Wagner advances at Bakhmut as Russian offensive appears to be weakening | News about the war between Russia and Ukraine
As Russian offensive power on Ukraine’s eastern front seemed to flag, mercenary troops from the Russian Wagner Group redoubled their attacks on the Ukrainian defenders of the town of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region during the 55th week of the war.
Ukrainian Colonel Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskyi said Russian ground attacks on the front lines have dropped from as many as 100 a day to under 30 a day over the past week, while there have been between two and nine attacks at night. Dmytrashkivskyi believed Russian forces suffered significant losses in manpower and equipment.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington, DC-based think tank, believed that Russia’s offensive in the Luhansk region, which borders Donetsk, would fizzle out.
“Russia’s offensive operation in Lugansk Oblast is probably nearing its peak, if not already peaked, although Russia has committed most elements of at least three divisions to the Svatove-Kreminna line,” the ISW said.
“Russian forces have made minimal tactical advances along the entire front line of the Luhansk region over the past week, and Ukrainian forces probably recently managed to counterattack and regain territory in the Luhansk region,” the institute added.
The UK Ministry of Defense reported in its latest intelligence report that fighting had also slowed around Vuhledar in the Donetsk region and the only recent success was in the Battle of Bakhmut.
“In the last week, Russian attempts to attack the city of Vuhledar in Donetsk Oblast have almost certainly abated. This follows repeated, extremely costly failed attacks over the previous three months… Russia’s only recent tactical success has been in the Bakhmut sector,” the ministry said.
(3/5) In some cases, Ukraine dropped the mines over and behind advancing Russian units, causing disorder when Russian vehicles attempted to retreat.
— Department of Defense 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) March 16, 2023
The ISW also believed that Russian forces were not conducting active or successful offensive operations elsewhere in the theater of war. It states that “as the pace of operations along critical sectors of the frontline slows, Ukrainian forces are likely to have a greater chance of regaining the initiative.”
But fighting intensified in Bakhmut, the city in the Donetsk region in which Russia and Ukraine have invested enormous resources.
On March 10, Russian forces invaded areas in eastern Bakhmut which were cleared by Ukrainian soldiers as they retreated west of the Bakhmutka River on March 8.
Geolocated filming Available on social media, it appeared to show Russian troops rounding up Ukrainian civilians at gunpoint at a location west of the river.
“Their fate is unknown,” wrote a Ukrainian military blog. “The best thing they have are backpacks. 3 to 10 people go in columns, behind them a [Russian] with a machine gun”.
The spokesman for Ukraine’s Eastern Armed Forces, Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty, said March 11 that fighting in Bakhmut had intensified over the past week and that there had been 23 combat operations in the city in the past day alone. The following day, Cherevaty said that more than 39 combat operations took place in Bakhmut. The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces also reported that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks on Bakhmut.
Wagner Group mercenaries, who have been leading Russia’s fight in Bakhmut for months, attempted to encircle the city in February – first from the south, then from the north – to cut off supplies to the Ukrainian defenders. But so far they have not succeeded.
However, within Bakhmut, Ukrainian forces appeared to be in a prolonged tactical retreat.
Russian military bloggers claimed that Wagner Group troops crossed the Bakhmutka River and attacked Ukrainian defenders. Geolocated footage released March 13 specified that Russian forces had advanced along the Sadova Strait to the south of Bakhmut.
Another Russian target appeared to be the industrial zone of the city’s AZOM metal processing plant. Footage released on social media on March 10 appeared to show Ukrainian forces destroying Russian ammunition near the zone.
By March 14, Russian military reporters were widely claiming that Wagner Group fighters had captured the “Vostokmash” plant in the northern part of the AZOM complex. Reportedly posted images on social media showed Wagner troops at work.
If Russian forces plan to focus on AZOM, Bakhmut could face an endgame that other Ukrainian cities to the east will suffer. In the fiercely fought battles of Mariupol and Severdonetsk, Ukrainian forces held their last positions in industrial complexes whose robust construction made them more defensible. Ultimately, however, they were forced to either retreat or surrender due to the strength of Russian firepower.
Wagner against Russia’s Defense Ministry
Amid these mounting military successes, Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin found himself in a new public dispute with the Russian military establishment over the Defense Ministry’s apparent reluctance to provide its forces with ammunition. The spat was sparked by a comment by Kremlin-affiliated political scientist Alexei Mukhin, who insinuated that Prigozhin had presidential ambitions in Russia and was therefore a potential threat to President Vladimir Putin in the 2024 elections.
Prigozhin replied that while the Russian Defense Ministry ignored “550 attempts” to obtain ammunition for Wagner, Russian troops had transported 12 to 15 cars full of ammunition from the Zaporizhia, Donetsk and Avdiivka front lines for Wagner fighters in Bakhmut.
The incident suggests that while a PR war between Prigozhin and the Russian Defense Ministry is ongoing, apparently trying to undermine Wagner, Prigozhin has managed to worm his way into the good graces of Russian commanders in Ukraine.
That’s what the Wagner boss said when asked by a military blogger.
“At the beginning of last year, fate trembled [conventional forces] much and with eyes dead from pain and betrayal they clung to us [Wagner]. We treated and protected them for almost a year: at first we kept them to ourselves until they got stronger step by step. Now they are covering one of our flanks,” Prigozhin said.
He then openly undermined the Russian Defense Ministry, calling a Russian brigade commander he was friends with “a normal, strong Russian man” and saying that “people like that should run the Russian army.”
“We just missed the moment when unprofessional villains and schemers crushed these humble guys and started pushing them around and humiliating them,” he added.
The confrontation between Prigozhin and the Ministry of Defense could undermine the Russian offensive.
The ISW also said that “the Wagner offensive alone will not be enough to seize Bakhmut”.
Although the think tank noted that Russia could still deploy forces that appeared to be underutilized in the region, such as Russia’s 2nd Motorized Rifle Division.