The head of Russia's mercenary Wagner Group said Thursday that it could take months to capture the Ukraine city of Bakhmut and slammed Moscow's "monstrous military bureaucracy" for slowing gains.
Russia has been trying to encircle and take over the battered industrial city before February 24, the first anniversary of what it terms its "special military operation" in Ukraine.
"I think it's [going to be in] March or in April," Yevgeny Prigozhin said in one of several messages posted online.
"To take Bakhmut you have to cut all supply routes. It's a significant task," he said. "Progress is not going as fast as we would like."
"Bakhmut would have been taken before the new year," he added, "if not for our monstrous military bureaucracy."
Prigozhin has previously accused the Russian military of attempting to steal victories from Wagner, a sign of his rising clout and the potential for dangerous rifts in Moscow.
Wagner's claims to have captured ground without help from the regular army, which Prigozhin regularly criticizes, have spurred friction with senior military leadership.
In Bakhmut, a deputy commander with a mortar unit of the State Border Guard of Ukraine said fighting remained intense.
"We have to acknowledge the enemy's successes," he said. "There's a regular Russian army here and they also have regular artillery groups, and they shoot accurately as well."
Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to have annexed the Donetsk region where Bakhmut lies last year, but his forces are still fighting Ukrainian troops there.
The fierce fighting for the eastern city is now the longest-running battle of Russia's campaign and Moscow's key military objective.
Taking Bakhmut would be a major win for Moscow, but analysts say its capture would be mainly symbolic as the salt-mining town holds little strategic value.
Prigozhin, who is close to Putin, said the speed of Russian progress in the grinding battle would depend on whether Ukraine continued to send reserves.
Ukraine, determined not to cede any ground ahead of an anticipated counteroffensive in the spring, has been asking for more modern weapons from its allies.