The founder of Wagner, Russia’s private military group, Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Monday that his forces would leave Bakhmut at the beginning of next month.
Wagner, working with Russian forces, claimed on Saturday to have captured the eastern Ukrainian city, which Kyiv denied.
Prigozhin said in an audio message posted on Telegram that the handover would take place between May 25 and June 1.
He added that his mercenary fighters had set up “defense lines” on the western outskirts of Bakhmut ahead of the planned transfer of control to the Russian army.
Wagner’s fighters led the Russian invasion of Bakhmut in the last eight months and Prigozhin’s influence increased significantly during Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine.
However, he launched a scathing criticism of Russia’s defense chiefs over Russia’s massive losses in Ukraine, accusing them of incompetence.
The White House estimates that Russia suffered 100,000 casualties in the battle for Bakhmut alone, including the deaths of more than 20,000 soldiers.
Ukraine is estimated to have suffered around 20,000 casualties.
Here are some of the other developments regarding Russia’s war in Ukraine on Monday, May 22:
The governor of Belgorod says the ‘sabotage’ group has crossed into Russia
The governor of Russia’s Belgorod region claimed that “a sabotage and reconnaissance group of the Ukrainian armed forces” crossed into Russia to carry out an attack on Monday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been informed of the incident, the Kremlin said.
However, Ukrainian officials denied any responsibility for the attack and blamed it on anti-Kremlin guerrilla groups.
A Twitter account allegedly belonging to one such group, the Freedom of Russia Legion, said it had “completely escaped” the border town of Kozinka and moved to other towns in the region.
Russia: F-16s in Kyiv will raise questions for NATO
The transfer of F-16 fighter jets to Kyiv will raise the question of NATO’s involvement in the conflict, Russia’s ambassador to the United States said in comments published early Monday.
“There is no infrastructure for F-16 operations in Ukraine and the required number of pilots and maintenance personnel are not there either,” Anatoly Antonov said in a statement posted.
“What happens when American fighters take off from NATO airfields, controlled by foreign ‘volunteers’?”
The statements came after US President Joe Biden on Friday endorsed a plan for training programs for Ukrainian pilots of F-16 fighter jets.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy assured Biden that the jet would not be used to go into Russian territory.
Meanwhile, Antonov also said that any Ukrainian strike on Crimea would be considered a Russian strike.
“It is important that the United States is fully aware of Russia’s response,” he added.
Bakhmut ‘not occupied’ by Russia: Zelenskyy
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Bakhmut was “not occupied” by Moscow, even as the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group claimed his fighters had seized control of the eastern salt-mining town. “to the last centimeter.”
“Bakhmut is not occupied by Russia now,” Zelenskyy said on Sunday at a press conference on the sidelines of the G7 summit in the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
“I will not share with you the tactical views of our military. The most difficult thing is if there is some tactical error in Bakhmut and our people are surrounded.”
The Ukrainian military said it held a small part of the city, which was the scene of the bloodiest fighting during Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“We continue to advance on the edges of the suburbs of Bakhmut,” said Oleksandr Syrsky, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces.
Zelenskyy likened the ruins of Bakhmut to Hiroshima after WWII
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy likened the ruins of Bakhmut to the destruction of Hiroshima in World War II as he attended the G7 summit in the Japanese city on Sunday.
“I will tell you openly: The photos of the destroyed Hiroshima completely remind me of Bakhmut and other similar settlements. No one is left alive, all the buildings are destroyed,” said Zelenskyy while speaking in the media.
Following the comments, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova scoffed at the Ukrainian president’s comparison, saying the US bombed Hiroshima and now provides military support to Ukraine.
“Nice one,” Zakharova said on Telegram. “Because both are done in the White House.”
Brazil’s Lula was ‘angry’ at not meeting Zelenskyy
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Monday that he was “angry” he and Volodymyr Zelenskyy did not meet at the G7 summit, adding that the meeting fell through because his Ukrainian counterpart was late.
“I wasn’t disappointed. I was upset, because I’d like to meet him and discuss the matter,” said Lula to reporters in a press conference before returning home from Japan.
But “Zelenskyy is an adult. He knows what he is doing,” said Lula.
He added that he saw no point in meeting with Zelenskyy today, saying that neither he nor Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed to want peace.
“At the moment, they are both convinced that they will win the war,” he said.
Lula pressed for peace negotiations and proposed Brazil as a mediator, along with other “neutral” countries, including China and Indonesia.
However, he faced criticism last month after he accused the US of “encouraging” the war.
Russia launched an overnight air attack on Dnipro – governor
Russia carried out overnight airstrikes in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro, officials said.
The Ukrainian army said 16 missiles and 20 attack drones targeted its troops and infrastructure in the city.
Local governor Serhiy Lysak said on Telegram that eight people were injured and three of them were treated in hospital.
“Thanks to the defense forces, we were able to withstand the attack. The details will come in due time,” said Lysak, referring to the Russian forces as “terrorists.”
The RBC-Ukraine news agency reported that about 15 explosions were heard during more than 90 minutes of air raid alerts.
But it is unclear whether the sounds were air defense systems destroying targets or Russian missiles or drones hitting their targets.
With a Ukrainian counter-offensive looming, Russia resumed missile and drone attacks this month after a nearly two-month hiatus.
Attack waves now come several times a week, the worst of the war.
Russian Administration: The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant has been cut off from the power grid
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has been switched to standby, a local official installed by Russia in the Moscow-controlled part of the region said.
Vladimir Rogov said the plant was “completely” cut off from external power supply after Ukraine cut a power line it controlled.
Ukraine’s nuclear agency Energoatom accused Russia of the attack that caused the power outage.
The agency said the bombing was the seventh time the plant has gone into “blackout mode” since Moscow’s troops took control in March 2022.
Anatoliy Kurtev, secretary of the city council of Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine, said work had been ongoing since early Monday to restore power to the city.
On several occasions, the Zaporizhzhia power plant has been the focus of intense fighting between Russian and Ukrainian fighters, causing concern from international nuclear experts who fear a potential accident at the facility.
Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region was one of four areas of Ukraine illegally annexed by Russia last year.
mm, dvv/kb (AFP, AP, Reuters)