Russian forces could capture Artyomovsk, referred to as Bakhmut in Ukraine, sometime in March or April, Evgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner private military group, said in an interview with RT on Wednesday.
Prigozhin noted, however, that the timing is difficult to predict because Kiev continues to receive military aid from Western countries. He added that deliveries of Western military equipment, such as German-made Leopard main battle tanks, could be an important factor in the operation.
Nevertheless, the Wagner Group chief said they will “100% learn how to destroy these Leopards and will 100% learn how to burn them.”
Prigozhin also spoke about why Kiev is so insistent on holding on to Artyomovsk; he told RT there are three main reasons.
The first reason, Prigozhin says, is political, because the battle for Artyomovsk has now essentially become a new Stalingrad – the city in which the most brutal battle between Soviet and Nazi forces took place during WWII, and which proved to be a turning point in the war.
Artyomovsk is now seeing a huge amount of artillery fire, he said. “In Popasnaya, if you put out your hand, in just 30-40 seconds, you will be hit with shrapnel.” He added that in Artyomovsk, the intensity of artillery fire is 2 to 3 times higher. “The enemy is sparing no ammunition, and we should be doing the same,” he said.
The second reason for Ukraine is strategic, as the city, which is part of a 70km Ukrainian defensive line created after Kiev initiated the fighting in Donbass in 2014, is a “good transport and logistics hub for military operations,” the Wagner chief says.
The third reason, according to Prigozhin, has to do with morale. As long as Artyomovsk stands, the Ukrainian army’s morale will remain high, he said. He added that Kiev’s forces generally maintain good morale, and that it’s not the case that they are demoralized and on the run.
The Wagner Group has been at the forefront of Russian efforts to capture Artyomovsk – a key Donbass crossroads city which has seen intense fighting for months and is now close to being encircled by Russian forces.