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The United States believes that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin's close ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is the head of Kremlin-backed mercenary Wagner Group, has invested his troops in the fight for Bakhmut because of an interest in the salt and gypsum from mines near the city, Reuters reported, citing a White House official.
The unnamed official told Reuters that the White House has reason to believe that monetary motives are driving Russia's and Prigozhin's "obsession" with Bakhmut, Reuters wrote. Bakhmut is located in Ukraine's eastern, resource-rich Donetsk Oblast.
The U.S. has previously accused Russian mercenaries of exploiting natural resources in the Central African Republic, Mali, Sudan, and elsewhere to fund its military aggression against Ukraine.
Prigozhin's Wagner Group has also been accused of human rights abuses, including torture and extrajudicial killings, in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan, and Mozambique.
Wagner's casualties in Ukraine are over 4,000 killed and 10,000 wounded, including 1,000 killed at the end of 2022 near Bakhmut, the White House official told Reuters.
Russia deployed Wagner Group mercenaries, who operate worldwide, to eastern Ukraine amid its military’s heavy losses, the U.K. Defense Ministry reported on March 28.
Bakhmut is the scene of some of the most intense hostilities in the war as Russia seeks to capture the city and the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, which, together with Luhansk Oblast, makes up Ukraine's eastern Donbas region. Bakhmut is Ukraine's key fortress in Donbas and a local transportation hub.
The battle for the city has gone into its fifth month, with Russia suffering major losses with little to show for it, save slow advances that eventually got them to the city's outskirts.