Russia's difficult position after taking Bakhmut

Russia’s difficult position after taking Bakhmut

Russia suffered heavy losses after months of fighting for control of Bakhmut, making it difficult to defend the city against a Ukrainian counter-offensive.

Russia says it has successfully taken control of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, where tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides have been killed in the longest and bloodiest offensive since the conflict began. The question now, however, is whether Moscow can hold that stronghold while Kiev launches its long-awaited counter-offensive.

Serhiy Cherevaty, spokesman for the Eastern Military District Command, said on 23 May that Kiev troops still hold some small positions on the southwestern edge of Bakhmut and are fighting Russian forces in the suburbs.

Ukrainian soldiers opened fire on a position of Russian forces in Bakhmut in January.  Photo: Reuters

Ukrainian soldiers opened fire on a position of Russian forces in Bakhmut in January. Photo: Reuters

Military analysts say the next challenge for Russian forces is to defend Bakhmut, a city they have spent many resources to capture, in the context of their combat forces suffering huge losses after months of fighting.

“The story of Bakhmut is not over yet. Many Ukrainian units remain on the outskirts of the city and Russia’s position in Bakhmut is not entirely certain now,” said Dara Massicot, a senior researcher at the private foundation. USA, commented.

According to her, the next two to three weeks will be a very important period for Moscow, when it will have to coordinate its defenses against the Ukrainian counter-offensive. To hold the city, Russia will likely have to withdraw troops from other territories it already controls in Ukraine to help Bakhmut, making those places more vulnerable.

Russia does not know exactly where the counter-offensive will begin and based on the location of most of its forces, Moscow seems particularly concerned about Zaporizhzhia and the risk of closing the land corridor to Crimea, added Massicot.

“Therefore, they need to carefully consider moving strategic assets to supplement positions around Bakhmut, while still ensuring the ability to defend in other areas of the front if the operation is unsuccessful. Ukraine’s counterattack begins” , she said.

Another potential risk for Russia is a scenario in which the private Wagner military group, the spearhead of the campaign against Bakhmut in recent months, withdraws from the city.

Wagner’s leader Yevgeniy Prigozhin announced over the weekend that his forces would begin withdrawing on May 25. “As of June 1, there will be no more Wagner fighters to go to the front until we are reorganized, reformed and additionally trained,” he said.

Wagner has served as the main force in Bakhmut since fighting intensified last fall. According to the latest US Department of Defense estimates, around 10,000 Wagner fighters have been killed since late last year, along with thousands more wounded, in more than five months of fighting in Bakhmut.

However, Western military experts expressed skepticism about Prigozhin’s withdrawal announcement. He made the same announcement twice but didn’t. Earlier, leader Wagner had threatened to abandon the city if the Russian army did not supply more ammunition.

“The situation is not the same now as Prigozhin has fulfilled his main objective of capturing Bakhmut. Nobody can blame him for leaving business unfinished, so there is still a chance that Wagner will leave,” said Ian Matveev, a Russian military analyst. “But the timing of the withdrawal is uncertain because it is difficult for the Russian military to find replacements in such a short time and Wagner will not leave these positions empty.”

Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner's boss, stated in the May 20 video that his forces were in full control of Bakhmut.  Screenshots

Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner’s boss, claims full control of Bakhmut in a video dated May 20. Screenshots

According to Massicot, if Wagner withdrew, it would be difficult for the Russian units closest to Bakhmut to fill the hole they left. Russia is deploying some elite paratroop units around Bakhmut, the rest are new reserve units mobilized at the end of last year, which have little combat experience.

One possible option Moscow could consider is sending more qualified parachute brigades to defend Bakhmut. But this will cause Russia to lose experienced soldiers on other battlefields, where there is also a need to strengthen the line.

Even if Wagner remains in Bakhmut, it could be difficult to coordinate combat between this force and regular Russian units to protect the city. Wagner has publicly criticized Russia’s Ministry of Defense in recent weeks, claiming that regular units have repeatedly fled, leaving Wagner exposed in Bakhmut.

The statement about Bakhmut’s control was also made by Prigozhin a few hours before the Russian Ministry of Defense issued a similar announcement. Chief Wagner’s message also contains sarcastic words directed at the Russian military.

“Operation called Bakhmut meat grinder started in October 2022 to help Russian army recover from heavy destruction,” Prigozhin said in a video posted on May 20 announcing the victory. “Thank you to President Vladimir Putin, who gave us this opportunity and great honor to defend our country.”

Bakhmut city location.  Graphics: RYV

Bakhmut city location. Graphics: RYV

President Putin, who has made very limited comments on the development of the fighting in recent months, issued a congratulatory message to both the Russian Ministry of Defense and Wagner on their victory in Bakhmut.

“The President congratulated Wagner’s assault detachments, as well as all servicemen of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, who provided them with the necessary support and flank protection, on the completion of the operation. liberate Artemovsk”, the message from the chief Kremlin reads, referring to Bakhmut by his Soviet-era name.

But analysts say President Putin’s acknowledgment of Wagner’s contributions to Bakhmut’s offensive will only add fuel to the fire of his rivalry with the Russian military.

“I think President Putin’s statement means that he recognizes that both sides play an important role in Bakhmut,” Massicot said. “However, the tension between Prigozhin and the Russian Ministry of Defense is still very hot… Both sides are likely to resent having to share their success with each other.”

Vu Hoang (according to the Washington Post)

What do you think?

Written by Esme Dominguez

The rare mushroom is compared to white gold, found only thanks to hunting dogs

The rare mushroom is compared to white gold, found only thanks to hunting dogs

France is about to put 19 people on trial in connection with the case of 39 Vietnamese who died in a container

France is about to put 19 people on trial in connection with the case of 39 Vietnamese who died in a container