Wagner group chief acknowledges skills of Ukrainian army as he admits heavy losses in Bakhmut

The head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has acknowledged that his force lost more than 20,000 fighters in the drawn-out battle for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

In an interview with pro-Kremlin political observer Konstantin Dolgov, Prigozhin said around half of the dead paramilitaries were those who he had recruited from Russian prisons.

"I think the Ukrainian army is one of the most powerful armies today," said the Wagner chief.

"They have high levels of organisation, training and intelligence. They have various weapons and furthermore, they can operate with equal success any systems: Soviet, NATO, whatever. And they are looking at their losses philosophically. Everything is aimed at the highest goal as it was for us during the Great Patriotic War. But more technologically and precisely", Prigozhin added.

The Wagner chief also complained that the goals of Russia's "special military operation" had failed.

"In this way, the denazification we've been talking about led to Ukraine being a nation the whole world knows. They are like... I don't know... They are like the Greeks when Greece was flourishing. Like the Romans were. They legitimised Ukraine. Ukraine became a country known everywhere. This is when it comes to denazification", he said.

Meanwhile, the Russian region of Belgorod, the scene of an incursion of armed men from Ukraine, remains tense.

The regional governor said there were numerous drone attacks on Tuesday night.

Moscow claims the attackers were Ukrainian military saboteurs but Kyiv officials denied any link with the group and blamed the fighting on a revolt by disgruntled Russians against the Kremlin.

Russian Defence Minister has vowed retribution in response to the action.

"To any similar actions by Ukrainian militants further on, we will react promptly and extremely harshly," warned Sergei Shoigu.

On the diplomatic front, Chinese President Xi Jinping received Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin in Beijing. Xi assured him that China is ready to "continue to offer strong mutual support to Russia."