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The founder of Russia's Wagner Group said on Jan. 7 that he wanted his forces and the regular Russian army to capture Ukraine's eastern city of Bakhmut for its resources and "underground cities."
The Wagner Group is Russia's most high-profile mercenary group and was founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russian oligarch, Putin confidant, and former convict. Along with the Russian military, the group has taken part in the fierce battle for the eastern Ukrainian city Bakhmut, around 215 kilometers southeast of Kharkiv.
Russia's five months-long effort to try and take Bakhmut has resulted in major casualties on both sides, but the city remains Ukraine's key fortress in the area.
Prigohzin's press service Telegram channel quoted him as saying he wanted to capture the city for its rich resources, especially its mines, and because of its network of underground cities that can house tanks and military equipment.
"The cherry on the cake is the system of Soledar and Bakhmut mines, which is actually a network of underground cities. It not only (has the ability to hold) a big group of people at a depth of 80-100 meters, but tanks and infantry fighting vehicles can also move about," he said.
Prigozhin cited other advantages of taking Bakhmut, saying it was a "serious logistics center."
Earlier on Jan. 6, Reuters reported that the United States believes that Prigozhin has invested his troops in the fight for Bakhmut because of an interest in the salt and gypsum from mines near the city.
On Jan. 7 Russian propagandists claimed that Wagner had taken control of Soledar, a settlement just outside of Bakhmut, but Ukrainian forces later reported that it still controlled the town despite Russian assaults in the area.
Soledar is the site of the Soledar Salt Mine. Its scale is vast and includes an underground concert hall.