Key Developments on May 25:
- Prigozhin claims Wagner forces begin to withdraw from Bakhmut
- Ukraine’s Defense Ministry says Russian military replacing Wagner units near Bakhmut
- 106 Bakhmut defenders released from Russian captivity
- Moscow and Minsk sign agreement to place nuclear weapons in Belarus
- EU has frozen 200 billion euros of Russian Central Bank’s assets since start of full-scale invasion
- Air Force: 36 drones downed during latest overnight attack
- Russian Volunteer Corps claims to have crossed into Russia again
Wagner mercenary group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed in a video published on May 25 that his forces were beginning to withdraw from Bakhmut.
"By June 1, the main part (of the Wagner formation stationed in Bakhmut) will be transferred to the rear camps. We hand over positions to the military: ammunition, positions — everything, including ration packs," Prigozhin said in the video published by his press service.
After 10 months of fierce fighting that claimed high casualties on both Ukrainian and Russian sides, Prigozhin said on May 20 that Wagner forces had captured Bakhmut.
On May 22, the Kyiv Independent reported that Bakhmut had been effectively captured by Russian troops. This assessment was derived from a combination of official statements and firsthand accounts provided by soldiers on the ground to the Kyiv Independent.
However, Ukrainian officials have yet to publicly acknowledge the city’s capture.
Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar confirmed on May 25 that the Russian regular army had begun replacing Wagner mercenaries in the suburbs of Bakhmut but that a contingent of Wagner forces continue to maintain a presence within the city.
In her statement, Maliar also claimed that Ukrainian forces still retained control over a portion of the southwestern area of Bakhmut and were actively engaged in combat operations there.
Meanwhile, 106 Ukrainian soldiers who were captured during the Battle of Bakhmut were released from Russian captivity in a prisoner exchange on May 25, according to Presidential Office head Andrii Yermak.
Among the freed prisoners were members of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, border guards, and a State Transport Special Service employee. Additionally, the Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War reported that the remains of two foreigners and a Ukrainian woman had been transferred to Ukrainian territory.
Moscow and Minsk sign agreement on placing nuclear weapons in Belarus
On May 25, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin convened in Minsk on May 25 to sign an agreement pertaining to the deployment of Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons on Belarusian soil.
While the weapons will be stationed in Belarus, Moscow will retain full control over them, including decision-making regarding their potential use.
During the meeting, Shoigu also indicated that Russia might be obliged to undertake "additional measures" in the future to safeguard the security of the Union State (meaning Russia and Belarus) and respond to any prevailing military-political circumstances.
Later on May 25, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko claimed that the transfer of Russian nuclear weapons to Belarus was already underway.
Although Belarus has not formally joined Russia's war against Ukraine, the country has been utilized as a logistical hub for various activities such as storing weapons, conducting missile and drone launches, and providing training grounds for Russian troops.
EU has frozen 200 billion euros of Russian Central Bank’s assets since start of full-scale invasion
European Commission spokesperson Christian Wigand told Bloomberg that the European Union has frozen 200 billion euros of the Russian Central Bank’s assets since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion.
“The EU is committed to ensuring that Russia pays for the damages caused in Ukraine,” Wigand told Bloomberg in an interview published on May 25.
The news followed the EU’s 10th sanctions package, which will mandate banks to divulge more information on the size of their holdings.
The EU has also frozen more than 24 billion euros in private assets of the nearly 1,500 individuals the bloc has sanctioned in connection with Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Many are advocating for frozen Russian assets to be transferred to Ukraine for its post-war reconstruction efforts, given that the war has caused an estimated $138 billion in damages across the country.
Air Force says it shot down 36 drones during latest overnight attack
Ukraine's Air Force reported that 36 Iranian-made Shahed-136/131 drones, which were launched against Ukraine overnight on May 25, were successfully intercepted by air defense.
According to the Air Force, Russian troops were most likely targeting vital infrastructure and military installations in Ukraine's western regions.
In a separate statement, Serhii Popko, the head of Kyiv City Military Administration, revealed that Russian forces had launched their 12th attack on the Ukrainian capital since the start of May. Popko confirmed that all drones approaching Kyiv had been successfully intercepted and neutralized by the air defense system, although he did not specify how many.
Three drones in Mykolaiv Oblast and one in Odesa Oblast were also shot down, according to Ukraine's Southern Command.
According to Governor Ruslan Zaparaniuk, two drones were successfully shot down over Chernivtsi Oblast. Initially, only one drone was reported by officials.
The attack marked the first instance of Chernivtsi Oblast, located in the southwest of the country, being targeted by drones since Russia began using them against Ukraine last fall.
Russian Volunteer Corps claims to have crossed into Russia again
The anti-Kremlin Russian Volunteer Corps released a new video on May 25 claiming to have reentered Russian territory. In the video, the fighters said that they were "back in the Motherland.”
"The flame of struggle is burning all over the country. Wait for us in your town,” members of the group said in the video.
A Russian post office can be seen in the background of the video that is allegedly located in Glotovo, a village in Russia's Belgorod region. Glotovo is situated approximately five kilometers from the Ukrainian-Russian border.
The Kyiv Independent was unable to independently verify the group's claim or when the video footage that was shared on its Telegram channel was originally filmed.
Previously, members of the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Free Russia Legion, armed groups who claim to be fighting on Ukraine’s side, released footage on May 22 saying that they had crossed over into Russia’s Belgorod region and launched an incursion.
Russian officials declared a “counter-terrorist operation” and evacuated residents in the region’s villages along the Ukrainian-Russian border. The Russian authorities claim to have "killed 70 combatants" and destroyed four armored combat vehicles and five trucks.
However, the Russian Volunteer Corps refuted these claims, saying that the video released by Russian officials depicted the alleged killed combatants in camouflage patterns not worn by the group’s members.