Wagner boss Prigozhin said on Thursday that Ukraine's "counteroffensive is in full swing."
Ukrainian forces have reported counterattacks near the war-torn city of Bakhmut.
But President Zelenskyy said earlier that Kyiv still needs "more time" before a major assault.
Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed Thursday that Ukraine's much-anticipated counteroffensive is in "full swing," rebuffing comments made by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy just hours earlier about delaying major operations.
On his social media channels, Prigozhin accused Zelenskyy of lying when he said in a media interview that Ukraine needed more time before it could carry out a counteroffensive. "Zelensky is lying," Prigozhin said, according to a CNN translation. "The counteroffensive is in full swing."
Prigozhin's remarks came amid reports of Ukrainian advances at front-line areas in eastern Ukraine, such as in the war-torn city of Bakhmut, where Wagner Group mercenaries have played a key role in brutal and intense fighting for months. Ukrainian forces signaled that they carried out "effective counterattacks" that forced some Russian soldiers to retreat.
"Thanks to our well-thought-out defense in the Bakhmut sector, we are getting results from the effective actions of our units," Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi wrote on Telegram, according to CNN. "In particular, we are conducting effective counterattacks. In some areas of the front, the enemy was unable to withstand the onslaught of Ukrainian defenders and retreated to a distance of up to 2 kilometers."
A Ukrainian battalion said this week that it managed to chase Russian soldiers out of parts of Bakhmut, sharing footage that appeared to show soldiers on the run. Aerial footage showed troops running through fields and being hunted down by armored vehicles, while videos taken from the ground showed fighting and bodies.
Kyiv's military officials have cautioned that the offensives mentioned by Prigozhin are nothing more than a "positional struggle" and don't reflect a broader counteroffensive. Some reporters also cast doubt on the claims.
—Yaroslav Trofimov (@yarotrof) May 11, 2023
In a Thursday Facebook update, Ukraine's General Staff of the Armed Forces said Russia was concentrating its main efforts on several fronts in eastern Ukraine, including around Bakhmut, Adviivka, Lyman, and Marinka. "During the day, the enemy carried out more than 30 attacks on the specified areas of the front," the update read, adding that the "fiercest battles" continue for the cities of Bakhmut and Marinka.
The update did not mention any widespread counteroffensive like the one Prigozhin claimed was underway and Russian Telegram channels have also speculated may be happening amid some reported Ukrainian advances.
Ukrainian officials have previously hinted that the country's much-anticipated counteroffensive will take place in the near future, though it's not immediately clear when, exactly, that will happen. A major assault, which is aimed at liberating occupied land in eastern and southern Ukraine, would follow a Russian offensive earlier this year that failed to produce notable territorial results.
Zelenskyy, in a recent interview with public service broadcasters part of Eurovision News, said Ukraine still needs more time before a counteroffensive. Kyiv could go forward with what it already has in its arsenal and "be successful," he said, according to the BBC. "But we'd lose a lot of people. I think that's unacceptable. So we need to wait. We still need a bit more time," he added.
Ukraine's combat brigades were "ready," Zelenskyy said, but his military still needs "some things" like armored vehicles that had been "arriving in batches."
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in late April that over 98 percent of all the combat vehicles that were promised to Ukraine — part of a massive influx of heavy armor provided by Kyiv's Western backers — had already been delivered. The military alliance's chief said this meant nearly 1,800 armored vehicles and tanks and "vast amounts of ammunition."
"In total we have trained and equipped more than nine new Ukrainian armoured brigades, this will put Ukraine in a strong position to continue to retake occupied territory," Stoltenberg said.
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