Zelenskyy mocks Russian forces fighting for Soledar ‘credit’ | Conflict News

The leader of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, had accused the Russian military establishment of trying to “steal victory” from Soledar.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has mocked the infighting between the Russian Defense Ministry and the Wagner mercenary group over who should take credit for efforts to seize the town of Soledar, saying it showed “a clear sign of failure for the enemy”.

In a late-night video address Friday, Zelenskyy said battles for Soledar and other towns in eastern Ukraine were continuing despite competing claims by Wagner and the Russian government that it was their forces that took control of the mining town. .

The fall of Soledar would mark Russia’s first major battlefield gain after months of military retreats and setbacks against Ukrainian forces, although military analysts and the United States have downplayed the city’s strategic importance , which saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the war. far.

“The tough battle for the Donetsk region continues. The battle for Bakhmut and Soledar, for Kreminna, for other towns and villages in the east of our country continues,” Zelenskyy said in his speech.

“Although the enemy has concentrated its greatest forces in this direction, our troops – the Armed Forces of Ukraine, all defense and security forces – are defending the state,” he said.

Zelenskyy then addressed the struggle between the Russian Ministry of Defense and Wagner’s mercenaries.

“They are already fighting among themselves over who should be credited with a certain tactical lead,” he said.

“It is a clear signal of failure for the enemy. And this is another incentive for all of us to put more pressure on the occupier and inflict heavier casualties on the enemy.

The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces captured Soledar on Thursday evening, potentially allowing them to cut off Ukrainian supply routes to the town of Bakhmut, southwest of Soledar, and trap remaining Ukrainian forces there. .

In its statement, the ministry attributed the capture of the city to Russian troops and aviation without mentioning the role of the Wagner group.

Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has harshly criticized the failures of Russia’s regular army, issued a premature statement earlier this week that Soledar had fallen. He also maintained that the fighting there was exclusively carried out by his men.

In comments apparently aimed at the Russian defense establishment, Prigozhin on Friday complained of “infighting, corruption, bureaucracy and officials wanting to stay in their jobs,” as well as what he called constant attempts to “steal victory” from Wagner.

In response, the Russian Defense Ministry released a second statement on Friday evening aimed at “clarifying” the situation and acknowledging the role of Wagner Group fighters in Soledar.

“As for the direct storming of the areas of the city of Soledar occupied by the armed forces of Ukraine, this combat task was successfully accomplished thanks to the courageous and selfless actions of the volunteers of the Wagner assault detachments,” said said the Department of Defense.

Media outlet Kyiv Independent noted that competition for credit between Russian forces has not gone unnoticed in Ukraine, with Mykhailo Podoliak, an adviser to the president’s office, claiming on Twitter that the “public rumble” over “who is fighting the best” in Ukraine. Soledar was “a good sign of the beginning of a breathtaking end”.

Russia allowed Prigozhin to recruit tens of thousands of its prisoners for Wagner, which US officials say is a force of 50,000, and let him equip them with tanks, planes and defense systems anti-missile.

According to Reuters, the Kremlin also sat idly by as Wagner’s boss hurled sometimes profane criticism at Russia’s top brass, though some Western military analysts have suggested the recent appointment of Russia’s top general to lead the war in Ukraine was intended to counterbalance Prigozhin’s attitude. influence.

Despite his sometimes publicly strained ties with the Russian Defense Ministry, some Western military analysts suspect Wagner of being closely affiliated with it.

A source close to Russian authorities, who declined to be named because she was not authorized to speak to the media, told Reuters the Kremlin considered Prigozhin a useful operator but maintained unspecified safeguards in terms of its growing power.

“There is a (growth) cap and mechanisms in place,” said the source, who declined to provide further details.

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