By Andrew Osborn
LONDON (Reuters) – The founder of Russia’s top parliament said on Saturday he wanted his army and regular Russian troops to take over the small town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine because it had “a “undergrounds” that can hold troops and tanks. .
Russia’s more than five-month-long effort to try to take Bakhmut has baffled some Western military analysts who say the heavy losses on the Russian side and the fact that Ukraine built a defensive line to fall on the flanks mean victory Russia won there. , if it happens, will be pyrrhic.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Russian mercenary group that Wagner is fighting in Bakhmut, explained in detail on Saturday why he thought his arrest would be necessary.
“The cherry on the cake is the system of Soledar and Bakhmut mines, which is actually a network of underground cities. It is not only (capable of holding) large groups of people at a depth of 80-100 meters, but tanks. and armored vehicles can also move around.”
Prigozhin, who could see his political capital in Moscow boosted if Bakhmut falls to Russia because of Wagner’s role in the conflict there, said the weapons are being stored inside underground buildings since the First World War.
His words are a reference to the large salt and other mines in the area that have more than 100 kilometers of tunnels and large underground chambers that hosted football games and classical music in peacetime.
A White House official said Thursday that Washington believed Prigozhin wanted to seize salt and gypsum mines in the region for commercial purposes. He did not comment on their alleged use of underground warfare.
Prigozhin, who was banned in the West, cited other advantages of bringing Bakhmut, calling it a “strong weapons factory” with special defenses.
He made his comments on the telegram channel of his media service after a shelling near Bakhmut street on Saturday despite Russia’s self-proclaimed ban on celebrating Orthodox Christmas, which Kyiv rejected as a fraud.
Bakhmut, which Russia calls Artyomovsk, is the focus of some of the most intense fighting in Ukraine, and Prigozhin made his comments as another Telegram channel linked to Wagner says Russia has made significant improvements. outside of Bakhmut.
Reuters could not independently verify the statement.
The Ministry of Defense in Russia earlier on Saturday reported intense fighting in eastern Ukraine.
A spokesman for Ukraine’s defense ministry said the town of Soledar, which is near Bakhmut and has a salt mine, remains under Ukrainian control despite what he described as a heavy Russian attack.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Christina Fincher)