While Biden officials have urged Ukraine to abandon the defense of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s Donbas, efforts extended by Ukraine in that direction likely aid, not detract from the planned spring counteroffensive, the Institute for Study of War writes in its daily update.
“Had Russian troops taken Bakhmut without significant Ukrainian resistance, they could have hoped to expand operations in ways that could have forced Ukraine to construct hasty defensive positions in less favorable terrain. Therefore, Ukraine’s defense of Bakhmut and undertaking an effort to set conditions for a counteroffensive are likely complementary, not mutually exclusive, activities considering that Russian forces would have continued their offensive beyond Bakhmut had Ukraine yielded the city earlier,” ISW reports.
Additionally, ISW writes that:
- The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is reportedly recruiting convicts and mimicking the Wagner Group’s treatment of convicts as cannon fodder;
- The Russian MoD’s decision to recruit prisoners is an indicator that the Kremlin seeks to exploit convicts for future human wave attacks in a similar fashion as the Wagner Group despite convicts’ limited combat effectiveness. Representative of the Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate Andriy Usov stated that Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov are creating a convict cannon fodder reserve that they could directly control through the MoD’s own private military companies.
- The Russian MoD’s recruitment of prisoners in fall 2022 may also coincide with the intensifying criticism from Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin. A representative for the Russian prisoner group Gulagu.net noted that many in Moscow began to fear Prigozhin and his unpredictable and ever-growing large “organized criminal group of mercenaries and killers.” The Kremlin has since been distancing itself from Wagner—both rhetorically and by likely depriving Prigozhin of the ability to recruit and train convicts. The Ukrainian General Staff, for example, reported that Russian MoD began to use the Kadamovsky Training Ground in Rostov Oblast to train mobilized and volunteer personnel for a few weeks, while Wagner had not been able to train at the training ground since the beginning of 2023.