Wagner founder and financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed on Tuesday that Russian forces now control much of the embattled eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
“We are fully concentrated on Bakhmut, continuing to carry out combat missions. In Bakhmut, most of it — that is, more than 80% — is under our control, including the entire administrative center, plants, factories, the city administration,” Prigozhin said. “What is left is part of the multi-story residential areas, where fortification districts were made. There are tunnels under these high-rise buildings.”
Ukrainian officials have denied Prigozhin’s claim.
"This statement by Prigozhin is not true,” Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the eastern grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces told CNN on Tuesday. “I've just been in touch with the commander of one of the brigades that are defending the city. I can confidently state that the Ukrainian defense forces control a much larger percentage of the territory of Bakhmut."
"Prigozhin needs to show at least some victory in the city, which they have been trying to capture for nine months in a row, so he makes such statements," Cherevatyi added.
The Wagner founder has been known to make incorrect claims about his forces’ advance on the ground in Ukraine. Last week, he posted a grainy video raising a flag at dawn, saying Bakhmut had "been taken," despite ongoing fighting in and around the city. His claim was seen as a "pretty desperate" attempt, Western officials said.
What Western officials are saying: The officials conceded Russia had been able to make some progress in Bakhmut, but added it could be "measured in meters."
"The Russians at the moment, despite trying for six months, with huge numbers of personnel and huge numbers of losses, have been unable to take the town, and at the moment have made very, very slow progress,” the officials said at a briefing last Wednesday.
In the video this Tuesday, Prigozhin said Wagner fighters had relinquished control of some areas around Bakhmut to the Russian military.
“We handed over the flanks to the Ministry of Defence. Units of the Ministry of Defence, including the airborne troops, have today taken over both the right and left flanks,” he said. “That is why Zaliznyanskoye, Nikolaevka, and other settlements, which were stormed by units of the Wagner PMC in previous months, are in the area of responsibility of the airborne troops and other units of the Ministry of Defence.”
CNN’s Max Foster contributed to this post.