Ukraine has pushed back the Russian army from some positions around Bakhmut, according to commanders on both sides, in a small but potentially significant counterattack after months of brutal battle that has become the focal point of the Kremlin war.

Ukraine’s army said on Wednesday it had defeated a Russian infantry unit and forced it to withdraw from crucial ground around the eastern city. The claims were backed by the furious account of the mercenary chief whose fighters have led Russia’s push for a symbolic victory there, and who has blamed Moscow’s defense chiefs for the setbacks.

Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said Russian army losses, which he said had exposed the flanks of his fighters leading the central assault on the city, pointed to the start of a broader Ukrainian counteroffensive.

But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signaled otherwise, suggesting his troops needed more time before launching their anticipated spring attack, even as Britain sent in new long-range missiles that could allow Kiev to strike deeper into Ukrainian-controlled territory. Russia.

Counterattacks but not yet a counteroffensive?

Ukrainian forces had been «unfortunately, partially successful» and were closing in on Bakhmut from the flanks, Prigozhin said Thursday on Telegram.

Earlier this week, he accused the Russian army’s 72nd Brigade of having «riled up» key terrain, fleeing from an area where he said it had lost around 500 men.

«They just took off and ran out of there.» he told her in a video posted on telegram in Tuesday.

Prigozhin has been embroiled in a bitter dispute with the Kremlin’s top brass, threatening to abandon the battle after accusing them of depriving their fighters of ammunition.

Prigozhin has blamed the Kremlin for the alleged ammunition shortage in a series of furious video tirades.@concordgroup_official / AFP – Getty Images

His claims are often unsupported by evidence and could not be verified by NBC News, but were given additional weight by Western military analysts and Ukrainian officials. Russia’s military has not commented, and the Kremlin said on Thursday it had «no doubt» that Bakhmut «will be taken, and then it will be carried out.»

Ukrainian forces carried out «effective counterattacks» in Bakhmut, ground forces commander Oleksandr Syrskyi said in a Telegram on Wednesday. mail.

“The enemy was unable to repel the attacks of the Ukrainian defenders and withdrew to a distance of up to 2 kilometers (1.24 miles),” it said.

Wagner’s mercenaries were being replaced by «less prepared units» of the Russian regular army, he said.

In an earlier statement, the Ukrainian 3rd Separate Assault Brigade said: “It is official. Prigozhin’s report about the flight of the Russian 72nd Independent Motor Rifle Brigade from near Bakhmut and the ‘500 corpses’ of Russians left behind is true.”

“Victory Day was a success,” boasted Andriy Biletsky, founder of Ukraine’s far-right Azov regiment, sarcastically referring to the annual celebration of the Russian armed forces that took place on Tuesday. He stated that the Ukrainian troops had «destroyed» the entire Russian brigade, which normally numbered thousands of troops, but others stopped short of that claim.

«Ukrainian forces conducted limited successful counterattacks around Bakhmut on May 9,» the Washington-based think tank Institute for the Study of War said, citing geolocated images of fringe advances «to the west and southwest of the city. «.