(AFP) The founder of the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, Yevgueny Prigozhin, believes that the city of Bakhmut, the epicenter of fighting in eastern Ukraine, is unlikely to fall before “March, or April,” due to what he called the “monstrous military bureaucracy” holding back the offensive in Ukraine.

Just days before the one-year anniversary of the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Moscow’s troops are intensifying attacks in the east.

“I believe it will happen in March, or April. To take Bakhmut, we need to cut off all supply routes,” Prigozhin said in a video posted on Telegram Wednesday night.

“I think we would have already taken Bakhmut if not for this monstrous military bureaucracy,” Prigozhin criticized in another video.

According to the businessman, the fact that the Wagner group can no longer recruit prisoners to the front in exchange for amnesty represents a “bloodletting” for his organization.

“At a certain point the number of units will drop and, as a result, so will the volume of tasks we want to perform,” he added.

The paramilitary organization has been leading the offensive against Bakhmut for several months. The group has recruited a large number of detainees to fight in Ukraine.

On February 9, Prigozhin announced an end to such recruitment.

Once discreet, the founder of the Wagner group was long an inseparable ally of the Kremlin and carried out some missions for the Russian government.

  • Bakhmut, a symbol –

Fighting on the outskirts of Bakhmut has increased since the end of 2022, but the Russians are advancing slowly, despite the conquest of several localities in January and February.

Analysts question to what extent the town, which had 70,000 inhabitants before the offensive, is strategically important. Over time, the town has become a symbol for both sides.

For Kiev, Bakhmut is a “fortress,” while Moscow seeks a victory after the military defeats recorded in the second half of last year, which resulted in thousands of reservists being called to the front.

In Chasiv Yar, a town near Bakhmut, artillery fire is heard frequently, which has caused many residents to flee the area.

Vasyl Slabun, 62, took only two suitcases.

“My nerves are on edge!” he comments, aboard a white minibus. “I will return after the Army’s victory. I was born here and all my family is buried here,” he added.

Russia continues its bombing campaign against Ukrainian infrastructure. On Wednesday night, it again attacked the neighboring country with missiles and drones.

The attacks caused at least one death: a 79-year-old woman, a resident of Dnipropetrovsk.

On Thursday, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg predicted a long period of dangerous tensions with Russia.

“We need to be prepared for a long road. This could last for many, many years,” he warned, stating that NATO will remain present to “ensure that Ukraine wins this war,” he promised in an interview with AFP.

Western powers plan to deliver tanks, armor and long-range missiles to Ukraine in the coming weeks, weapons that could intensify the Russian Army’s problems.

  • Israeli Visit –

On Thursday, Kiev received a visit from Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen for the first time since the conflict began.

According to the diplomat, Israel “remains committed to the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Ukraine, and is “firmly opposed to the killing of innocent civilians,” he said after visiting Bucha, a city heavily hit by the Russian offensive in the Kiev region.

So far, the country has tried to remain neutral in the conflict, without supplying arms to the Ukrainians. In early February, however, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that he was considering sending military aid to Kiev.

Also on Thursday, Russia announced the expulsion of four Austrian diplomats, in response to the removal of four Russian representatives in Austria earlier this month.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, declared on Thursday that his country will participate in the Russian offensive only in the event of a direct attack.

“I am ready to fight with the Russians from the territory of Belarus only in one case: if a soldier (from Ukraine) enters our territory with a gun to kill my people,” Lukashenko said during a rare meeting with foreign media in Minsk.

*** Translated by the DEFCONPress FYI Team ***

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