The head of the Russian private army Wagner has again broken with the Kremlin line on Ukraine, saying its goal of demilitarizing the country has backfired, acknowledging Russian troops have killed civilians and agreeing with Western estimates that he’s lost more than 20,000 men in the battle for Bakhmut.
Yevgeny Prigozhin said about half of those who died in the eastern Ukrainian city were Russian convicts recruited for the 15-month-old war. His figures stood in stark contrast to Moscow’s widely disputed claims that just over 6,000 of its troops were killed throughout the war as of January. By comparison, official Soviet troop losses in the 1979-89 Afghanistan war were 15,000.
Ukraine hasn’t said how many of its soldiers have died since Russia’s full-scale invasion began in February 2022.
White House officials said Wednesday that Prigozhin’s comments were in line with their own estimates that Russian losses have accelerated. The White House estimated this month that Russian forces had suffered 100,000 casualties, including 20,000 killed in fighting, since December. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said then that about half of those killed were Wagner forces.
Analysts believe many of those killed in the nine-month fight for Bakhmut were Russian convicts with little military training.