While Russian troops surround Bakhmout, a symbolic city located in eastern Ukraine, which has been the epicenter of the conflict for several weeks, rumors indicate that the Ukrainian army would be ready to retreat. Rumors formally denied by the Ukrainian commanders-in-chief on the ground. The latter even intend to “strengthen” their positions in Bakhmout.

This announcement comes at a time when the boss of the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, Evgueni Prigojine, has once again complained of a lack of ammunition for his men, on the front line in this battle which has been going on since last summer.

Far from backing down, while rumors of a withdrawal have been rife for a week, the commanders-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces “have come out in favor of continuing the defensive operation and strengthening our positions in Bakhmout” during a meeting Monday with Head of State Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian presidency said.

A city of some 70,000 inhabitants before the war, Bakhmout has become, because of the length of the battle and the heavy losses incurred by both sides, the symbol of the struggle between Russians and Ukrainians for control of the industrial region of Donbass .

Russian troops have advanced in recent weeks north and south of the city, cutting off three of four Ukrainian supply routes and leaving only the one leading further west to Chassiv Iar as an exit route.

Despite the threat of encirclement and the city’s limited strategic importance, the Ukrainians continued to stubbornly defend Bakhmut, where President Zelensky had visited in December and vowed to hold out “as long as possible”.

While some analysts question the value of Ukrainians clinging to the now devastated city, the ISW said in a memo that Bakhmout’s defense remains “strategically sound” as it “continues to ‘exhaust Russian manpower and equipment’.

On the Russian side, the boss of Wagner Evgueni Prigojine, for the second time in less than two weeks, accused the Russian army of not sending enough ammunition to its mercenaries. He mentioned two possible reasons for the delay: “Ordinary bureaucracy or betrayal. »

Last month, Evgueni Prigojine had multiplied the virulent criticism of the Russian Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, and the Chief of Staff, Valéri Guérassimov, accusing them of wanting to eliminate Wagner by refusing them what he he needs to fight.

In a sign that tensions persist, in a video posted over the weekend, Yevgeny Prigozhin appeared to warn the Russian military, saying that “if Wagner withdraws now from Bakhmout, the whole front will collapse. “.

For this third visit to the conflict zone, Sergei Shoigu notably visited a medical center, another relief and a new residential area comprising 12 buildings.

The Russian government presented a plan last summer to rebuild Mariupol in three years, a goal that seems ambitious given the scale of the destruction.

During the night from Sunday to Monday, the Ukrainian Air Force said it had shot down 13 Iranian-made explosive drones out of 15 launched by Russia. It did not report any human losses or material damage.

Last week, Russia reported several Ukrainian drone attacks on its territory and in annexed Crimea. She also denounced an incursion of Ukrainian “saboteurs” in the Briansk region, bordering Ukraine.