Russia’s Wagner mercenary group appeared to abandon plans to withdraw troops from Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, saying Moscow had promised its forces more weapons and suggesting they could continue to attack what Russia sees as a gateway to other cities in the Donbass stepping stone area.
Elsewhere, Ukrainian and Russian media reported explosions in Russian-occupied Crimea, and the Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday that its air defenses detected and destroyed 22 Ukrainian drones over the Black Sea overnight.
Wagner Chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Friday that his fighters, who spearheaded the months-long assault on Bakhmut, would withdraw after running out of ammunition and suffering “useless and unreasonable” losses as a result.
But in an audio message posted on his Telegram channel on Sunday, he said: “We have been promised that we will have the ammunition and weapons we need to proceed with further operations. We have been promised that we will take all necessary measures to prevent the enemy from cutting us off [from supplies] will deploy. “
A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman did not respond to a Reuters request for comment after Prigorzhin’s latest statement.
Russian officials have repeatedly tried to allay concerns that their troops on the front lines are not getting enough supplies. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said of the entire Russian army on Tuesday that they “received ammunition in sufficient quantities” to effectively inflict damage on enemy troops.
“More than enough” ammunition
On the Ukrainian side, Serhiy Cherevaty, spokesman for Ukraine’s Eastern Command, said in response to a question about Prigozhin’s comments that Russian troops had “more than enough” ammunition.
He said Prigozhin’s comments were intended to divert attention from Wagner’s heavy losses for throwing so many troops into battle.
“There have been 489 shellings in the area around Bakhmut in the past 24 hours – are you running out of ammunition?”
Prigozhin’s threat to withdraw from Bakhmut underscored the pressure on Russian forces as Ukraine makes final preparations for a counteroffensive backed by thousands of Western-donated armored vehicles and newly trained troops.
The Battle of Bahmut was the fiercest of the conflict, with thousands of people killed on both sides during months of intense fighting.
Ukrainian troops have been repulsed in recent weeks but are holding out in the city to inflict as many losses as possible on Russia ahead of Kiev’s planned massive offensive against invading forces along the 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) front.
A message to the “demon”
Russian writer Zakhar Prilepin has emerged from an induced coma after being seriously injured in a car bomb Russia blames on Ukraine.
A day after he was injured in the explosion that killed his friend and aide on Sunday, Prilepin insisted he would not be scared off.
“I told the demon: ‘You’re not going to scare anyone,'” Prilepin said in one of the first messages after the incident. “God exists. We’ll win.”
Russia has blamed Ukraine and the United States for the bombings against the 47-year-old writer. Prilepin is an avid supporter of the Ukrainian offensive.
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) also said on Sunday that it had thwarted an attempt by Ukrainian intelligence to strike a military airport in central Russia with a drone loaded with explosives.
The pilot of a light aircraft and other members of what the FSB called a “sabotage group” were detained in the Tula region after flying into Russia from Ukraine, it said in a statement.
Russia has also continued its missile attacks on Ukraine in anticipation of a counteroffensive, targeting an industrial base in the southern region of Nikolayev.
Air raid sirens sounded over roughly two-thirds of Ukraine for hours until early Sunday, when officials said air defenses shot down multiple drones, including one that flew over Kiev airspace.
Ukraine is expected to soon begin a much-anticipated counteroffensive to retake territories controlled by Moscow, including the Zaporozhye region, home to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
The United Nations nuclear watchdog has expressed concern over a possible escalation of hostilities.
“The general situation in the area around the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant is becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said in a statement on Saturday.
“I am very concerned about the very real nuclear safety and security risks to the plant.”