- Putin praised the Wagner group for what he called the “liberation” of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
- His comment was the first time he has directly credited the mercenary army for their military wins.
- Ukraine maintains it is still in control of a small part of Bakhmut, despite Russian claims of victory.
Despite heavily relying on Wagner mercenary troops in the invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has not directly credited the for-hire army for their military efforts – until now.
As Russia claimed it has overtaken the besieged eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, Putin finally praised the Wagner troops controlled by his long-time ally Yevgeny Prigozhin for their role in invading the city.
In a statement issued Sunday, the Russian leader “congratulated the Wagner assault units as well as all service personnel of the Russian Federation Armed Forces who had rendered them the required support and protected the flanks, on the completion of the operation to liberate Artemovsk.”
While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denies that Russia has full control over the city at the front lines of the invasion, the Institute for the Study of War argued Prigozhin’s claims of victory over the remaining areas “is purely symbolic even if true,” due to its lack of significance strategically.
The ISW added in a Sunday assessment of the news that Russia had claimed victory over Bakhmut that Putin’s choice to praise the Wagner Group was also strategic, following months of infighting between Prigozhin and Putin over the heavy losses Wagner Troops were facing in the battle for Bakhmut.
“Putin likely took this step because Prigozhin has thoroughly established Wagner’s responsibility for operations in Bakhmut within the Russian information space,” Sunday’s Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment from the ISW read, adding that Putin and the Russian Ministry of Defense “likely sought to mitigate Prigozhin’s ability to claim sole responsibility for the capture of Bakhmut by emphasizing that regular Russian forces aided in the effort.”
Representatives for the Government of the Russian Federation did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.