In a significant development in the Russia-Ukraine war, the head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has announced the start of the withdrawal of their forces from the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. Prigozhin has pledged to transfer control of the city to the Russian army by 1 June, although Kyiv maintains that it still retains control of certain areas. Despite Wagner’s claims, Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister stated that Wagner forces are still present in the city. Bakhmut has been the site of the longest and bloodiest battle of the war, making this withdrawal a crucial development.
The battle for Bakhmut has been led by Wagner mercenaries on the Russian side, with Prigozhin revealing that approximately 20,000 of their fighters have lost their lives in the city. The withdrawal is seen as a tactical move, with Prigozhin stating that his forces are prepared to return if the Russian regular army cannot handle the situation. Although Bakhmut holds little strategic value, its capture would symbolize a victory for Russia in the ongoing conflict. However, Ukraine has not conceded that the city has fallen, emphasizing that it still maintains control over certain districts.
The Wagner group, commanded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, has played a significant role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Prigozhin recruited thousands of convicts from prisons to fight for Wagner in Ukraine, regardless of their crimes. He has publicly criticized top Russian military officials, threatening to withdraw his troops from Bakhmut if they were not supplied with necessary ammunition. The capture of Bakhmut would bring Russia closer to its goal of controlling the entire Donetsk region, annexed by Russia in September the previous year. However, Ukraine has previously reclaimed territories after initial Russian captures, showcasing the volatility of the conflict.