigozhin also said Kremlin forces killed civilians during the war, which Moscow has repeatedly and vehemently denied.

Prigozhina wealthy businessman with long-standing ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is known for his bluster – often laced with obscenity – and has previously made unverifiable claims, which he later backtracked.

Earlier this month, his spokespersons released a video of him shouting, swearing and pointing at about 30 uniformed bodies lying on the ground, saying they were Wagner fighters who died in a single day. He claimed that the Russian Ministry of Defense had deprived his men of ammunition and threatened to give up the fight for Bakhmut.

He also said in Tuesday’s interview that it was possible that Kiev’s planned counter-offensive in the coming weeks, given continued Western support, could push Russian forces out of the south and west. eastern Ukraine as well as the annexed Crimea.

“A pessimistic scenario: the Ukrainians receive missiles, they prepare troops, of course they will continue their offensive, try to counterattack,” he said. “They will attack Crimea, they will try to blow up the Crimean bridge (to the Russian mainland), to cut (our) supply lines. Therefore, we have to prepare for a hard war.

Ukraine’s general staff said on Wednesday that “heavy fighting” continued inside Bakhmut, days after Russia said it had completely captured the devastated town.

Bakhmut is in Donetsk province, one of four provinces that Russia illegally annexed last fall and only partially controls.

Ukrainian ground forces chief Oleksandr Syrskyi said Kyiv forces were “continuing their defensive operation” in Bakhmut and had achieved unspecified “successes” on the outskirts of the city. He gave no further details.

Ukrainian officials have insisted the battle for Bakhmut is not over.

A Ukrainian commander in Bakhmut told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the Ukrainians had a plan to drive the Russians out of any occupied territory.

“But now we don’t need to fight in Bakhmut anymore, we have to encircle it from the flanks and block it,” Yevhen Mezhevikin said. “Then we should ‘sweep’ it. It’s more appropriate, and that’s what we’re doing now.

Elsewhere, Russian forces shot down “large numbers” of drones in Russia’s southern Belgorod region, a local official said on Wednesday, a day after Moscow announced its forces had crushed a cross-border raid. in the region of Ukraine.

The drones were intercepted overnight over the province, Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said in a Telegram message, and another was shot down on Wednesday just outside the local capital, also called Belgorod. He said no one was injured, but unspecified administrative buildings, residential buildings and cars were damaged.

Ukrainian officials had no immediate comment.

Gladkov, the regional governor, said on Wednesday he had “questions for the (Russian) Defense Ministry” following the attack which reportedly alarmed residents and embarrassed the Kremlin.

During a question-and-answer session with locals on social media, Gladkov agreed with one participant who said the Russian military’s actions in Belgorod “raise some questions”.

In Moscow, Russian Defense Chief Sergei Shoigu pledged to respond “quickly and extremely harshly” to such attacks in the future.

Russia said the day before that it had repelled one of the worst cross-border attacks of the war, with the Defense Ministry saying more than 70 assailants had been killed in a battle in the Belgorod region that lasted about 24 hours. He made no mention of Russian casualties.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said local troops, airstrikes and artillery routed the attackers.

Twelve local civilians were injured in the attack, officials said, and an older woman died during an evacuation.

Details of the incident in the rural region, located about 80 kilometers (45 miles) north of the city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine and far from the front lines of the nearly 15-month-old war, are not clear.

Moscow blamed the incursion that began on Monday on Ukrainian military saboteurs. kyiv described it as an uprising against the Kremlin by Russian supporters. Impossible to reconcile the two versionsto say with certainty who was behind the attack or to know its objectives.

The area is a Russian military hub housing fuel and ammunition depots. Moscow officials declined to say how many attackers were involved in the assault or comment on why efforts to quell the attackers took so long.

The Belgorod region, like the neighboring Bryansk region and other border areas, has seen sporadic fallout from the war, which Russia sparked by invading Ukraine in February 2022.

At least three civilians died and 18 others were injured in Ukraine on Tuesday and overnight, the Ukrainian presidential office reported on Wednesday, including in the southern Kherson region where two elderly people died in airstrikes.

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Yuras Karmanau contributed to this report from Tallinn, Estonia.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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