Russia's Wagner mercenary group has started withdrawing its forces from the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut and transferring its positions there to regular Russian troops, its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a video published on Thursday.
"We are withdrawing the units from Bakhmut. From today at five in the morning, May 25 until June 1, most of the units will rebase to camps in the rear. We are handing our positions to the military," he said.
The video was posted on Telegram by his press service, and showed Prigozhin dressed in battle gear and standing beside a war-damaged residential block.
Prigozhin announced the capture of Bakhmut on Saturday after the longest and bloodiest battle of the war.
In the latest video Prigozhin, who has repeatedly voiced public criticism of senior Russian defense officials, said his forces would be ready to return to Bakhmut if the regular army was unable to manage the situation.
Putin's congratulated Wagner group, Russian army after capturing Bakhmut
Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated the Wagner mercenary force and the Russian army on Sunday for what he called the "liberation" of Bakhmut, which Russia calls by its Soviet-era name of Artyomovsk.
Putin said in a statement published on the Kremlin website that the battle had ended in a Russian victory and that all those who had excelled in it on Moscow's side would be given state awards.
"The Head of State congratulated Wagner's assault groups, as well as all members of the units of the Russian Armed Forces who provided them with the necessary support and cover on their flanks, on the completion of the operation to liberate Artyomovsk," the statement said.
"All those who distinguished themselves will be presented with state awards," it said.