The head of the Wagner Group has admitted his private mercenary group won’t be able to take Bakhmut in the coming days despite months of fighting.
Despite a prior recruitment drive to bolster numbers, the group’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has become increasingly critical of the Russian war effort, revealed his troops had stalled in their pursuit to retake the town.
“Bakhmut has still not been taken,” Prigozhin said in a voice message posted on Telegram.
“Bakhmut is unlikely to be taken either tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.
“There is a quarter known as the ‘Airplane’ - it is like an impregnable fortress from a bed of multi-storey buildings in the southwest of Bakhmut, where incredibly heavy battles are going on.”
Previously, Prigozhin has accused Russia’s military of not doing enough to support his private army and even released a video criticising certain elements of the Kremlin’s war machine.
Earlier this month, Prigozhin had also threatened to withdraw troops following a bust up with the Russian army.
"I am appealing to the top leadership of the Ministry of Defence - publicly - because my letters are not being read," Prigozhin said this week.
"Please do not give up the flanks," he said, addressing Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff.
The appeal came as Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukrainian ground forces, said his forces had carried out the first “successful offensive operation” in the town.
Meanwhile Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed a summit of Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia before what a senior official said would be a trip to Japan for a meeting with the leaders of the world's most powerful democracies - where he is expected to continue calls for military aid including fighter jets.
Although yet to sanction the delivery of jets to Ukraine, western leaders including Rishi Sunak endorsed plans to train Ukrainian pilots on US-made F-16 planes.
During a summit with Mr Zelensky at Chequers in the week, the Prime Minister confirmed the provision of hundreds of air defence missiles and further unmanned aerial systems, including attack drones which have a range of over 125 miles.
Downing Street said the weapons were “critical in helping the country defend against the relentless bombardment of their national infrastructure” by Vladimir Putin’s army.
At the time Mr Zelensky said new fighter jets “very important topic for us, because we can’t control the sky” and that he and the Prime Minister spoke about it and I see that in the closest time you will hear some, I think, very important decisions, but we have to work a little bit more on it.”
The meeting comes after Britain last week agreed to provide Storm Shadow precision missiles to Ukraine — the first long-range cruise missile in the country’s arsenal — on top of the £2.3billion worth of military support the UK pledged last year.