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Wagner boss calls on Russian defense minister to come to Bakhmut
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia's state-backed private mercenary Wagner Group, offered Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to visit the Russian-controlled part of Bakhmut to assess the battlefield situation.
According to Prigozhin's appeal, published by his press service on May 12, Ukrainian forces have launched "a number of successful counterattacks" against the flanks, where Russian army units were stationed.
He said that over 95% of Donetsk Oblast's city of Bakhmut was allegedly controlled by Wagner forces.
Wagner's leader referred to Shoigu's "many years of warfare experience," although he has no real background in military command. Shoigu headed the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations for over 20 years and was appointed Minister of Defense in 2012 after a short tenure as Moscow Oblast governor.
The internal conflict between Prigozhin and the Russian Defense Ministry has escalated dramatically over the past week.
Ukraine's Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on May 12 that Ukrainian soldiers had advanced two kilometers toward Bakhmut and hadn't lost any positions in the area in the past week.
Her statement came days after Prigozhin's claim that Russian units of the 72nd Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade had abandoned positions near Bakhmut, later corroborated by Ukrainian forces.
On May 11, Prigozhin accused President Volodymyr Zelensky of lying after he said in an interview that Ukraine needed more time to prepare for the counteroffensive. Wagner's boss said that Ukraine's counteroffensive was allegedly "in full swing."
Ukrainian military officials earlier warned, as cited by CNN, that the counterattacks around Bakhmut mentioned by Prigozhin are part of a "positional struggle" and not necessarily connected to a greater counteroffensive effort.
Bakhmut has been the epicenter of fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces for the past nine months.
Wagner mercenaries have served as the primary shock troops in Russia's attempts to expand its control over Donetsk Oblast. However, in the past nine months, they have only made incremental gains, with Ukraine still holding parts of the city.