Ukraine recaptures 20 square km in Bakhmut, Russia sends in reinforcements to "stabilise the situation".

Ukraine recaptures 20 square km in Bakhmut, Russia sends in reinforcements to
Satellite imagery of destroyed houses in Bakhmut / Maxar
By Dominic Culverwell in London May 17, 2023

Ukraine has managed to recapture 20 square km around the war-torn city of Bakhmut in the last week, Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said, the Kyiv Independent reported on May 16.

Ukrainian troops have made gains in the northern and southern outskirts of Bakhmut, liberating over 10 Russian-held positions in recent days. Ukraine continues to launch limited and localised attacks, with Serhiy Cherevaty, speaker of the Armed Forces, claiming to have advanced 500m in the past 24 hours in multiple directions.

“The fact that the defence of Bakhmut has lasted for so many months and that we are making progress in certain areas is a testament to the extraordinary efforts of our soldiers and the high level of professionalism of the defence command,” Maliar wrote on Telegram.

However, the brutal battle waging in the eastern city has no end in sight and Russian troops have made progress as well, shelling the city and bringing in units of paratroopers, according to Maliar. Currently, 90% of Bakhmut is under Russian control and the Russian Ministry of Defence claims to have repelled dozens of Ukrainian attacks in recent days.

The notorious Wagner group is leading the assault, although regular Russian forces occupied the positions recaptured by Ukraine in the outskirts. Despite threatening to leave Bakhmut on May 10 over an ammunition deficit, Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has kept his men in the city.

In the face of multiple losses, Russia is strengthening its forces in the region to "stabilise the situation", the Institute for the Study of Warfare (ISW) reported, citing the Russian proxy leader in Donetsk Oblast, Denis Pushilin. The troops will be relocated from other positions on the front to defend Bakhmut’s flanks, likely in an effort to prevent Ukraine from breaking into the city. In addition to the paratroopers, a Russian blogger claimed four unspecified battalions have been transferred to Bakhmut. 

“The reinforcements are also likely meant to enhance Wagner’s ability to capture the remainder of Bakhmut rapidly and present a Russian tactical victory before possible setbacks during a Ukrainian counteroffensive operation,” the ISW stated in its latest report.

Infighting between the Wagner group and the Russian Armed Forces has contributed to recent failures. With Ukraine’s much-anticipated counter-offensive on the horizon, the Kremlin has focused on reinforcing other areas of the front, leading Prigozhin to accuse Moscow of failing to provide enough support to the Wagner group in Bakhmut.

Directing a lengthy diatribe against the Russian Ministry of Defence on May 5, Prigozhin claimed military bureaucrats had stopped ammunition deliveries on May 1 to prevent Wagner from capturing Bakhmut out of “petty jealousy”.

“Last month they stopped giving us ammunition and we are getting no more than 10% of our needs,” he furiously stated in a video address.

However, as Ukraine makes advancements in the region, the ISW assesses that failures in Bakhmut could be “undermining the larger effort”, hence the reinforcements.

In the lead-up to the counter-offensive Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has toured Western Europe garnering further military support. He announced that Ukraine is “nearly ready”, although more weapons are needed. In particular, he hopes to secure F-16 fighter jets that would give Ukraine an edge over Russia in the air.

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