Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Russia's Wagner mercenary group, said on Feb. 15 that Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast could be surrounded in March or April, Russian state-controlled news outlet Ria Novosti reported.
Prigozhin added, though, that it is "hard to predict," and Russia's success in surrounding the town partially depends on the amount of Western weaponry supplied to Ukraine.
On the same day, Serhii Cherevatyi, the spokesman of the Eastern Group of Ukraine's Armed Forces, said on national TV that Russian troops had lost 119 people killed and 163 wounded near Bakhmut over the last 24 hours. "The fierce fighting continues," he added.
On Feb. 11, Prigozhin claimed that it could take two years for Moscow to capture the entire Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, as reported by Reuters.
He added, "if we have to get to the Dnipro River, then it will take about three years."
Along with the Russian military, the Wagner Group has been taking part in the months-long fierce battle for Bakhmut.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a D.C.-based think-tank analyzing the war in Ukraine, said in early February that conventional Russian forces had begun replacing the exhausted Wagner mercenaries after capturing the salt-mining town of Soledar.
Capturing Bakhmut would allow Russia to disrupt Ukraine's supply lines in the area and open up the main road leading to the two key Ukrainian cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.