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The financial prize of huge salt mines could have driven Russia’s Wagner Group to sacrifice 1,000 men to capture the city of Bakhmut, says White House

Yevgeny PrigozhinPrigozhin at a foreign investors meeting in St. Petersburg in 2016.

Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

  • A White House official told Reuters that the head of Wagner Group wants salt and gypsum from Bakhmut.
  • This could explain Russia and Yevgeny Prigozhin’s “obsession” with seizing the city.
  • Prigozhin denied that he was interested in the city’s mineral deposits on Telegram.

The US believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the mercenary Wagner Group, wants valuable salt and gypsum from mines near Bakhmut in Ukraine, a White House official said. 

The official told Reuters on Thursday that the financial motive might explain Russia’s and Prigozhin’s “obsession” with the city of Bakhmut, where brutal fighting has raged in recent months.

Mercenaries from Wagner Group, the private paramilitary group, have been fighting on the front lines in Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, along with Russian armed forces.

The fighting has been described as a “meat grinder” because of the high numbers of fatalities on both sides, although exact figures are not known.

While capturing Bakhmut would help Russia achieve its goal of taking more control of the Donbas region, some analysts have noted that the city offers little strategic advantage. 

The desire to capture the city’s natural resources could help explain why Russian forces have concentrated so much of their efforts there.

The Wagner Group has paid a bloody price in the fighting around Bakhmut. More than 1,000 were killed in action between late November and early December alone, the US official said on Thursday, per Reuters. 

Bakhmut’s salt deposits are huge and of the highest purity. Before the war, tourists could visit the vast vaults, which included a football field, a church,  labyrinths, and a concert hall.

Ukrainian soldiers walk to the frontline in Bakhmut, Ukraine on December 16, 2022.Ukrainian soldiers walk to the frontline in Bakhmut, Ukraine on December 16, 2022.

Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The United States has previously accused Russian mercenaries of exploiting natural resources in African countries, including the Central African Republic, Mali, and Sudan, to help fund Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

The Wagner Group, which is aligned with the Kremlin, has an active presence in several African countries. Russia rejected the accusations as “anti-Russian rage.”

Prigozhin denied on Telegram that he was interested in mineral deposits in Bakhmut and instead referenced famous historic battlefield victories.

“Bakhmut today is the meeting place of two armies like Kulikovo, Borodino, and other historical examples where one army must destroy another,” he said on Telegram, according to The Telegraph. “And it seems to me that we are being successful.”

In September, video footage emerged of Prigozhin recruiting fighters from Russian prisons, promising them freedom if they fought in Ukraine.

The first batch of former convicts was freed this week after completing their service in Ukraine.

Read the original article on Business Insider
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