The Kremlin had sought to capture the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut by May 9 to coincide with the annual Victory Day Parade in Moscow’s Red Square. Some Russian leaders likely hoped to tie a victory in the Donbas region with its triumph over Nazi Germany in the Second World War.
Ukrainian forces successfully held out in the besieged city, denying Russian President Vladimir Putin of any significant victory in the ongoing conflict. More than 14 months following its unprovoked invasion, Russia has lost thousands of tanks and has seen more than 200,000 casualties.
Western officials estimate between 20,000 and 30,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded in the fighting just for Bakhmut.
Even if Russia could finally wrestle control of the city, it would be a pyrrhic victory. Bakhmut has been completely razed to the ground, every building nearly destroyed, and its entire population is gone. For weeks, Kyiv’s forces have clung on, holding the edge of the urban center.
Will Russia Hold What It Controls?
The situation appears quite grim for the Kremlin this week, as there are now reports that Russian forces have begun to pull back, The Wall Street Journal reported. The question may no longer be when or even if Russia can take control of Bakhmut, but rather whether it can even hold what it now controls.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian forces claimed to have routed a Russian infantry brigade. The 72nd Separate Motor-rifle Brigade may have already abandoned its positions on the southwestern outskirts of the urban center, or are already on the verge of a full retreat it was reported.
“It’s official. Prigozhin’s report about the flight of Russia’s 72nd Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade from near Bakhmut and the ‘500 corpses’ of Russians left behind is true,” Ukraine’s Third Separate Assault Brigade announced. “The Third Assault Brigade is grateful for the publicity about our success at the front.”
It isn’t just Kyiv’s forces that are making such claims either.
Yevgeny Priogzhin, head of the infamous Wagner Group mercenary force, said on Tuesday that the Russian brigade failed to hold its position.
“Our army is fleeing,” Priogzhin said. “The 72nd Brigade pissed away three square km this morning, where I had lost 500 men.”
Cracks Between Wagner Group and the Kremlin
Prigozhin has been locked in a feud with the Russian Defense Ministry, which has intensified as the Battle for Bakhmut has entered its 10th month. The mercenary chief has accused the entire Russian Defense Ministry of constantly “scheming,” and last week vowed to pull his forces out of the fighting around Bakhmut if the Wagner Group didn’t receive supplies of ammunition and other ordnance.
Even though the Kremlin did provide the requested materials, Prigozhin then claimed on Tuesday it was less than expected.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.