Wagner pays for Moscow. The boss of the Russian paramilitaries attacked the “military bureaucracy” which he said is slowing down the offensive. His remarks come at a time when Russia is in search of a victory a few days before the first anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict, on February 24, and against the backdrop of an intensification in recent weeks of its assault on the eastern part of the Ukrainian territory. .

“I think it’s March or April. To take Bakhmout, you have to cut off all Ukrainian supply routes,” Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner Group, said in a video posted on the Internet. “I think we would have taken Bakhmout if it weren’t for this monstrous military bureaucracy and if we weren’t being hampered every day,” Prigozhin continued in another video, spreading across the square public about his differences with the military hierarchy.

The United States and its allies are preparing new sanctions against Russia on the first anniversary of the invasion, Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for political affairs, told reporters on Thursday.

“You’re going to see around the 24th a big new sanctions package from the United States and all of our G7 partner allies,” she said. “These sanctions will deepen and expand in some categories the measures we have already taken, most notably to limit the flow of technology to the Russian defense industry. »

The head of Israeli diplomacy Eli Cohen for his part made Thursday the first visit of a minister of the Hebrew state to Ukraine since the start of the Russian offensive. “Israel stands firmly with Ukrainians and remains committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Cohen said.

“Israel strongly opposes the killing of innocent civilians,” he said again, after visiting the martyred city of Boutcha, symbol of the atrocities of which Russia is accused, and the Babi Yar memorial, symbol of the extermination of the Jews of Ukraine by the Nazis. He then officially reopened the Israeli embassy in Kyiv, a strong diplomatic gesture given that, so far, Israel had been careful to remain neutral in this conflict.

Yevgueni Prigojine also considered that the fact that Wagner could no longer recruit prisoners in exchange for an amnesty constitutes a “bleeding” for his organization, on the front line in Bakhmout. Asked by AFP on Thursday, Ukrainian officers in this city said that morale remained high, despite recent Russian advances.

“We must recognize the successes of the enemy. There is a regular Russian army here” whose artillery fires “precisely”, said Artyom, deputy commander of a Ukrainian border guard unit.

Another officer, Yuri, described the situation in Bakhmout as “stable”, while refusing to make any predictions for the future. “We are holding our ground,” he added. According to the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office, five civilians were killed and nine injured Thursday in bombardments on Bakhmout.

At the same time, Russia is continuing its campaign of bombing Ukrainian infrastructure, once again raining down missiles and drones overnight from Wednesday to Thursday, causing the death of one person. According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Russian troops fired 36 missiles and drones, half of which were shot down.

The intensification of fighting in the East comes before the conflict enters its second year and at a time when Russia is suspected of preparing a new major assault.

“We have to be prepared for the long term, it can take many, many years,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned Thursday in an interview with Agence France-Presse. “We are here to make sure Ukraine wins this war,” he promised.

The West is expected to deliver modern tanks and other armored vehicles and long-range missiles to Ukraine in the coming weeks, all armaments that could further increase the problems of the Russian army. For several months, Americans and Europeans have also been helping kyiv defend itself in cyberspace, where Russian attacks on Ukraine have increased by 250% in 2022, according to a Google report.

Convinced that his army will prevail on the ground, Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to deliver an important speech on February 21. Russia also announced on Thursday the expulsion of four Austrian diplomats in response to that of four Russians earlier in February.

It also said it had recovered 101 of its soldiers during a prisoner exchange with Ukraine, which for its part said it had obtained the return of 100 soldiers and one civilian. Russia’s only European ally, the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko assured Thursday that his country would join the Russian offensive only if it was directly attacked, conjectures going well for months on this subject.