- A former Marine named Paul Whelan was arrested in 2018 and given a 16-year sentence for espionage, which he denies.
- The White House called the claims "ridiculous" and told Americans in Russia that they should leave for their own safety.
Russia’s Wagner Group says it has “legal” control of Ukraine’s Bakhmut, but Kyiv says its forces still hold the eastern town, where fighting is “especially hot.”
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the paramilitary force, said on Monday that his troops had put a Russian flag on the town’s administration building. They had been trying for months to encircle and take over the bombed-out town.
“Bakhmut has been taken, legally speaking. “The enemy is mostly in the west,” Prigozhin said in an audio message that was put on the Telegram account for his press service.
But Ukrainian officials gave no sign that Bakhmut, a town of 70,000 people before Russia invaded over a year ago, had been taken over by Russia.
After Prigozhin’s video came out on Monday, Ukrainian military leaders said that enemy troops had tried to take over the town more than 20 times, but their troops had “repelled more than 20 enemy attacks.”
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised the defense of the city by Ukrainian troops earlier on Sunday.
Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address, “Thank you to our soldiers who are fighting in Avdiivka, Maryinka, and Bakhmut.” “In particular, Bakhmut. There is a lot of heat.”
Earlier, the Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said that the situation around the town was “tense.” Maliar said that Ukrainian forces were defending their positions, and Russian forces who were attacking didn’t seem to care much about who they were killing.
Ukrainian military leaders have said that their own counteroffensive, which will be backed by new tanks and other equipment from the West, is coming soon. In the meantime, they have stressed how important it is to hold Bakhmut.
Oleh Zhdanov, a well-known Ukrainian military analyst, said that fighting had spread to the center of Bakhmut. Even though Ukrainian troops had stopped 25 enemy attacks, Russian troops had taken the AZOM metal plant, which Ukrainian troops had been protecting for days.
In a video on YouTube, Zhdanov, who has close ties to the Ukrainian military, said, “The enemy is attacking the city center from the north, the east, and the south and trying to take full control of the city.”
Sunday, a “massive attack” of Russian missiles killed three men and three women in the town of Kostyantynivka, which is about 27 kilometers (17 miles) from Bakhmut. Eleven other people were hurt in the attack.
Zelenskyy said that the attack was aimed at neighborhoods where “normal civilians” lived.
The AFP news agency said there was a big hole in a yard and broken windows from the ground floor to the top floors of two 14-story tower blocks. The roofs of nearby private homes were also smashed.
On Sunday, a bomb went off in a café in Saint Petersburg, Russia, killing a well-known military blogger named Vladlen Tatarsky. This appeared to be the second time on Russian soil that a person with ties to the war in Ukraine was killed.
The explosion hurt 25 people, and Russia’s state Investigative Committee said it had started a murder investigation.
It was not clear right away who did the killing. Wagner’s Prigozhin said he wouldn’t “blame the Kyiv regime” for it, but another top Russian official blamed Ukraine without evidence.
A presidential adviser from Ukraine said that “domestic terrorism” was on the rise in Russia.
The Kremlin, on the other hand, criticized the “hype” in the West about the arrest of US journalist Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges and ignored the latest call from Washington for his release.
Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia, told Antony Blinken, the foreign minister of the United States, that when Gershkovich was arrested this week, he was “trying to get secret information.”
Gershkovich is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. He is thought to be the first foreign journalist arrested in post-Soviet Russia for spying, and his arrest is likely to make things worse between the Kremlin and the West.
His arrest on March 30 has upset people in the West and is seen as a big step up in Moscow’s crackdown on the media as a whole.
The Wall Street Journal’s board of opinion editors said, “The timing of the arrest looks like it was planned to embarrass the US and scare the foreign press that is still working in Russia.”
The White House called the claims “ridiculous” and told Americans in Russia that they should leave for their own safety.
A former Marine named Paul Whelan was arrested in 2018 and given a 16-year sentence for espionage, which he denies. He is one of several other US citizens who are in jail in Russia.