Russian forces ‘decrease’ attacks on Bakhmut to regroup, Ukraine says

Russian attacks on the besieged eastern city of Bakhmut have “decreased” as they replace and regroup their forces, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said Saturday.   

“Yesterday and today there are no active battles there — neither in the city, nor on the flanks,” Hanna Maliar said in a Telegram post.  “Instead, the enemy is actively shelling the outskirts of the city.”  

After an intense monthslong battle for the city that came to embody Ukrainian resistance, the Kremlin declared full control of the city last week after months of fighting not seen in Europe since World War II. But the celebrations were dismissed in Kyiv, where officials insisted that the city was not completely under Russian control and that the battle was far from over.

Maliar said Saturday that Ukrainian troops  “firmly hold” the heights overlooking Bakhmut from the north and south, as well as a portion of the outskirts of the city, but had not advanced over the past two days to focus on “other tasks.”

Russian forces had “made a bet on conducting air strikes and intensive artillery fire,” she said.  “The decrease in the enemy’s offensive activity is due to the fact that troops are being replaced and regrouped,” she added. “The enemy is trying to strengthen its own capabilities.”

Meanwhile, she said that Ukrainian forces had “suspended” their own advances “in order to fulfill other tasks.”

Her comments came as Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, posted a video on Saturday which he said depicted Ukrainian special forces operating inside the ruined city.

NBC News has not been able to independently verify the video.

Elsewhere, Britain’s defense ministry said in its daily intelligence briefing that forces from the Wagner mercenary group whose fighters led the costly Russian push for Bakhmut, had “likely started to withdraw” from some of their positions in the city.    

Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner’s millionaire owner with longtime links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Thursday that his forces had started pulling out and were handing over control to the Russian military.  

Prigozhin’s Bakhmut triumph delivered a badly needed victory for Putin, whose invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has lost momentum and now faces the possibility of a highly anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive using advanced weapons supplied by Kyiv’s Western allies.

Kyiv is expected to attempt to retake Russian-occupied territory soon and on Saturday the Commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi, posted a sleekly produced video to his Telegram channel showing some of his troops swearing an oath and preparing for battle.

“The time has come to return what is ours,” he wrote.

Elsewhere, an attack by two drones caused an explosion in Russia’s Pskov region near the border with Belarus, local Governor Mikhail Vedernikov said on Telegram on Saturday.  

An oil pipeline’s administrative building was damaged, he added. 

Vedernikov did not point the finger at Ukraine, but Moscow has previously blamed Kyiv for similar incidents.

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