According to Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Russian Wagner mercenary group, in order for Russian forces to advance with their war campaign, they must take control of the strategically important Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. However, he added, they were up against heavy Ukrainian resistance.
In a rare interview made public on Friday with a Russian military reporter, Prigozhin said Russia needed to set clear objectives in its almost one-year battle with Ukraine, including to securely consolidate its position in eastern Ukraine or go forward to conquer more of the country. He added the success of those plans depended on the total capture of Bakhmut.
“Bakhmut is needed so our troops can operate comfortably,” Prigozhin said.
“Why is it called the meat grinder? Because the Ukrainian army is sending more and more and more units.”
Wagner mercenaries, many of whom were drafted from Russian prisons, have been heavily involved in the conflict in Ukraine, particularly last month when they took control of the town of Soledar, close to Bakhmut, which has been the scene of months of fighting and bombardment and is referred to by both sides as the “meat grinder.”
“It is probably too early to say that we are close,” the Wagner chief said of taking Bakhmut.
“There are many roads out and fewer roads in. Ukrainian troops are well trained … and like any large city, it is impossible to capture it from head-on. We are managing very well,” he added.
“First, we have to quietly take Artyomovsk and then we can say loud and clear that we have taken it,” he added, referring to Bakhmut by the Soviet-era name used by Moscow.
In addition, Prigozhin said the struggle to seize Soledar, which was undertaken after attempts to conquer Bakhmut failed, was equal to the six months of combat required for the Soviet army to occupy Stalingrad in World War II.
Following the regular army’s declaration of success in the fight for Soledar, Prigozhin strongly criticized the shortcomings of the regular Russian army in its operation in Ukraine and got into a public dispute with Kremlin commanders.
In January, Prigozhin lamented “infighting, corruption, bureaucracy and officials who want to stay in their positions” as well as what he termed ongoing attempts to “steal victory” from Wagner in remarks that appeared to be directed at Russia’s defense establishment.