Ukraine will keep renewing efforts to retake the land it controlled prior to 2014 if Russia does not continue fighting, according to the chief of the Wagner group of mercenary fighters, Yevgeny Prigozhin.
“I am absolutely sure that Ukraine, with the help of the NATO bloc, will break through these ‘red lines’ and return those territories that belonged to it until 2014,” Prigozhin said in a statement posted to Telegram via his company’s page on Saturday.
“There is no doubt about it,” he added, saying war would then “start again.” Such a conflict may “turn out to be even more tragic and bloody than the first. Therefore, we need to fight for Russia here and now,” the oligarch known as “Putin’s chef” said.
Russian billionaire businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin attends talks in St. Petersburg, Russia on August,9, 2016. Ukraine will keep renewing efforts to retake the land it controlled prior to 2014 if Russia does not continue fighting, according to Prigozhin. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images
Prigozhin is a prominent and outspoken voice among Russia’s elite and an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, he has heavily criticized Russia’s conventional military forces and Moscow’s defense ministry.
The Ukrainian defense ministry has been contacted for comment.
Prigozhin’s fighters have been heavily involved in Russian operations to take control of the eastern Donetsk city of Bakhmut, which has been under intense bombardment for months.
The “most advanced and prepared elements” of the Wagner paramilitary outfit have fought in assault operations around the city, the Institute for the Study of War think tank said on Saturday.
The ISW said Wagner mercenaries, along with Russia’s armed forces, look to have set themselves up for a “turning movement,” which would force Kyiv’s forces to abandon their defensive positions in the devastated city.
Citing Russian sources, the think tank said Wagner Group fighters may have progressed through eastern and northeastern Bakhmut to create this “tactically challenging turning movement in urban areas” in the north of the city.
This is a change from encirclement of the city, which the ISW and the British defense ministry previously evaluated as the Russian strategy.
On Sunday, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said Russia was attempting to “surround” Bakhmut, but Kyiv’s forces had fended off the attacks.
On Saturday, the British defense ministry said Bakhmut was under “increasingly severe pressure,” and Ukraine’s resupply routes were becoming more and more limited. Kyiv had sent in elite units to back up its fighters in the city, the ministry added.
The remaining residents of Bakhmut are now fleeing on foot, the Associated Press reported on Saturday. The city had a pre-war population of around 75,000 people.
The city’s deputy mayor told the BBC on Saturday that “not a single building” in Bakhmut was untouched by the fighting, both around the city and in the streets.