The founder of Russia’s Wagner mercenary force on Sunday played down the role of the regular Russian army in capturing Bakhmut, the east Ukrainian city that Moscow claimed to have taken a day earlier.
In a voice message published by his press service on Telegram, Yevgeny Prigozhin said: “During the taking of Artyomovsk, practically no one from the army helped us,” referring to Bakhmut by its Soviet-era name.
Kyiv denies Russia has taken full control of Bakhmut and says its forces have partly encircled the city.
Wagner fighters have long spearheaded Russia’s campaign to take the city, taking heavy losses in the process.
In the same message, Prigozhin praised individual Russian army units, while restating long-standing criticism of the leadership of Russia’s defense ministry, which he has accused of hampering the war effort via incompetence.
In a statement earlier on Sunday, the defense ministry restated its claim that Russian forces had finished “liberating” Bakhmut and gave most of the credit to Wagner’s assault units for the result while saying that its own aviation and artillery units had helped.
The defense ministry said its forces had also destroyed a road bridge previously used by Ukrainian forces to reinforce Bakhmut as well as a Ukrainian ammunition warehouse.
Reuters was unable to verify its assertions.