KYIV, May 25 (AP/Reuters): The head of the Russian private army Wagner says his force lost more than 20,000 fighters in the drawn-out battle for Bakhmut, with about 20% of the 50,000 Russian convicts he recruited to fight in the 15-month war dying in the eastern Ukrainian city.
The figure was in stark contrast with widely disputed claims from Moscow that it lost just over 6,000 troops in the war, and is higher than the official estimate of the Soviet losses in the Afghanistan war of 15,000 troops between 1979-89. Ukraine hasn't said how many of its soldiers have died since Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022.
Analysts believe the nine-month fight for Bakhmut alone has cost the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers, among them convicts who reportedly received little training before being sent to the front.
Russia's invasion goal of "demilitarizing" Ukraine has backfired because Kyiv's military has become stronger with the supply of weapons and training by its Western allies, Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said in an interview published late Tuesday with Konstantin Dolgov, a pro-Kremlin political strategist.
Prigozhin also said the Kremlin's forces have killed civilians during the war, something Moscow has repeatedly and vehemently denied.
Wagner starts withdrawing
units from Bakhmut
Russia's Wagner mercenary group has started withdrawing its forces from the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut and transferring its positions there to regular Russian troops, its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a video published on Thursday.
"We are withdrawing the units from Bakhmut. From today at five in the morning, May 25 until Jun 1, most of the units will rebase to camps in the rear. We are handing our positions to the military," he said.
The video was posted on Telegram by his press service, and showed Prigozhin dressed in battle gear and standing beside a war-damaged residential block.
US thinks Ukraine was
behind Kremlin attack
United States intelligence agencies believe that a drone attack on the Kremlin this month was likely orchestrated by Ukrainian spies or military intelligence, the New York Times said.
The newspaper said the attack appeared to be part of a series of covert operations that have made officials in the United States - Ukraine's biggest supplier of military equipment - uncomfortable.
The US assessment was based on intercepted Russian and Ukrainian communications, the paper said.
The United States intercepted Ukrainian conversations in which officials said they believed their country was responsible for the attack, and also tapped into Russian communications which indicated it was not some sort of false-flag operation by Russia, it added.