Putin’s plot to decimate Wagner troops in Bakhmut devastation exposed

Ukraine: Prigozhin says Bakhmut is ‘surrounded’ by Wagner

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Vladimir Putin’s military forces may be focussing their attacks on the city of Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, in a bid to decimate Wagner Group mercenaries fighting in the region, an expert has claimed. The owner of Russia’s Wagner Group military contractor claimed Wednesday that his troops have extended their gains in the Ukrainian stronghold of Bakhmut, but it remained unclear how long the fight might go on.

The battle for the city the Ukrainians have dubbed “fortress Bakhmut” has become emblematic of the way each side has tried to wear down the other.

Russian forces must go through Bakhmut to push deeper into parts of the Donetsk province they do not yet control, though Western officials say that capture of the city is unlikely to change the course of the war.

The battle for Bakhmut has lasted six months and reduced the city with a pre-war population of more than 70,000 to a smouldering wasteland. It’s not clear which side has paid a higher price.

But according to Justin Bronk, a research fellow at London’s Royal United Services Institute, the obsession with the smilingly non-strategic city by Russian forces may be explained with Putin’s plans to politically eliminate Wagner’s chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Writing for the Daily Mail, he said: “These losses, combined with significant shortages of artillery ammunition facing Russian forces as a whole, have led to suggestions that the Russian Army is deliberately limiting support to Wager so that its forces are ultimately used up in grinding combat at Bakhmut.

“This would leave the group, and Prigozhin himself, as potentially less of a political threat to the regular Russian military leadership.

“On the other hand, a victory at Bakhmut that is demonstrably won by mostly Wagner forces in spite of apparently limited Russian military support could have political significance within the Russian system that outweighs the actual battlefield importance of the city.”

Prigozhin, whose troops have spearheaded the fight in Bakhmut, said they have taken full control of all districts east of the Bakhmutka River that crosses the city. The city’s center lies west of the river.

Neither Russian nor Ukrainian officials commented on Prigozhin’s claim. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think-tank that closely monitors the fighting, said Russian forces were likely in control in the areas cited by Prigozhin following a Ukrainian withdrawal.

Russian troops have enveloped the city from three sides, leaving only a narrow corridor leading west. The only highway west has been targeted by Russian artillery fire, forcing Ukrainian defenders to rely increasingly on country roads, which are hard to use before the muddy ground dries.

Zelensky vowed Monday not to retreat from Bakhmut after chairing a meeting with his top generals.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that seizing the city would allow Russia to press its offensive further into the Donetsk region, one of the four Ukrainian regions that Moscow illegally annexed in September.

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In a blustery video statement recorded near a World War II monument in Bakhmut, Prigozhin echoed that rationale saying the prospective Russian push would make “the entire world shudder.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg acknowledged that the Russians could seize the city soon. “What we see is that Russia is throwing in more troops, more forces, and what Russia lacks in quality they try to make up in quantity,” he told reporters on the sidelines of an EU defence ministers meeting in Stockholm.

“They have suffered big losses, but at the same time we cannot rule out that Bakhmut may eventually fall in the coming days.”

But like other Western officials, he played down the significance of Bakhmut’s potential capture, arguing that this “does not necessarily reflect any turning point of the war, and it just highlights that we should not underestimate Russia.”

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