Wagner: Wagner’s Russian mercenaries hand over Bakhmut to the regular army

KYIV (Reuters) – Russia’s Private Wagner Army began handing over its positions in Bakhmut to Russian regular troops on Thursday, five days after declaring full control of the devastated eastern Ukrainian town following the most longest and bloodiest of the war.
Moscow says capturing Bakhmut paves the way for advances in the eastern industrial region known as Donbass. kyiv claims the battle drew Russian forces into the city, inflicting heavy casualties and weakening Moscow’s defensive line elsewhere.
Founder of Wagner Yevgeny Prigozinwho repeatedly accused the Russian regular army of abandoning ground captured earlier by his men, said Wagner would be prepared to return to the city if necessary.
“As of today at five o’clock in the morning, from May 25 to June 1, most (Wagner) units will rebase in camps in the rear,” Prigozin said in a video, dressed in a combat gear and standing next to a war damaged residential block. He says 20,000 of his fighters died taking Bakhmut.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said in a message on the Telegram app that Wagner had given up posts on the outskirts of the city but “inside the city itself there are still Wagner’s fighters”.
Russia moved forward on Thursday with a plan to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to its neighbor and close ally Belarus, signing an agreement on the storage of the warheads. It would be the first deployment of such bombs by the Kremlin outside Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
“The nuclear weapons movement has already begun,” Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told reporters in Moscow, where he was taking part in talks with other leaders of former Soviet states.
The US State Department denounced the deployment plan, but said Washington had no intention of changing its position on strategic nuclear weapons and had seen no signs that Russia was preparing to use a nuclear weapon.
“This is the latest example of irresponsible behavior that we have seen from Russia,” said US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.
Russia pushes demands in grain deal
Also on Thursday, Russia signaled that if demands for improved grain and fertilizer exports are not met, it will not extend beyond July 17 a deal allowing safe export in times of war of the same products from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports.
He made the same threat and demands in March. Moscow then agreed last week to renew for 60 days the Black Sea Export Pact – originally negotiated by the United Nations and Turkey last July with Russia and Ukraine to try to ease a crisis of good world aggravated by the invasion of Moscow in February 2022.
Some peace initiatives have been proposed, including by Russia’s ally China, the Vatican and a group of African countries, but there are no signs of actual talks to end the war.
“No force can force Ukrainian society and its leaders to talk with the Russians. Not as long as Russian troops remain here. That simply does not exist,” the Ukrainian president said. Volodymyr Zelensky‘s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, was quoted as saying Thursday in an interview with the Interfax Ukraine news agency.
Russian forces have taken control of parts of Ukrainian territory since the start of the war and Ukraine is planning a major counter-offensive to retake the land, using modern weapons supplied by Western allies and troops freshly trained in across Europe, but details are scarce.
Russia has built extensive fortifications in eastern and southern Ukraine in preparation for the counteroffensive. Military analysts have said small offensives by Ukrainian forces could aim to disperse Russian troops, creating gaps elsewhere that could be exploited.
In a prisoner exchange with Russia, Ukraine received 106 soldiers who had been captured at Bakhmut. Russia confirmed the swap, saying Wagner was involved in the swap, but did not say how many Russians were released.
US imposes sanctions on Wagner character
The United States plans to announce up to $300 million in military aid to Ukraine, consisting mostly of munitions, two official sources said on condition of anonymity. The United States has pledged more than $35 billion in security aid to Ukraine since the invasion.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the United States and its allies are waging an expanding proxy war.
Western allies say they want Ukraine to defeat Russian forces on the battlefield, but deny Putin’s claims they want to destroy Russia, which they accuse of unprovoked imperial land grabs in Ukraine .
The US Treasury Department said it imposed sanctions on Wagner’s chief in Mali. The group’s employees may have attempted to work across the West African country to acquire equipment such as mines, drones, radars for use in Ukraine, he said.


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