As the war between Russia and Ukraine continues to stretch, the founder of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group has challenged embattled President Zelenskyy to a dogfight on Monday for the control of Bakhmut. Yevgeny Prigozhin threw an open challenge to Zelenksyy in a video message that was recorded from the cockpit of a SU-24 fighter bomber, claiming he had just flown a night sortie over the town in the eastern Donbas region.
"Volodymyr Zelenskyy, we have landed. "We have bombed Bakhmut," he said. "I will fly a MiG-29. If you so desire, let's meet in the skies. If you win, you take Artemivsk (Bakhmut’s Soviet-era name). If not, we advance till (the river) Dnipro." he asserted.
This development comes as the battle in Bakhmut continues to grow intense with Russian troops' attempts to appear more aggressive against the Ukrainian troops. Meanwhile, Ukraine has also shown a preparedness to fight against the Russian invaders, and recently Kyiv has warned that it is ready to launch a large-scale offensive by Moscow's forces as it attempts to restrain the initiative. Despite Russia trying hard to fully capture Bakhmut, Ukrainian troops have managed to keep the invaders away.
Experts suggest that mercenaries have little military significance, but the group has spearheaded a brutal eight-month-long effort by Russia to capture the town. Also, the Kremlin has deployed well-trained Russian troops to lead what could be the final action. On Monday, Ukraine's general staff said that there is a "complete lack of coordination and interaction" between the Russian troops and Prigozhin's mercenary group that is trying to encircle Bakhmut.
Zelesnkky, on the other hand, has already warned Ukrainian forces to stay prepared to launch a new offensive in the Donbass and southern areas of the country. "There are already many reports that the occupiers want to do something symbolic in February," Zelenskky said, hinting at a Russian offensive on February 24. "To try to avenge their last year's defeats. We see this increased pressure in various areas of the front line, as well as pressure in the information field," he added.