A close ally of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is interested in taking control of salt and gypsum from mines near the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, according to a White House official.
Yevgeny Prigozhin is the founder of Russia’s most powerful mercenary force, the Wagner Group. Wagner has played a key role in the Russian offensive against Bakhmut. There were indications that monetary motives were driving Russia’s and Prigozhin’s “obsession” with Bakhmut, the US official said.
The United States has previously accused Russian mercenaries of exploiting natural resources in Central African Republic, Mali, Sudan and elsewhere to help fund Moscow’s war in Ukraine – a charge Russia rejected as “anti-Russian rage”.
In a video released over new year, Prigozhin was filmed visiting a basement near Bakhmut filled with the bodies of his fighters, many of them convicts, who had been killed during the bitter fighting for the city, a key Russian objective since the summer.