Zelensky denies capture of Bakhmout as claimed by Russia

President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday denied capturing the devastated city of Bakhmut in the east, a day before Moscow claimed it after a protracted battle, in ambiguous remarks on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Japan.

Russian paramilitary group Wagner, whose men were on the front lines of the fighting, then assured the Russian Defense Ministry on Saturday that it had “completely liberated” Bakhmut, the center of the longest and deadliest battle of the war that began in February 2022 .

Volodymyr Zelensky, who is in Hiroshima, Japan, for the G7 summit during which he gathered diplomatic support and military aid, “denied the capture of Bakhmaut,” according to a description of his remarks on Facebook by his carrier “. Sergey Nykiforov song.

Shortly before, the press asked President Zelensky: “Is Bakhmut still in Ukraine’s hands? The Russians say they have taken Bakhmut”. The head of state replied: “I don’t think so”, without clarifying whether he was answering the first or second part of the question.

“There is nothing in this place … just ruins and lots of dead Russians,” he continued, seemingly suggesting that Bakhmat would be just a Pyrrhic victory for the Russians. He praised the “excellent work” of the Ukrainian soldiers.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Mlyar assured that Kiev forces “partially encircled” Bakhmut thanks to their recent success on the northern and southern flanks, which he said makes the Russian presence in the city “very difficult”.

He again claimed that Ukrainian guards still control “some industrial facilities and infrastructure” in Bakhmut.

The capture of Bakhmut, already more than 90% occupied by Russian forces in recent months, was claimed on Saturday afternoon by Wagner’s boss, Evgeny Prigozhin, who assured that he would return control of the town to regular troops. Will hand over to ,

Russian President Vladimir Putin has already congratulated Wagner’s men and the Russian military on “the completion of the operation (which made it possible) to liberate” Bakhmut and the soldiers who have distinguished themselves in this summer’s fighting. promised to decorate ,

– New weapons for Ukraine –

If confirmed, the capture of Bakhmaut would allow Russia to secure victory after a series of humiliating reverses.

It would also intervene before a major retaliatory strike that Kiev says it has been preparing for months with strong deliveries of Western weapons.

However, Volodymyr Zelensky admitted this week that Ukraine needed “more time” to implement this counteroffensive, which aims to recapture territories held from the Russians.

After a series of talks with the leaders of the G7 countries, including United States President Joe Biden, he obtained the US promise of new deliveries of ammunition, artillery and armored vehicles.Washington’s green on Friday for the supply of F. The addition of Batti-16 fighter jets has been his long-standing demand.

Moscow and Kiev suffered heavy losses prior to the Russian invasion, including Bakhmut, a town of about 70,000 inhabitants, now largely destroyed by the fighting.

The battle was also the scene of an open conflict between Yevgeny Prigogine and the Russian General Staff, towards which Wagner’s boss multiplied the insults, alleging that he had given his men insufficient ammunition on purpose to undermine them. not provided.

Russian positions in Bakhmut may also be threatened by the advance of Ukrainian forces on the northern and southern sides of the city, where they are defended by regular Russian Army troops.

Ukraine claimed this week that it had taken 20 square kilometers of territory around Bakhmut, with Mr Prigozhin accusing Russian troops of “running away” from their positions. The Russian army claims to have withdrawn to more advantageous positions.

After a series of attacks by the Russians near Kiev to the northeast and south, the front was essentially frozen all winter, with most of the fighting taking place at Bakhmut.

On the diplomatic front, initiatives aimed at promoting peace talks have multiplied, notably the European tour of a Chinese envoy received in Kiev this week and a delegation of six leaders of African countries expected in Russia in June or July. hopefully.

The Vatican announced on Saturday that Pope Francis had entrusted a peace mission to Ukraine to Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of the Order of Sant’Egidio, known for his work in the service of diplomacy.

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