Ukraine on Friday claimed it had recaptured ground in Bakhmut in a rare and significant shift in the war-ravaged region, though it does not appear to be a part of Kyiv’s long-anticipated spring offensive.
Fox News Digital could not independently verify any positional changes or advances in the fighting around Bakhmut, though according to Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar, Ukrainian forces had advanced over two miles within a week in the region, first reported BBC.
The claims come just days after Russian Wagner mercenary group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin suggested that Moscow was losing ground around Bakhmut and claimed that Russian forces had abandoned their posts, alleging that Ukrainian troops had moved in and were “tearing up the flanks.”
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Russia’s defense ministry reportedly responded to Malyar’s claims and said, “The individual declarations on Telegram about a ‘breakthrough’ on several points on the frontline do not correspond to reality.”
“The general situation in the special military operation zone is under control,” it added.
In addition, Igor Konashenkov, a spokesperson for the Russian defense ministry, said Friday that no new ground had been taken by Ukrainian forces and that Russian troops had actually regrouped to take on “new frontiers.”
But Prigozhin’s public disdain for the defense ministry once again surfaced Friday when he countered the Kremlin’s claims and said Konashenkov “to put it mildly, fibbed a little.”
“The [Russian] Ministry of Defense simply fled from the flanks,” he said, according to a Pravda report. “The enemy will approach Bakhmut and will be at a distance of 500 meters from Bakhmut, occupying all tactical heights.”
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Prigozhin claimed that Russian troops had withdrawn from an area of roughly two square miles, which had allowed Ukrainian soldiers to move in and get a “bird’s eye view” of Bakhmut.
The Wagner chief predicted that Ukrainian troops will soon carry out the “gradual encirclement of Bakhmut.”
Russian forces first set their sights on the salt mining town last summer, and by fall Bakhmut had become the site of some of the most brutal fighting not only in the war in Ukraine but since World War II, with trench warfare scarring the Bakhmut sector.
But despite immense efforts from Moscow, Russian forces were unable to fully capture the area in eastern Donetsk, and Western defense officials have been left wondering why the Kremlin invested so much of its resources into an area that held little strategic value for Russia.
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Malyar said that the fight for Bakhmut, while necessary for Ukraine, has become a battle of “great importance” to Russia in an “almost sacred” conflict.
Western defense officials have previously echoed these claims and suggested the battle for Bakhmut had become symbolic in Russia’s greater goal of attempting to seize Ukrainian territory.