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Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said he lost 20,000 of his fighters in the battle for Bakhmut, highlighting the immense price Russia paid to capture the destroyed city in eastern Ukraine.
Prigozhin said in a new interview with a prominent Russian blogger that of the tens of thousands of convicts his private military company recruited from Russian prisons to fight in Bakhmut, about 20 percent of them died in the battle.
Of the total losses, 50 percent were employees of Wagner Group, and the other half were prisoners, according to Prigozhin.
The Wagner Group chief also told Konstantin Dolgov, a pro-Kremlin Russian blogger, in a video interview published Tuesday that Ukraine had a strong army.
“I can say from my own experience, we have fought in many places with many people,” Prigozhin said. “Today, the Ukrainians are one of the strongest armies. They have a top level of organization, high levels of training and great intelligence.”
The Wagner chief’s loss estimate is a stark contrast to Russia’s official death toll of a little more than 6,000 soldiers lost in the war in Ukraine so far.
But Prigozhin’s figures largely match up to an estimate from U.S. officials, who assessed Russia has suffered 100,000 casualties in Bakhmut, including 20,000 deaths.
Of those deaths, about half were attributed to the Wagner Group, said White House national security spokesperson John Kirby earlier this month.
Wagner Group fought for around nine months in Bakhmut until Russia claimed victory in the city over the weekend.
To take the city from Ukraine’s defenses, the mercenary soldiers applied a tactic of pressure, including throwing waves of convicts at Ukrainian lines.
The battle has left Wagner Group and the Russian military weaker and exhausted, with Prigozhin saying his troops would withdraw for now to regroup and resupply.
Ukraine has denied losing the city of Bakhmut, and its ground forces commander says troops are positioned in the outskirts of the city and are poised to retake it when afforded the opportunity.
Kyiv is preparing to launch a long-anticipated counteroffensive to retake territory in eastern Ukraine.
Prigozhin said in the Tuesday interview that Ukraine’s coming counteroffensive could see Russian forces pushed out of eastern Ukraine.
Associate editor Steff Danielle Thomas contributed.