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Wagner chief asks Moscow to hand Bakhmut positions to Chechen forces

By AFP - May 07,2023 - Last updated at May 07,2023

This video grab taken from a handout footage posted on Friday on the Telegram account of the press-service of Concord shows Yevgeny Prigozhin addressing the Russian army's top brass standing in front of Wagner fighters at an undisclosed location (AFP photo)

MOSCOW/ KYIV — The chief of the Russian paramilitary group Wagner on Saturday asked Moscow to let him hand over his positions in the hotspot city of Bakhmut to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

"I ask you to issue a combat order before 00:00 on May 10 concerning the transfer of the positions of the Wagner paramilitary units in Bakhmut and its periphery, to the units of the Akhmat battalion" Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a letter to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

The Akhmat battalion refers to the Chechen combat units under the command of strongman Kadyrov, who has ruled Russia's Muslim-majority republic Chechnya for the last decade and a half.

Prigozhin said his fighters would be forced to pull out because of a long “ammunition famine”.

He accused the Russian defence ministry of only delivering 32 per cent of the required ammunition since October 2022.

Wagner fighters are leading the battle for Bakhmut, during which rivalries between Prigozhin and the conventional army have come to the surface.

On Friday, the Wagner leader threatened to pull out in a series of scathing videos attacking Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

Kadyrov on Friday said on Telegram that his fighters were “ready to advance and occupy the city”.

He praised Wagner units, saying both groups had fought side by side in the “most difficult” battles of Popasna, Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.

In a message earlier on Saturday, Prigozhin thanked Kadyrov for his offer and said Chechen forces would “no doubt” seize Bakhmut.

Meanwhile, Ukraine said Saturday that it had for the first time downed a Russian hypersonic Kinzhal missile during a wave of Russian attacks in the night between last Wednesday and Thursday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who unveiled the Kinzhal missile in 2018, has termed it “an ideal weapon” that is extremely difficult for missile defences to intercept.

The Ukraine Air Force said the missile was shot down with a Patriot air-defence system in skies over Kyiv at around 2:30am on Thursday (2330 GMT Wednesday).

Ukraine appealed to its Western allies to help reinforce its air defence system as Russia pounded Ukraine energy infrastructure from the air over winter.

Mid-April, Ukraine received the first Patriots, seen as one of the most advanced US air defence systems.

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