According to a US think tank, the Wagner Group offensive in the battle for Bakhmut in the eastern region of Donetsk in Ukraine appears to be nearing its peak.
Last week, the Washington DC-based Institute for the Study of War found that fighters hired by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin for his paramilitary unit appear to have taken a “tactical pause” in their month-long offensive to capture the city. On Thursday, the think tank said the group appears to be nearing its peak – a military term used to denote the point when a unit is too overloaded or exhausted to continue its advance.
Bakhmut, a small industrial town in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region, has been the scene of some of the most intense fighting since Russia began its full-scale invasion more than a year ago. Prigozhin’s fighters had led conventional forces in the offensive, but the group now appears to play a less prominent role in operations in the city amid rising tensions with the Russian Defense Ministry.
Prigozhin has ramped up his criticism of Russia’s defense ministry in recent weeks as the battle over Bakhmut intensifies. He has released several audio clips in which he desperately pleads for more ammunition for his forces, stating government officials are deliberately withholding the ammunition needed to ensure victory at Bakhmut.
The ISW, in its latest assessment of the conflict, said that the relatively slower pace of Russian attacks on and around Bakhmut on March 16, coupled with relatively fewer Russian claims of progress in this area, support the think-tank’s March 15 assessment that the Wagner The group offensive on Bakhmut is probably nearing its climax.
On Wednesday, the think tank noted that Ukrainian military sources have noted a “significantly reduced number of attacks” in and around the city, particularly in recent days.
Meanwhile, Prigozhin recently stressed the toll a reported ammunition shortage is taking on his group’s ability to pursue offensives in the city. Prigozhin said Wednesday that Wagner had to expand his encirclement of Bakhmut due to lack of ammunition and heavy fighting.
Last week, Prigozhin released an audio clip in the press service of the catering company Concord, which he owns, hinting that he was cut off by the Russian Defense Ministry over the recent squabbling.
“So that I would stop asking for ammunition, all special telephones in all offices, in all departments etc. were switched off for me.
The ISW said Wednesday that Wagner’s recent gains north of the industrial city indicate losses in manpower, artillery and equipment are likely to limit its ability to complete a tight encirclement of Bakhmut or gain significant territory in battles over urban areas.
“The capture of Zalizianske and other similarly small towns north of Bakhmut and east of the E40 highway will most likely not enhance Wagner’s ability to capture Bakhmut itself or make other operationally significant gains,” the report said. “It is therefore likely that Wagner’s offensive on Bakhmut is approaching its climax.”
Clashes between Russian and Ukrainian forces around Bakhmut have intensified as Moscow seeks to claim its first major battlefield victory since the summer of 2022.
Ukrainian special forces said in Telegram on Friday that they had eliminated at least one company of Russian troops and destroyed an Orlan-10 UAV in the past few days.
Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valerii Saluzhnyi said that their operation in Bakhmut is the key to the stability of the defense of the entire front.
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Minister, has also stressed the importance of Bakhmut remaining under Ukrainian control.
He said news week on February 17 that Bakhmut is “a living wall that allows us to prepare our troops for de-occupation” – meaning that a successful defense of the city could enable the Ukrainians to launch a counteroffensive.
Bakhmut also has “great symbolic value” for Russia, Gerashchenko added. “The situation there is the most complicated at the moment, but our defenders are standing strong and carrying out their combat missions.”
news week emailed the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment.
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