Russian military blogger Igor Girkin has downplayed the importance of reports that Russian troops have surrounded Bakhmut and expressed doubts that the city of Donetsk can be held by Moscow.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the financier of the Wagner mercenary group, has claimed that the city was surrounded by Russian forces during the fierce battle in which his troops were engaged.
His comments followed an assessment by analysts that Ukrainian forces were preparing to withdraw from the city, noting how two bridges were destroyed, one of which is a key supply route.
But Girkin, a former FSB officer and ex-commander who led Russian-backed forces in the separatist Donetsk region in 2014, wrote a staggering assessment of alleged Russian gains in the city that had been fought over for seven months.
Girkin wrote on his Telegram channel that he does not share “such optimistic forecasts” as made by other military bloggers about the capture and arrest of Bakhmut by Russian forces. After months of assault, he wrote, Wagner’s troops would need a pause that could allow Ukraine to regroup and “trade territory for time”.
He said that was “the plan of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine” who would then “take his step…probably after the end of the thaw”, referring to the spring.
“We must prepare to repel their blow,” added Girkin, also known as Strelkov, who has been a highly critical critic of President Vladimir Putin’s war effort and the actions of his commanders.
“Typical Girkin, isn’t very optimistic about the prospects of taking Bakhmut as it just means the Ukrainians have bought valuable time for a counterattack,” the account tweeted translated war.
news week has reached out to the Russian Defense Ministry for comment.
Despite reports of Russian gains, Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesman for the Eastern Branch of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, told CNN that Moscow’s forces have failed to take Bakhmut and that fighting continues in the city’s outskirts.
He said the city is still “controlled by Ukrainian defense forces: the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Border Guard and the National Guard.”
However, Volodymyr Nazarenko, a deputy commander of the National Guard of Ukraine, did not gloss over the magnitude of the task facing Ukrainian troops.
“Every hour in Bakhmut is like hell,” he told Ukrainian broadcaster Kyiv24, although he said Russian forces had not crossed the Bakhmutka River. “In the last few days, thanks to our hard work and efforts, the front line has been stabilized,” he added.