Wagner mercenaries ‘withdraw from Bakhmut to focus on other battles in Donbas,’ says MoD

Yevgeny Prigozhin addressing the Russian army's top brass standing in front of Wagner fighters at an undisclosed location (TELEGRAM/ @concordgroup_official)

Wagner Group forces have begun to withdraw from the city of Bakhmut and will likely focus on other offensive operations in the Donbas region, according to British intelligence chiefs.

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) said in its latest intelligence update that the mercenary group’s chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, had said the withdrawal had begun and positions were being transferred to Russian defence ministry forces. Kyiv corroborated Wagner’s rotation out from the city’s outskirts.

The MoD said that forces of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic had probably entered the eastern Ukrainian city since Wednesday to start “clearance operations” as of May 24.

Earlier this week, he said 20,000 of his Wagner Group fighters had died in the siege.

The MoD wrote on Twitter: “Ukrainian forces had taken 20 square kilometres of Bakhmut’s flanks as of May 16. The rotation out of Wagner forces is likely to continue in controlled phases to prevent collapse in pockets around Bakhmut.

“Despite Prigozhin’s ongoing feud with the Russian MOD, Wagner forces will likely be used for further offensive operations in the Donbas following reconstituting its forces.”

Ukrainian officials have insisted that pockets of the city are still under its control although Prigozhin claimed control of the city last week.

Footage online showed Mr Prigozhin telling his men to leave ammunition for Russian troops after threatening to quit the region last month as he blasted the top brass, warning the Kremlin it could face a revolution like that of 1917 without further support.

In a video posted on Telegram stating his forces were withdrawing earlier this week, Prigozhin said his forces would be ready to return to Bakhmut if the regular army was unable to manage the situation.

Last night, Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar said its forces had a foothold in the south-western outskirts of the city, and that some Wagner units still remained.

Russian units in Ukraine also are believed to be so worn down that they will struggle to counter-punch if the formidable defences which they have built up in eastern Ukraine are breached.

But while Ukraine may succeed in regaining swathes of territory, the likelihood of any breakthrough that would end the war appear remote.