The owner of Russian private military contractor the Wagner Group, which is actively involved in the fighting in Ukraine, has predicted that the war could drag on for years.
Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a video interview that it could take 18 months to two years for Russia to fully secure control of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland of Donbas.
He added that the war could go on for three years if Moscow decides to capture broader territories east of the Dnieper River.
Damaged Russian tanks in a field after attempting to attack in Vuhledar, Ukraine (Ukrainian Armed Forces via AP)
The statement from Mr Prigozhin, a millionaire who has close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin and was dubbed “Putin’s chef” for his lucrative Kremlin catering contracts, marked a recognition of the difficulties that the Kremlin has faced in the campaign, which it initially expected to wrap up within weeks when Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24 last year.
Russia suffered a series of humiliating setbacks in the autumn when the Ukrainian military launched successful counter-offensives to reclaim broad swathes of territory in the east and the south.
The Kremlin has avoided making forecasts on how long the fighting could continue, saying that what it called the “special military operation” will continue until its goals are fulfilled.
The Russian forces have focused on Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk provinces that make up the Donbas region where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014.
Bakhmut has been the scene of fierce fighting (AP Photo/Libkos)
Mr Prigozhin said that the Wagner Group mercenaries are continuing fierce battles for control of the Ukrainian stronghold of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. He acknowledged that the Ukrainian troops were mounting fierce resistance.
As Russian troops have pushed their attacks in the Donbas, Moscow has also sought to demoralise Ukrainians by leaving them without heat and water in the bitter winter.
On Friday, Russia launched the 14th round of massive strikes on Ukrainian energy facilities and other vital infrastructure.
High-voltage infrastructure facilities were hit in the eastern, western and southern regions, resulting in power outages in some areas.
The Wagner Group chief said fighting could stretch on for years (AP)
Ukraine’s energy company, Ukrenergo, said the situation was “difficult but controllable”, adding that involved back-ups to keep up power supplies, but noting that power rationing will continue in some areas.
Ukraine’s military chief, Gen Valerii Zaluzhnyi, said that Russian forces launched 71 cruise missiles, 35 S-300 missiles and seven Shahed drones between late on Thursday and midday on Friday, adding that Ukrainian air defences downed 61 cruise missiles and five drones.
The Ukrainian authorities reported more attacks by killer drones later on Friday. The Ukrainian air force said the military downed 20 Shahed drones in the evening.
Local residents clear the rubble of a private house following a Russian rocket attack in Komyshevakha in Zaporizhzhya region (AP)
Late on Friday, Russian military bloggers and some Ukrainian news outlets posted a video showing an attack by a sea drone on a strategic railway bridge in the Odesa region.
The grainy video showed a fast-moving object approaching the bridge in Zatoka, about 30 miles south-west of Odesa, and exploding in a powerful blast.
The authenticity of the video could not be verified. The Ukrainian military has not commented on the attack, and Serhii Bratchuk, a spokesman for the regional administration, would not confirm the drone attack when he spoke in televised remarks on Saturday.
The bridge, which was targeted by Russian missile strikes early in the war, serves the railway link to Romania, which is a key conduit for Western arms supplies.