The use of low-quality troops around Bakhmut suggests that Russia’s MoD has given up on its initial goal
Ukraine makes progress in Bakhmut as Russian troops retreat. However, the Wagner PMC is likely to continue frontal assaults, which, however, will not lead to a large-scale encirclement, the Institute for Study of War writes in its daily report.
Ukrainian forces have reportedly made advances against Russian lines near Bakhmut, eliciting responses from Yevgeny Prigozhin, financier of the Wagner Group, and the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD). Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, Commander of the Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces, disclosed that Russian forces retreated up to two kilometers in the Bakhmut front.
These confirmed Ukrainian gains sparked reactions from Prigozhin, who asserted that Ukrainian forces initiated a counteroffensive, reclaiming three kilometers of territory around Bakhmut. The Russian MoD, while acknowledging Ukrainian counterattacks, denied reports of a Ukrainian breakthrough in the Russian defensive lines, the ISW reported.
The use of low-quality Russian forces around Bakhmut implies that the Russian MoD may have largely forsaken the objective of encircling a significant number of Ukrainian forces in that area. This shift may have commenced in January 2023 when the MoD halted Wagner Group penal recruitment efforts, possibly leading Prigozhin to intensify the Soledar-Bakhmut effort and publicly criticize the lack of MoD support for his initiatives starting in February 2023.
Despite this, the Russian MoD briefly increased resources on the Bakhmut front line in March and April, deploying T-90 tanks and Russian Airborne (VDV) forces to the Bakhmut area, and assigning mobilized reservists to Wagner. On April 24, Prigozhin alleged that the Russian MoD only stationed irregular and degraded units to maintain Bakhmut’s flanks, and the failure of these units to achieve even this limited objective suggests that Russian flanks in Bakhmut and other similarly staffed areas of the front are likely susceptible to Ukrainian counterattacks, ISW writes.
The MoD’s force allocation, coupled with changes in the battlespace geometry, also implies that the risk of a Russian encirclement of significant Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut may have diminished. Wagner forces will likely continue frontal assaults in Bakhmut, potentially allowing Ukrainian forces to conduct organized withdrawals from threatened areas in a shallower partial envelopment rather than facing large-scale encirclement.
Frontline report: Russians desert more positions, escape Ukrainian encirclement near Bakhmut