Russia’s private military group Wagner has taken “full control” of the AZOM metallurgical plant in the north of the city of Bakhmut, according to video posted by Russian state media and verified by CNN.
“Wagner has full control of the territory of AZOM, the Artemivsk [Bakhmut] non-ferrous metal processing plant,” a correspondent for RIA Novosti said in a video, which captures Wagner fighters throughout the plant.
CNN cannot independently verify RIA’s claim and has reached out to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense for comment but is yet to receive a response.
Bakhmut has become a focal point of Russia’s invasion, with Moscow pressing hard to capture the city after failing to make major gains elsewhere.
The exact status of the battle for the city is unclear, but if confirmed Wagner’s claims would suggest Russia has made gains despite positive signals from Ukraine this week.
On Thursday one of Kyiv’s top generals said Russian forces are depleted in Bakhmut and a Ukrainian counter-offensive could soon be launched.
Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s land forces, said on his Telegram channel that “[Russians] are losing significant forces [in Bakhmut] and are running out of energy.”
“Very soon, we will take advantage of this opportunity,” he said.
A counter-offensive has seemed an unlikely prospect for several weeks, as forces from Russia’s Wagner mercenary group bombarded Bakhmut and edged closer toward seizing control of the city.
But that effort has come at a considerable cost to manpower and resources, and now appears to have slowed.
Russian forces have been making incremental gains around the city, but Ukrainian forces are yet to retreat, creating a standoff that recalls drawn-out battles for other eastern cities such as Severodonetsk over the past year.
The city sits towards the northeast of the Donetsk region, about 13 miles from Luhansk region, and has been a target for Russian forces for months.
Since last summer the city has been a stone’s throw from the front lines, so its capture would represent a long sought-after success for Moscow’s forces – and bring some limited strategic value.