Russia Still Hasn’t Taken Bakhmut, and Wagner Is Scared: Despite reports that Ukrainian forces were conducting limited withdrawals from the city of Bakhmut, after Russian forces mostly surrounded the region, Ukrainian troops have yet to flee the city.
In a video clip shared on social media, a Ukrainian soldier in Bakhmut describes how the Russians are still struggling to take control of the city. The soldier, Vladislav Schevchuk, also insists that reports of a Ukrainian withdrawal are inaccurate.
“Currently, there’s a pandemic of unconfirmed information on social media that Bakhmut is about to fall,” Schevchuk writes. “Videos emerge where Ukrainian servicemen appear to be withdrawing from the city. These are all elements of Russian propaganda with the aim to belittle us.”
Schevchuk says that “no one will five away Bakhmut,” and insists that Ukraine has the manpower, means, and political power that its forces lacked in 2014 when Russia successfully annexed and took control of Crimea.
What Wagner Is Saying
Earlier in March, Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin admitted that the situation in the city was “difficult, very difficult,” with Ukrainian soldiers “fighting for each meter.”
In a video clip shared online, Prigozhin called on the Russian military to “shield the approaches” to the city.
In a letter dated March 20, Prigozhin asked Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu for intelligence relating to the Ukrainian military’s plans to launch a new offensive in Bakhmut. Prigozhin also asked the Russian military for help.
According to the available information, the enemy plans to launch a large-scale offensive at the end of March or beginning of April and carry out flanking cutting attacks, with the aim of cutting off the units of the Wagner Group PMC from the main forces of the Russian Armed Forces,” Prigozhin writes in the letter.
“I ask you to take all necessary measures to prevent the Wagner PMC from being cut off from the main forces of the Russian Armed Forces, which will have negative effects for the ‘special military operation.’”
It is unclear whether Prigozhin will receive help from the Russian military given the very public spats that have occurred in recent months between the Wagner leader and Russian military officials.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) also noted this week that video footage emerged over the weekend allegedly showing Ukrainian armored vehicles traveling along a highway 13 miles to the southwest of Bakhmut. The video has sparked concern among the Russians that Kyiv is preparing a new offensive to push the Russians out.
Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine – 20 March 2023.
Find out more about Defence Intelligence’s use of language: https://t.co/RUOZvpV91Q
— Ministry of Defence ???????? (@DefenceHQ) March 20, 2023
According to the ISW, Russian military officials are not certain that their military has the ability to maintain its current presence around Bakhmut.
Is Avdiivka the Next Bakhmut?
If Russia ultimately fails to take Bakhmut, it likely won’t mean an end to the aggression. On Monday, Ukraine said that Avdiivka – a town in eastern Ukraine roughly 90km to the south – may ultimately become a “second Bakhmut.”
Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskyi, the spokesman for the Tavria military command, said this week that British military intelligence suggests Russian forces may now be deliberately putting pressure on supply lines to Avdiivka – a tactic used in Bakhmut. If the intelligence is correct, it means Russia is working to weaken Ukrainian forces in the region ahead of an expected offensive.
In an intelligence update, the British Ministry of Defence said on Monday that Russian forces have made “creeping gains” in Avdiivka over the last three weeks.
Dmytrashkivskyi also noted that Russian forces attacking in the Avdiivka direction are struggling, as they appear to be in Bakhmut. His comments echoed the British government’s intelligence update, which described the situation in Avdiivka as “similar to that in the larger town of Bakhmut.”
Jack Buckby is 19FortyFive’s Breaking News Editor. He is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.