The long-running and often expletive-laden feud between the chief of the Wagner mercenary group and Russian authorities rumbles on, this time as they clash over the Kremlin’s claims of how many Ukrainian troops it has killed in recent actions in Donetsk.
What has the Kremlin claimed?
On Monday morning, the Russian defense ministry claimed to have repelled a “large-scale offensive” by Ukrainian forces in Moscow-annexed Donetsk the day before, killing “more than 250 personnel” and destroying “16 tanks.”
Later on Monday, it claimed to have repelled another attack on the town of Novodonetske in the Donetsk Region, with even greater losses for the Ukrainians – a total of 1,500 troops and 28 Tanks.
If true, it would represent a massive defeat for Kyiv in what appears to be an uptick in Ukrainian action along the front lines ahead of the long-awaited counteroffensive.
Is it true?
Probably not. At this time, we only have the word of the Russian Ministry of Defense to go on which, as ever, should be taken with a liberal sprinkling of salt.
What has the Wagner chief said?
In yet another scathing post on Telegram, Yevgeny Prigozhin said Russia's claims that its military had inflicted massive casualties on advancing Ukrainian troops are “wild fantasies.”
He said: “To destroy one and a half thousand people, it must be such a massacre, within one day, over 150 kilometers (90 miles), one hell of a massacre.
“Therefore, I think that these are just some wild fantasies.”
What has Ukraine said?
Kyiv has not commented directly on the claims of troop losses, but it has acknowledged that limited “counteroffensive” actions are underway, as well as noting some progress in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
“The defensive operation includes counteroffensive actions. Therefore, in some sectors, we are conducting offensive actions,” Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said.
“The Bakhmut sector remains the epicenter of the hostilities,” she said, adding Kyiv’s troops were occupying the “dominant heights” and reported some “success.”
“In the south, the enemy is on the defensive,” she added.
Did Prigozhin comment on Bakhmut?
He did. In an online interview on Monday evening, he was yet again scathing of the Russian armed forces and accused them of masking the reality of what was happening on the ground.
Wagner forces recently captured much of the city of Bakhmut but have pulled back in recent days to be replaced by regular Russian army units.
Acknowledging Ukrainian recent claims of advances in the Bakhmut area, he said these “can happen much faster than our advances.”
“The Ministry of Defense’s tactics are malicious and deceptive.
“The Ministry of Defense’s main goal is to pretend that everything is okay and that we are advancing. In reality, what is happening now... will result in significant tactical defeats in two weeks’ time.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday praised his troops for advances claimed near Bakhmut, the scene of the longest and one of the bloodiest battles of the war.
“Well done, warriors! We see how hysterically Russia reacts to any step we take there, all positions we take. The enemy knows that Ukraine will win,” Zelensky said in a video message published on social media.
Ukraine says it has been preparing a major offensive to recapture territory lost to Russia, but that there would be no announcement about when it would start but recent reports suggest a heightening of Ukrainian attacks along the front line in recent days.
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