Russia’s strenuous efforts to capture Bakhmut, in the Donetsk Oblast, has “largely stalled”, according to British intelligence, which cited the “extreme attrition” of the Kremlin’s forces in the fight for the shattered city.
“Russia’s assault on the Donbas town of Bakhmut has largely stalled,” asserted Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) in its Saturday update on the course of the war in Ukraine, adding that this was “likely primarily a result of extreme attrition of the Russian force.”
The MoD added a somewhat rare admission that “Ukraine has also suffered heavy casualties during [Bakhmut’s] defence,” however.
The British further suggested that “Russia has likely shifted its operational focus towards Avdiivka, south of Bakhmut, and to the Kremina-Svatove sector in the north” — but explained that the object of Russian operations in these sectors is probably merely to “stabilise” the front lines in anticipation of a possible Ukrainian counter-offensive, rather than preparing the way for serious Russian gains.
The MoD has previously said that Russian forces have made “gains of up to several kilometres” in these sectors, with the city of Kupiansk (Kupyansk), where they had established the administrative capital of their Kharkov Military–Civilian Administration before being almost entirely routed from the region last Autumn, likely being a major objective — but claimed this is all in service of establishing a strong defensive line amid fears of a renewed push by the Ukrainians in the north-east, not to facilitate a major breakthrough.
The Ministry of Defence attributed the alleged stalling of Russia’s months-long effort to capture Bakhmut — they conceded around half the city had been brought under Russian control a fortnight ago — in part to “tensions between the Russian Ministry of Defence and Wagner Group, both of whom contribute troops in the sector.”
Wagner Group, a private military company (PMC) headed by “Putin’s chef”, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been at the forefront of the fighting for Bakhmut, and while some observers tend to dismiss British intelligence updates on the Ukraine war due to the British government being a partisan actor in the conflict, evidence of tension between the mercenaries and the regular military is fairly clear.
Earlier this month, Prigozhin complained his men were struggling to sustain offensive operations due to supply issues, and publicly questioned whether this was a result of “ordinary” bureaucratic failures or deliberate “betrayal”.
“What if [Russian military officials] want to set us up, saying that we are scoundrels, and that’s why they don’t give us ammunition, they don’t give us weapons, and they don’t let us replenish our personnel, including from among the imprisoned people?” he said, in reference to the fact that Wagner is no longer empowered to recruit convicts for six-month tours of duty in exchange for freedom — an arrangement which had provided Prigozhin with tens of thousands of men.
The mercenary boss suggested that if his forces have to withdraw, the entire front will “crumble” — but that the military may actually want this, as it will allow them to use Wagner as a scapegoat for the war’s failure in general.