Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of Russia's most notorious mercenary group, said Saturday that he wants his forces and the regular Russian army to take over the small town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine because it has "underground towns" that can hold troops and tanks. This was reported by The globe and mail.
Russia's attempts to capture Bakhmut, which lasted more than five months, have puzzled some Western military analysts, who have said that the heavy casualties suffered on the Russian side and the fact that Ukraine has built defensive lines to retreat to nearby locations mean any Russian victory there. If it happens, it will be Pyrrhic.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, which is involved in the battle for Bakhmut, detailed on Saturday why he considers its capture an important development.
"The cherry on the cake is the Soledar and Bakhmut mine system, which is actually a network of underground cities. Not only does it (have the ability to hold) a large group of people at a depth of 80-100 meters, but tanks and BMPs can move around."
Prigozhin, who is likely to see his political capital increase in Moscow if Bakhmut goes to Russia, given Wagner's role in the fighting there, said that since World War I, the underground complexes have held stockpiles of weapons.
His comments were a reference to the extensive salt and other mines in the area, which contain more than 100 miles of tunnels and a huge underground room where soccer games and classical music concerts were held in more peaceful times.
A White House spokesman said Thursday that Washington believes Prigozhin wanted to take control of the salt and gypsum mines in the area for commercial reasons. It made no mention of their alleged underground military use.
Prigozhin, who is under Western sanctions, cited other advantages of taking Bakhmut, calling it a "serious logistical center" with unique defensive fortifications.
He made his comments in his press office's Telegram channel when artillery fire swept through the nearly deserted streets of Bakhmut on Saturday, despite Russia's self-proclaimed cease-fire to mark Orthodox Christmas, which Kiev rejected as a ruse.
Bakhmut, which Russia calls Artemivskoye, is the center of Ukraine's fiercest fighting, and Prigozhin made his comment when another Telegram channel affiliated with Wagner claimed that Russia had seized a strategically important settlement on the outskirts of Bakhmut.
Reuters was unable to independently verify this claim.
Earlier on Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry reported fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine.
A Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman said the town of Soledar, which is near Bakhmut and has a salt mine, is still under Ukrainian control, despite what he called fierce Russian attacks.
Author - Serhii Kolomiets, 08/01/2023