'Worst predicted scenario': Some Russians soldiers flee Bakhmut as Ukraine makes gains. Live updates

Russia's Wagner mercenary group was under pressure Thursday in war-battered Bakhmut after some Russian regulars fled their positions and had "thrown away" valuable ground to Ukrainian forces, the private militia's leader said.

"The situation on the flanks is developing according to the worst predicted scenario," Yevgeny Prigozhin said. He dismissed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's talk of delaying Ukraine's counteroffensive, saying it had already begun and was proving to be "unfortunately, partially successful."

Multiple Russian bloggers also said some regular Russian soldiers had "left their positions" in or near Bakhmut, an eastern city that has been the primary focus of fighting for several months. The Ukrainian military said 165 Russians were killed, 216 were wounded and one was taken prisoner. Prigozhin has repeatedly criticized the Russian military for failing to provide enough ammunition and for lacking resolve in battle.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said Ukraine's forces gained modest ground around Bakhmut in recent days. "Pervasive issues" with Russian combat capability, exacerbated by continued attrition in the Bakhmut area, appear to be limiting the ability of the invading forces to defend against localized Ukrainian counterattacks, the institute's assessment said. 

Ukrainian servicemen fly a drone at a front line near the town of Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on May 8, 2023.


∙ The U.K. is sending long-range Storm Shadow missiles with a range of almost 200 miles to Ukraine, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace confirmed Thursday. The U.S. has balked at providing similar missiles amid concerns of expanding the war.

∙ The Pentagon confirmed that Ukrainian forces used the Patriot missile defense system to shoot down a Russian missile for the first time.

∙ Jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny tweeted that he has been sent back to solitary confinement -- where he has spent 165 days -- after a reprieve of less than 14 hours. "Convict Navalny is not amenable to correctional work and does not draw the proper conclusions for himself," his tweet said.

∙ Zelenskyy might make a quick stop in Rome to meet with Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni and Pope Francis this weekend, when he's also visiting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin, the Italian news agency Ansa reported.

∙ Japanese Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki said his country will contribute $1 billion to aid Ukraine's neighboring countries accepting Ukrainian refugees and to promote investment by Japanese companies. 

Zelenskyy: Ukraine needs promised Western help to begin offensive

Ukraine needs more time, armored vehicles and weaponry promised by its allies before beginning its much-anticipated counteroffensive aimed at liberating hundreds of square miles of Russian-occupied land, Zelenskyy said Thursday.

Zelenskyy, speaking to the BBC and other European broadcasters, said the attack could redraw front lines that have remained mostly unchanged for months.

"We can go forward and, I think, be successful," Zelenskyy said. "But we'd lose a lot of people. I think that's unacceptable. So we need to wait. We still need a bit more time."

Russian forces have used the relative lull to fortify nearly 1,000 miles of front lines along the southern provinces of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson and the hotly contested eastern provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk. But in Bakhmut, Ukrainian forces have seen gains in recent days.

U.S. ambassador accuses S. Africa of supplying weapons to Russia

The U.S. ambassador to South Africa is questioning the country's stated neutrality in the war as he accused it of secretly providing weapons to Russia when a cargo ship docked near Cape Town for three days in early December. He called the actions "extremely serious.''

'Death to Putin': Court finds Russian woman guilty after leaving critical note at grave

A Russian court found a St. Petersburg woman guilty of desecrating burial places motivated by political hatred for leaving a note at the grave of President Vladimir Putin's parents saying, "Death to Putin. You raised a freak and a killer.”

Irina Tsybaneva, 60, received a two-year suspended sentence Thursday. Her note, placed on the guarded grave on the eve of Putin’s birthday in October, also said: “Parents of a maniac, take him to your place. He causes so much pain and trouble. The whole world prays for his death.''

Putin's government has cracked down on dissent since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, imposing years-long sentences on citizens found guilty of "discrediting the military'' by publicly opposing the war.

Russia ramps up effort to recruit inmates

The Russian military has ramped up recruitment of prisoners to fight in Ukraine and signed on an estimated 10,000 convicts in April 2023 alone, the British Defense Ministry says. Since last summer, prisoners were the key pool of recruits for Russia's private Wagner Group mercenary team. But Wagner "likely lost access to the Russian penal system" in February when its leader went public with his feud over ammunition supplies and other disputes with the Russian military, the ministry said on social media posts.

The recruitment campaign is part of a broad, intense effort by the Russian military to bolster its numbers, the assessment says, while "attempting to avoid implementing new mandatory mobilization, which would be very unpopular with the Russian public."

Contributing: The Associated Press

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