Russian state media celebrated Bakhmut’s alleged capture on Sunday, but one of the key leaders in his months-long assault on the eastern Ukrainian town was struggling to get credit.
A segment of a Sunday morning newscast compared the Battle of Bakhmut to the major victories of the Soviet Union in World War II. A Russian fighter said he “probably felt the same emotions as our grandfathers in Berlin”. The anchor said, “Mission accomplished.”
But even as the news on state channel 1 featured Bakhmut as headliner, one man was not mentioned: Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary force that lost thousands of fighters during months of frontal assaults on the city. , and a vocal critic of Russia’s military leadership.
The notable omission underscored how the Russian propaganda machine hid from the Russian people any signs of elite infighting or problems on the front line.
While Ukraine’s military insists Bakhmut was not lost, Channel 1 news outlet cited statements Saturday night from President Vladimir V. Putin and the Russian Defense Ministry that both attributed to Wagner partial credit for capturing the city. Channel 1 also broadcast footage of gunmen described as Wagner fighters shouting “Bakhmut is ours!”
But the newscast did not show or mention Mr Prigozhin, who was the first to proclaim Bakhmut’s alleged capture on Saturday in a video. In his announcement, Mr Prigozhin stood against the backdrop of the crumbling city and berated Russia’s top general and Russian defense minister for “turning war into their personal entertainment”.
As the battle for Bakhmut dragged on and casualties on both sides mounted this year, Mr Prigozhin frequently lashed out at Russia’s military elite, saying they had failed to provide enough ammunition to his troops. fighters and failed to ensure that regular Russian troops held their ground. when attacked on Wagner’s flanks. In his Saturday announcement, Mr. Prigozhin predicted that his review would not be aired on television.
“Two realities exist in our country,” Prigozhin said on Saturday. “One is real, the other is for TV.”
In fact, earlier this year, Russian officials were already ordering talking heads on state television not to “overpromote” Mr. Prigozhin, The New York Times reported in February.
For nearly a year, Russian forces pressured Bakhmut while devastating – bloody block by block – what was once a vibrant salt mining town of 70,000 people.
The Sunday morning newscast showed extensive aerial footage of the destruction and desolation in Bakhmut, but claimed it was Ukrainian forces who had destroyed their own town – an echo of Russia’s false narrative when it captured the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol a year ago.
“They couldn’t hold the city,” a reporter on the ground told Bakhmut, referring to Ukrainian forces. “So they try to shave him to the ground.”