“Unfortunately, in some areas they are successful,” Prigozhin said in an audio message posted on Telegram. “All units that have received the necessary training, weapons, equipment, tanks, everything else – they are fully engaged.”
Later Thursday, he said the attack would “shape up according to the worst of the predicted scenarios.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, said his forces would benefit from more time and equipment before launching a counteroffensive.
In an interview published by the BBC and European broadcasters on Thursday, Zelensky said the operation could continue today “and be successful,” but it would result in “unacceptable” losses for Ukrainian forces.
He said he had enough troops and they were mentally prepared for a counter-offensive, but “everyone hasn’t arrived yet” and the army needed “a few things.” He made similar comments to The Washington Post this month, saying Ukraine would launch the attack “as soon as the weapons agreed upon with our partners are replenished.”
Prigozhin said Zelensky was “deceptive.”
The Wagner chief said that the territory “taken with the blood and lives of our fighting comrades for many months, every day passing tens or hundreds of meters,” is now abandoned by Russian troops ” almost no fight.”
The counterattack, whenever it is launched, will be closely watched in Western capitals. If Ukrainian forces are seen as falling short of their goals, some here fear that pressure will grow on Zelensky to negotiate peace with Moscow, or Western support could wane.
Moscow pledged to capture Bakhmut — which analysts say is of questionable strategic value but has grown in importance as Moscow has sacrificed large amounts of troops and equipment in an effort to capture it — on the Russian holiday of May 9 which is Victory Day to commemorate the end of World War II. But as the day approached, it became clear that the goal was unattainable.
Prigozhin posted videos railing against the Russian military for allegedly not providing him with enough ammunition to accomplish that goal.
The fighting in Bakhmut on Thursday followed news on Wednesday of a significant advance by Kyiv forces. The Ukrainian military said it was pushing Russian forces back, destroying combat vehicles and taking prisoners of war.
Oleksandr Syrsky, commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, said Russian forces “couldn’t resist the onslaught of Ukrainian defenders” in some parts of the front line and “retreated to a distance of up to two kilometers.”
The Ukrainian attack “exhausted” Wagner’s mercenaries, Syrsky said, “and forced them to be replaced in several directions by less prepared units of regular Russian troops, which were defeated and abandoned.”
Andriy Biletsky, commander of Ukraine’s 3rd Separate Assault Brigade, said on Wednesday that his forces helped defeat units of Russia’s 72nd brigade. Two Russian companies were “totally destroyed,” he said in a video posted on social media, and a squad of Wagner fighters “lost a lot.”
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said Thursday that his country’s forces had achieved “partial success” in Bakhmut and that Russian forces had been turned back “gradually.”
But he pointed out that Bakhmut covers an area of 41 square kilometers and said success there “depends on many factors.”
“We will not surrender Bakhmut and will hold it as long as the military deems necessary,” he said.
Robyn Dixon and Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.
A year of Russia’s war with Ukraine
Photos of Ukraine: Every Ukrainian’s life has changed since Russia launched its massive invasion a year ago — in ways big and small. They learned to survive and support each other under extreme circumstances, in bomb shelters and hospitals, destroyed apartment complexes and damaged markets. Scroll through photos of Ukrainians reflecting on a year of loss, resilience and fear.
Battle of attrition: Over the past year, the war has transformed from a multi-front invasion that includes Kyiv in the north to a conflict of attrition that is largely concentrated in the expanse of territory in the east and south. Follow the 600-mile front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces and see where the battle is focused.
A year of living apart: Russia’s invasion, along with Ukraine’s martial law that prevents men of fighting age from leaving the country, has forced agonizing decisions for millions of Ukrainian families about how to balance safety, duty and love, whose former interrelated life is no longer recognizable. Here’s what a train station full of goodbyes looked like last year.
Deepening the global divide: President Biden has touted the reinvigorated Western alliance formed during the war as a “global coalition,” but a closer look suggests the world is far from united on the issues raised by the war in Ukraine. There is plenty of evidence that efforts to isolate Putin have failed and that sanctions have not deterred Russia, thanks to its oil and gas exports.