Wagner leader confirms start of Ukraine counteroffensive

Western allies are sending hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles to Ukraine and have trained thousands of Ukrainian troops abroad.

On Thursday, the leader of Russia’s Wagner private army, Yevgeny Prigozhin, announced that Ukraine’s counteroffensive was already in progress and making gains near the eastern city of Bakhmut. However, Kyiv claimed that their main effort had not yet commenced.

Prigozhin’s force of mercenaries and convicts has led Russia’s primary military campaign in Bakhmut. He described Ukrainian operations as “partially successful” on social media.

Kyiv countered that they had pushed Russian forces back over the past two days near Bakhmut in localized skirmishes, but a large-scale counteroffensive involving tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of new Western tanks had yet to start.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an interview with European broadcasters that they still needed more time.

While Ukrainian forces had already received enough equipment from Western allies for their campaign, they were waiting for a complete delivery to minimize casualties. Zelenskiy emphasized the importance of avoiding excessive losses.

Prigozhin, who recently began issuing daily statements criticizing the Russian command for inadequately supplying his fighters, accused Zelenskiy of deception and insisted that the Ukrainian offensive had already started. He also claimed that while his forces were fighting in the center of Bakhmut, Ukraine was making gains on its flanks in areas defended by regular Russian troops, some of whom had fled.

The war in Ukraine has reached a turning point, with Kyiv prepared to launch its counterstrike after six months of defensive posturing. Meanwhile, Russia’s massive winter offensive has failed to secure significant territory.

Moscow’s primary objective has been the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. Despite coming close to capturing it, they have not yet succeeded. Prigozhin reported that a Russian brigade had retreated from trenches southwest of Bakhmut, and a Ukrainian unit claimed to have destroyed two of its companies.

The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces stated that Russian forces had retreated up to 2 km at the front line in some areas. The Russian defense ministry has not commented on these reports, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged the war’s difficulty and expressed confidence that Bakhmut would be captured and controlled.

In anticipation of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, Russia resumed airstrikes on Ukraine after a nearly two-month pause. Moscow claims that Ukraine has used drones to strike occupied areas and Russian territory near the border. Recently, a drone reportedly hit a fuel storage depot in Russia’s Bryansk region, bordering Ukraine. Kyiv has not commented on the incident.

A Western official revealed that Britain supplied Ukraine with Storm Shadow long-range cruise missiles, with the understanding that they would only be used within Ukrainian sovereign territory, not inside Russia.

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