President Zelensky said on Sunday there is “nothing left” of Bakhmut and the city exists “only in our hearts”, a day after Russian forces claimed the capture of the long-besieged city. 

What does this mean?

The slightly cryptic comments were made at the G7 summit in Japan when Zelensky was asked if Ukrainian forces were holding on or if Russia had captured the city,

"I think no," Zelensky said, adding "you have to understand there is nothing" there. "For today, Bakhmut is only in our hearts."

Initially his comments were seen as confirmation that the city had fallen but Zelensky's spokesman later denied the Ukrainian president had confirmed the fall of Bakhmut, simply saying: "The president denied the capture of Bakhmut."

 

 

Zelensky himself later clarified the comments at a press conference during the G7 summit, saying: "Today they (Russian troops) are in Bakhmut, but he added: "Bakhmut is not occupied by Russia today."

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What exactly has Russia claimed?

On Saturday, the Russian defense ministry said: "As a result of offensive actions of the Wagner assault units, with the support of artillery and aviation of the 'Southern' unit, the liberation of the city of [Bakhmut] was completed.”

"Vladimir Putin congratulated the assault units of Wagner as well as all servicemen of units of the Russian armed forces who provided them with the necessary support and flank cover, on the completion of the operation to liberate" the city, the TASS news agency quoted a Kremlin statement as saying.

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With the US dithering, the implications need to be recognized and decisive action taken to avoid disaster in the shape of a Russian victory in Ukraine.

This came shortly after Wagner's boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, released a video on Telegram declaring the capture of Bakhmut while standing alongside fighters holding Russian flags against a backdrop of ruins.

“Today on May 20, around midday, Bakhmut was taken in its entirety," he said.

What happens next?

According to Prigozhin, Wagner fighters will search the city and prepare it so that it can be handed over to the Russian army. Wagner fighters themselves will withdraw to rest, he said.

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“By May 25 we will completely examine (Bakhmut), create the necessary lines of defence and hand it to the military," he said, adding: "We ourselves will go into field camps." 

That all sounds very straightforward

It does, but it’s unlikely to be as simple as Prigozhin is making out. While he was claiming the capture of the city on Saturday, Kyiv was insisting the fighting was continuing.

"Heavy fighting in Bakhmut. The situation is critical," deputy defence minister Ganna Malyar posted on Telegram. She said Ukrainian troops were "holding the defence" in the city's "Airplane area".

"As of now, our defenders control certain industrial and infrastructure facilities in the area," she said.

I thought Ukraine had been making advances in recent days?

They have and this makes the situation on the ground far more complicated than Prigozhin appears to be making out.

On Friday, Kyiv announced further territorial gains in the areas around Bakhmut and western analysts saying they have managed to “seize the tactical initiative.”

The Institute for the Study of War in its daily assessment on Saturday, said the last areas of the city claimed by Prigozhin “are not tactically or operationally significant.”

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It added: “Prigozhin’s claimed victory over the remaining areas in Bakhmut is purely symbolic even if true.

“Their capture does not grant Russian forces operationally significant terrain to continue conducting offensive operations or any particularly strong position from which to defend against possible Ukrainian counterattacks.”

What about Prigozhin plan to withdraw and hand over to the Russian military?

This will be exceptionally difficult to accomplish. The ISW adds: “Withdrawal in contact with the enemy is an exceedingly difficult task that the Wagner Group’s forces are unlikely to perform well within Prigozhin’s five-day time frame.

“Ukrainian forces are still in Khromove and Ivanivske and are engaging Russian forces in and near Bakhmut. Ukrainian artillery can still target Russian forces in and around Bakhmut.”

Could Wagner become trapped?

It’s difficult to say but last week commander of Ukraine's ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, made comments that suggest Wagner’s current position is one that could be favorable to Ukraine.

"Wagner's men went into Bakhmut like rats into a mousetrap,” he said. 

In the latest development on Sunday afternoon, Kyiv said Ukrainian troops have "semi-encircled" Bakhmut and will make a Russian presence there "very difficult".

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"The advance of our troops in the suburbs on the flanks, which is still ongoing, makes it very difficult for the enemy to be in Bakhmut. Our troops have semi-encircled the city," Ukraine's deputy defence minister said Ganna Malyar said on social media, adding that Ukrainian troops were still in control of some parts of Bakhmut.

What does Bakhmut look like right now?

Zelensky on Sunday compared the “total destruction” of Bakhmut to the 1945 devastation of Hiroshima, now hosting the G7 summit, after it was hit by a US atomic bomb.

"The photos of Hiroshima remind me of Bakhmut. There is absolutely nothing alive. All the buildings are destroyed," Zelensky said.

"Absolute total destruction. There is nothing. There are no people."

Is there anything else I need to know?

Prigozhin is still furious with Russian generals. In his “victory” video, he said: “The operation to capture Bakhmut – the Bakhmut meat grinder – lasted 224 days. 

Moscow's losses would have been far smaller if it was not for incompetent generals, he added.

“There was only Wagner here (in Bakhmut). We fought not only the Ukrainian army here, we fought Russian bureaucracy," he said, blaming Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov for turning the offensive into “their own amusement.”

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Comments (6)

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Greg
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I really hope so the loss of life is starting

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I support
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They sure are . Why place yourself in such way in a city with no cover? With the Ukraineons on both flanks? Just to wave around some flags for propaganda. Blast them to hell.

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Marc Kase
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I'm glad the stinking Russians are now in temporary possession of a rotting pile of destruction lmfao Russians are so fukin' stupid! it's hilarious to watch them slaughtered like pigs!! 😂

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Bosco
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Well we shall see I quess what's really going on

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Larry
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Severdonetsk bakhmut. The Ukrainian media is always late to announce only for propaganda and morale purposes. Holding a only square foot of dirt , they claim that russia has not taken it. Sorry but you need to be honest.

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Ted Cruz
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Meanwhile, HIMARS are taking out train loads of Russian reinforcements once intended to plug the gaps

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