June 6 (Reuters) – Moscow said on Tuesday it had thwarted another major offensive by Ukraine in Donetsk that destroyed military equipment and inflicted heavy casualties, a statement the powerful leader of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group described as “ridiculous science fiction”.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces had repulsed Ukraine’s second major attack in two days, destroying, among other military equipment, eight Leopard battle tanks supplied to Ukraine by its Western allies and 109 armored vehicles.
It also said that the total Ukrainian losses amounted to 1,500 soldiers.
There was no immediate comment from Kiev on Russia’s assertions, and Reuters was unable to verify the claims. Both sides have often made allegations of inflicting heavy casualties on each other that cannot be independently verified.
But Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose Wagner group spent months fighting in Bakhmut and has frosty relations with Moscow, questioned the defense ministry’s statement.
In remarks posted on his press service’s Telegram channel, he said killing that many people required a daily gain of 150 kilometers (93 miles).
“So I think this is just wild, absurd science fiction,” said Prigozhin.
He added sarcastically that noting down the numbers given by the ministry meant, “We have destroyed the entire planet five times over.”
Prigozhin has frequently clashed with Moscow’s defense establishment over the management of the Russian campaign in Ukraine and what he says is insufficient support for his soldiers in Wagner.
Russia has said that Ukrainian forces have launched a major offensive in the southern Donetsk region, though it is unclear if the long-awaited Ukrainian counter-offensive has begun.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on its Telegram channel on Tuesday that Kiev pressed for the second day in a row.
“Having suffered heavy losses the day before, the Kiev regime reorganized the remnants of the 23rd and 31st mechanized brigades into separate consolidated units, which continued offensive operations,” the ministry said, adding that a “complex fire defeat” had been inflicted.
Ukrainian officials made no mention of any significant new crackdown and avoided questions on the matter on Monday.
Additional reporting by Oleksand Kozukhar in Kiev, Lydia Kelly in Melbourne, and Ron Bobisky in Winnipeg; Written by Lydia Kelly. Editing by Rosalba O’Brien
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