(Kyiv) The Russian paramilitary group Wagner on Wednesday claimed the capture of the eastern part of Bakhmout, a city at the heart of fighting for months in eastern Ukraine which could fall “in the coming days”, according to the secretary general of NATO.
The defense ministers of the European Union are meeting in Stockholm to refine a plan for the delivery of shells and ammunition to Ukraine, with a first component of emergency aid worth one billion euros.
“The Wagner units have taken the entire eastern part of Bakhmout, all that is east of the Bakhmoutka river” crossing the city, said in an audio message the boss of the paramilitary organization, Evguéni Prigojine.
While the Ukrainian forces defending the city are threatened with encirclement, the boss of the Atlantic Alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, said he could not “exclude that Bakhmout finally falls in the coming days”.
“It does not necessarily reflect any turning point in the war,” he told reporters: “But it underlines that we must not underestimate Russia. We must continue to support Ukraine”.
The fall of Bakhmout would leave “the way free” for the Russian army in eastern Ukraine, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who announced this week to strengthen the units deployed to hold the city.
After Bakhmout, the Russians “could go further. They could go to Kramatorsk, they could go to Sloviansk, the way would be free “for them” to other cities in Ukraine, “warned Mr. Zelensky in an interview with the American channel CNN broadcast on Wednesday.
Meeting in Stockholm with their Ukrainian counterpart Oleksiï Reznikov, the 27 EU Defense Ministers are refining in this context an emergency plan to deliver shells to Kyiv within a few weeks, while European stocks are themselves under pressure.
The project aims both to meet the immediate needs of Kyiv, which fires thousands every day and faces a critical shortage of 155 mm shells for its guns, and to boost the capacities of the European defense industry. long-term.
For his part, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, met Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, a trip dedicated to the extension of the agreement with Russia on the export of Ukrainian cereals through the Black Sea.
“I want to stress the capital importance of the extension” of the grain agreement, Mr. Guterres told the press after his meeting.
According to him, the agreement has enabled the export of 23 million tonnes of Ukrainian cereals, contributing “to lowering the world cost of foodstuffs”, to the benefit in particular of developing countries.
Despite fierce Ukrainian defense since the battle for Bakhmut began in August, Russia vowed to conquer the city.
The battle is the longest and deadliest since the outbreak of the Russian offensive in February 2022. While the strategic value of this city is disputed, it has gained symbolic importance, given the heavy losses suffered by both sides.
Moscow has been searching for a victory since its bitter defeats in the fall, and hopes that the city’s fall can open up control of the part of Donbass, an industrial region in eastern Ukraine, which it still escapes.
Wagner’s troops led this attack at the cost of very heavy losses, even by Evguéni Prigojine’s own admission. The Russians seem to control access to the city from the north, south and east, leaving only one exit route from the west to the Ukrainians.
Speculation has therefore been rife for weeks on a tactical withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Bakhmout.
In its latest report, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) also estimated that Kremlin troops had “likely” captured the eastern part of Bakhmout, after a “controlled withdrawal” of Ukrainian forces. .
But Mr. Zelensky challenged any desire to cede the city, even ordering Tuesday to send reinforcements there.
Moreover, on the sidelines of the Stockholm meeting, Oleksiï Reznikov challenged the information from the American daily New York Timesattributing to “a pro-Ukrainian group” the spectacular sabotage of the two Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea in September.
The Kremlin, which accuses the West of sabotage, has also rejected this information, seeing it as an attempt to “divert the attention” of officials.
Finally, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has found that the video, which has gone viral, of a Ukrainian soldier prisoner apparently shot after shouting “Glory to Ukraine”, “appears authentic” .
This video is “shocking” and “the laws of war must be strictly respected”, reacted Mr. Guterres.