Russia appears to have deployed regular troops in the embattled eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, effectively finalizing its occupation since last August. A day after the Russian Defense Ministry and President Vladimir Putin made the announcement, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appeared confused, making and then correcting remarks that effectively acknowledged the move.
“I don’t think so,” Zelensky, who is attending the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Japan, said during a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on Nov. 21 when asked by reporters if Bakhmut was still under Ukrainian control. “Today, Bakhmut is only in our hearts. It’s a tragedy. There is nothing there,” he said, but a spokesman for the presidential office, Serhiy Nikiforov, clarified shortly afterward that “the president denied that Bakhmurt was occupied.” The Ukrainian Defense Ministry also insisted that its forces were still fighting fiercely in Bakhmut. In a press conference hours later, Zelensky acknowledged the gravity of the situation in Bakhmut, saying that “Russian forces are in Bakhmut today,” but that “Bakhmut is not occupied by Russia as of today.”
Earlier in the day, the Russian Defense Ministry issued a one-line statement saying that “as a result of the aggressive actions of the Wagner Assault Group, supported by artillery and fighter jets of the Southern Agglomeration, the liberation of Artemovsk (the Russian name for Bakhmut) has been completed,” Tass news agency reported. The Kremlin (Russian presidential palace) also issued a statement on the morning of the 21st, saying, “Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated the Wagner Assault Group, as well as the Russian forces that provided the necessary support and defended the outskirts, on the completion of the operation to liberate Artemovsk메이저사이트,” and that “all those who distinguished themselves in the battle will be recommended for state honors.” This is the first time that the Russian Defense Ministry has directly stated that the battlefield of Bakhmut, the largest battlefield of the Ukrainian war, has been “completely captured” and that Putin himself has praised it.
Until now, it was Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, the mercenary organization that led the battle, who had been telling the story of Bakhmut. “Today, May 20, in the middle of the day, Bakhmut is completely captured,” Prigozhin said in a video posted to his Telegram account on May 20, ahead of the Russian government’s official announcement. “On May 25, we will completely overhaul Bakhmut, build the necessary defenses, and hand it over to the military.”
Russia’s capture of the city was timed to coincide with a Group of Seven summit discussing support for Ukraine, and appears to have been intended to throw cold water on the support. To show this, Putin noted that the city was captured with the help of Russia’s regular army, which has not been involved in the fighting. Prigozhin, who blamed the lack of support from the Russian Defense Ministry, also said that “five times as many people died” due to the “whims” of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov, but thanked President Putin for “giving me the opportunity and honor to defend my country.” for “the opportunity and honor to defend our country. The 20th also marked the one-year anniversary of Russia’s announcement that it had fully occupied Mariupol, a major city in southeastern Ukraine.