Putin’s Wagner Group ‘private army’ chief slams regular Russian troops for retreating around Bakhmut

Ukrainian army Grad multiple rocket launcher fires rockets at Russian positions in the frontline near Bakhmut (AP)
Ukrainian army Grad multiple rocket launcher fires rockets at Russian positions in the frontline near Bakhmut (AP)

The head of Vladimir Putin’s Wagner Group “private army” on Thursday slammed regular Russian troops for retreating around the eastern town of Bakhmut in Ukraine.

Yevgeny Prigozhin accused regular Russian army units of pulling back 570 metres north of the town, leaving his own fighters' flanks exposed.

Wagner forces have been spearheading the assault on Bakhmut in some of the fiercest fighting since the Second World War.

Prigozhin, who has repeatedly accused Russia's top military brass of not doing enough to back his men, asked the defence ministry to do all it could to protect Bakhmut's flanks after what he alleged was a withdrawal.

"Unfortunately, units of the Russian Defence Ministry have withdrawn up to 570 metres to the north of Bakhmut, exposing our flanks," Prigozhin said in a voice message.

"I am appealing to the top leadership of the Ministry of Defence - publicly - because my letters are not being read," Prigozhin said.

"Please do not give up the flanks," he said, addressing Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff.

Wagner says it has taken most of the shattered town in the eastern Donetsk province.

Earlier, Ukrainian army chiefs said their soldiers had recaptured more land in heavy fighting around Bakhmut despite being outgunned and outnumbered by Russian forces.

In the past week, Kyiv has said it has stepped up pressure on Moscow’s troops to the north and south of Bakhmut.

Russian forces were close to capturing most of the town, according to some claims.

Ukrainian troops, though, have regained ground on the flanks of the embattled town.

"Despite the fact that our units do not have an advantage in equipment ... and personnel, they have continued to advance on the (Russian) flanks, and covered a distance of 150 to 1,700 metres (165 to 1,850 yards)," military spokesperson Serhiy Cherevatyi said in televised comments.

He did not specify over what period the gains had been made.

His claims could not be independently verified.

Military experts say that while Ukrainian forces are unable to match the sheer size and fire power of the Russian army, they have a much higher morale as they defend their country.

Moscow sees Bakhmut, with a population of about 70,000 before Russia’s full-scale invasion nearly 15 months ago, as a stepping stone towards capturing the rest of the eastern Donbas region.

But Putin has sacrified thousands of Russian lives in a desperate and so far unsuccessful attempt to seize the town.

Ukrainian officials have signalled that the localised advances around Bakhmut are not part of a broader counter-offensive planned by Kyiv to push back the Russian forces.

Western officials say the Ukrainian military is largely ready for such a large scale move but the timing is down to Kyiv.

Britain has led the arming of Ukraine, by being the first to pledge tanks, Challenger IIs, and now long range cruise Storm Shadow missiles.

Russia fired 30 cruise missiles against different parts of Ukraine early Thursday in the latest night-time test of Ukrainian air defences, which shot down 29 of them, officials said.

Moscow is believed to be stepping up the attacks ahead of the expected Ukrainian counter-offensive.

One person died and two were wounded by a Russian missile that got through and struck an industrial building in the southern region of Odesa, according to Serhiy Bratchuk, a spokesperson for the region's military administration.

Loud explosions were heard in Kyiv as the Kremlin's forces targeted the capital for the ninth time this month in a clear escalation after weeks of lull and ahead of a much-anticipated Ukrainian counter-offensive using newly supplied advanced Western weapons.

Debris fell on two Kyiv districts, starting a fire at a garage complex. There was no immediate word about any victims, Serhiy Popko, head of the Kyiv Military Administration, said in a Telegram post.

Ukraine also shot down two Russian exploding drones and two reconnaissance drones, according to authorities.

The bombardment across Ukraine included six Russian Kinzhal aero-ballistic hypersonic missiles - the most fired in a single attack in the war so far, according to Ukrainian air force spokesman Yurii Ihnat.

The missiles were launched from Russian sea, air and ground bases, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the Ukrainian commander in chief, wrote on Telegram.

Several waves of missiles were aimed at areas of Ukraine between 9 pm Wednesday and 5.30 am Thursday, he said.

Russian forces used strategic bombers from the Caspian region and apparently fired X-101 and X-55-type missiles developed during Soviet times, Kyiv authorities said. Russia then deployed reconnaissance drones over the capital.

In the last major air attack on Kyiv, on Tuesday, Ukrainian air defences bolstered by sophisticated Western-supplied systems shot down all the incoming missiles, officials said.

That attack used hypersonic missiles, which repeatedly have been touted by Putin as providing a key strategic advantage. The missiles, which are among the most advanced weapons in Russia's arsenal, are difficult to detect and intercept because of their hypersonic speed and maneuverability.

But sophisticated Western air defense systems, including American-made Patriot missiles, have helped spare Kyiv from the kind of destruction witnessed along the main front line in the country's east and south.

While the ground fighting is largely deadlocked along that front line, both sides are targeting each other's territory with long-range weapons.

Meanwhile, Kremlin-installed authorities in occupied Crimea reported the derailment of eight train cars Thursday due to an explosion.

Russian state media reported the train was carrying grain.

Quoting a source within the emergency services, state news agency RIA Novosti said that the incident occurred not far from the city of Simferopol. The Crimean Railway reported that the derailment was caused by "the interference of unauthorized persons" and that there were no casualties.

The Russia-installed head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said that train services on the affected section of the line were suspended.

Also, two people were wounded in a drone attack in Russia's southern Kursk region, which borders Ukraine, the regional governor reported Thursday.

In a Telegram post, Roman Starovoit claimed Ukrainian forces dropped an explosive device from a drone on a sports and recreation complex.

The claim could not be independently verified.