Russia’s private army chief says more than 20,000 of his soldiers died in the Battle of Bakhmut

by the associated press: Wagner, head of the Russian private army, said his army lost more than 20,000 fighters in the drawn-out battle for Bakhmut, about 20 percent of the 50,000 Russian defectors recruited to fight in the 15-month war. Eastern Ukrainian city.

This figure was in contrast to Moscow’s widely disputed claims that it had lost just over 6,000 soldiers in the war, and is higher than the official estimate of Soviet losses in the Afghanistan War of 15,000 soldiers between 1979–89.

Ukraine has not said how many of its soldiers have been killed since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Analysts believe the nine-month battle for Bakhmut alone may have cost the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers, among them criminals who allegedly received little training before being sent to the front.

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a published interview with pro-Kremlin political strategist Konstantin Dolgov that Russia’s invasion goal of “demilitarizing” Ukraine has backfired as Ukraine’s military is strengthened with arms supplies and training by its Western allies. Has occurred.

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

Prigozhin, a wealthy business man with long ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is known for his bluster – often spiced with obscenity – and has previously made incredible claims, some of which he later retracted. moved back.

Earlier this month, his spokesman published a video of him shouting, swearing and pointing to about 30 uniformed bodies lying on the ground, which he said were Wagner fighters killed in a single day . He claimed that the Russian Ministry of Defense had starved his men of ammunition and threatened to give up the fight for Bakhmut.

He also said in the interview that it was possible that Kiev’s anticipated retaliation in the coming weeks, given continued Western support, could force Russian forces out of southern and eastern Ukraine as well as annex Crimea.

“A pessimistic scenario: Ukrainians are given 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), cut off (our) supply lines. Therefore, we need to prepare for a tough war.”

The Ukrainian General Staff said on Wednesday that “heavy fighting” was continuing inside Bakhmut, days after Russia said it had fully captured the devastated city.

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

The head of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Sirsky, said Kiev’s forces “continue their defensive operation” in Bakhmut, and have achieved unspecified “successes” on the city’s outskirts. He did not give further details.

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

A Ukrainian commander in Bakhmut told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the Ukrainians have plans to expel the Russians from all occupied territory.

“But now we do not need to fight at Bakhmut, we need to surround it from the flanks and block it,” said Yevgen Mezhevkin. “Then we should ‘sweep’ it. It’s more appropriate, and that’s what we’re doing now.”

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

Drones were intercepted overnight over the province and another was shot down outside the local capital, also known as Belgorod, on Wednesday, Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said in a telegram post. No one was hurt, but an unspecified number of administrative buildings, residential buildings and cars were damaged, he said.

Ukrainian officials had no immediate comment.

Gladkov, the regional governor, said on Wednesday that he had questions for “(Russia’s) Defense Ministry” after the attack, which reportedly sowed alarm among locals and embarrassed the Kremlin.

During a Q&A session with residents on social media, Gladkov agreed with a participant who said the Russian military’s actions in Belgorod “raised some questions.”

In Moscow, Russia’s defense chief Sergei Shoigu vowed to respond “immediately and extremely harshly” to such attacks in the future.

Russia said the previous day it had repelled one of the most serious cross-border attacks of the war, with the defense ministry saying more than 70 attackers were killed in fighting that lasted nearly 24 hours in the Belgorod region. It does not mention any Russian casualties.

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

Officials said twelve local civilians were injured in the attack, and an elderly woman died during the evacuation.

Details of the incident, which took place in a rural area some 80 kilometers north of the city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine and far from the front lines of the nearly 15-month war, remain unclear.

Moscow has blamed Ukrainian military saboteurs for the incursion that began on Monday. Kiev described it as an uprising against the Kremlin by Russian partisans. Reconciling the two versions, it was impossible to say with certainty who was behind the attack or to ascertain its motives.

The area is a Russian military center with fuel and ammunition depots. Moscow officials declined to say how many attackers were involved in the attack or to comment on why efforts to kill the attackers had taken so long.

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

Ukraine’s presidential office said on Wednesday that at least three civilians were killed and 18 others were wounded in Ukraine on Tuesday and night, including in the southern Kherson region, where two elderly people were killed in airstrikes.