The mercenary Wagner Group casualty count given by its chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was in stark contrast with widely disputed claims from Moscow that it lost just over 6,000 troops in the war, and is higher than the official estimate of the Soviet losses in the Afghanistan war of 15,000 troops between 1979-89.
Ukraine hasn't said how many of its soldiers have died since Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022.
Analysts believe the nine-month fight for Bakhmut alone has cost the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers, among them Wagner-hired prison convicts who reportedly received little training before being sent to the front.
Prigozhin said, in an interview published late Tuesday with Konstantin Dolgov, a pro-Kremlin political strategist, that Russia’s invasion goal of “demilitarizing” Ukraine has backfired because Kyiv’s military has become stronger with the supply of weapons and training by its Western allies.
Prigozhin also said the Kremlin’s forces have killed civilians during the war, something Moscow has repeatedly and vehemently denied.
The Wagner boss stated in Tuesday's interview it was possible that Kyiv’s anticipated counteroffensive in coming weeks, given continued Western support, might push Russian forces out of southern and eastern Ukraine - as well as Crimea, which Russia invaded and took in 2014.
“A pessimistic scenario: the Ukrainians are given missiles, they prepare troops, of course they will continue their offensive, try to counterattack," he said. "They will attack Crimea, they will try to blow up the Crimean bridge (to the Russian mainland), cut off (our) supply lines. Therefore, we need to prepare for a hard war.”
The Ukrainian General Staff said Wednesday that “heavy fighting” is continuing inside Bakhmut, days after Russia said that it completely captured the devastated city.
Bakhmut lies in Donetsk province, one of four provinces Russia illegally annexed last fall and only partially controls.
The head of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said that Kyiv’s forces “are continuing their defensive operation” in Bakhmut, and have attained unspecified “successes” on the city’s outskirts. He gave no further details.
Ukrainian officials have insisted the battle for Bakhmut isn’t over.