Russian Wagner mercenaries say they will withdraw from Bakhmut
Days after declaring victory in Bakhmut, the private military company Wagner said on Thursday that it would hand over the Ukrainian city to the Russian Army, who must now try to hold it without assistance. of the brutal mercenary force they increasingly depended on. .
Wagner’s leader, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, suggested that Russia’s regular soldiers could not expect any more help from the group — at least not in Bakhmut. In a three-minute video, Mr. Prigozhin is said to have visited what he said were Wagner’s positions in the city and asked his fighters to hand them over to the Russian army.
“Leave the soap on, but take your toothbrush away,” he said.
Wagner’s withdrawal could usher in a new phase in the months-long battle for Bakhmut, testing whether the Russian Army can hold a hard-won position against Ukrainian forces that have entered the city’s outskirts. and is preparing to launch a broader counterattack.
“Now, the Russian General Staff will have to find enough reserves to fill the void,” said Dmitri Kuznets, a military analyst for Meduza, a Russian news website. “This, in addition to countering the Ukrainian attack, will also require a significant amount of reserves.”
Ukraine has admitted that despite the fire it spent holding Bakhmut, where tens of thousands of people are believed to have died, Russia now controls almost the entire city. They say their forces are shifting focus to make it difficult for Russia to hold Bakhmut or move deeper into eastern Ukraine.
On Thursday, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hanna Maliar, said that the Ukrainian army had control of an area just southwest of Bakhmut and that they were trying to gain more advantage in the suburbs.
“In the direction of Bakhmut, the enemy is trying to block our advance on the flanks with artillery fire,” Maliar said. “Now the enemy is pulling more units to the flanks for reinforcements.”
She said regular units of the Russian Army had replaced Wagner’s fighters in the suburbs of Bakhmut, while Wagner’s forces remained in the city.
The repositioning around the city comes as Russia and Ukraine engaged in drone battles on Thursday.
Ukraine’s military says it shot down dozens of Russian drones targeting targets across the country before dawn, while Russian officials say they thwarted an attack by the drones. Ukrainian air and sea drones target the base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea.
Even as its forces have beefed up a maze of fortified defensive positions across hundreds of miles of farmland, fields and riverbanks in recent weeks, Moscow has ramped up its aerial bombardment. not to try to disrupt the Ukrainian military’s preparations for a counterattack, according to Ukrainian officials and said. military analysts.
Ukraine has spent weeks targeting key Russian command and control centers, railway lines, airports and other military installations across the occupied territories with clear intent. is to limit Moscow’s ability to move troops and equipment quickly and efficiently.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, said on Thursday that the recent military actions were all part of Ukraine’s counter-offensive, which he said would not be marked by an “event” Single”.
There were “dozens of different actions,” Podolyak said in an interview. posted on Twitteraimed at destroying “occupation forces in different directions, which took place yesterday, is taking place today and will continue tomorrow.”
“The strong destruction of the enemy’s logistics facilities is also a counter-attack,” he said.
Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine’s deputy intelligence director, said that preventing Russian military activity in Crimea was essential to the Ukrainian operation. “Their reinforcements and the redeployment of troops, the supply of ammunition and equipment to the occupied territories,” he told the German publication Welt in an interview published on Thursday. all pass through Crimea.
Crimea holds immense symbolic and military value to the government of President Vladimir V. Putin, who seized the peninsula in 2014 and describes it as the center of what he sees as national restoration. family of Russia.
On Thursday, the Kremlin-appointed governor of Crimea said that many Ukrainian drone strikes had been thwarted across the territory. And the Russian-appointed governor of the port of Sevastopol in Crimea said that two drones were shot down with small arms and that several drones at sea were disabled using tools. Electronic warfare jams their signals.
The claims cannot be independently verified.
The capture of Bakhmut gave Moscow a rare and very costly victory, and made it clear how dependent the country had become on Wagner forces and their outspoken leader, who pointed out harshly criticized the Russian military.
To many supporters of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Wagner group, with its harsh discipline and flexible decision-making abilities, became a role model for the Russian Army, which was thwarted by bureaucracy. bulky, should look like.
In recent days, excited by the victory in Bakhmut, Mr. Prigozhin has become more outspoken, warning Russia’s elites that they face the prospect of a popular uprising if they do not put the country in place. into a real wartime situation.
But for all the infighting, Wagner and the Russian Army also depend on each other. While Prigozhin has some of the best offensive troops fighting on the Russian side, the Defense Ministry holds a much larger supply of weapons – much to Prigozhin’s recent disappointment.
Mr. Kuznets, a military analyst, said that while the Russian military leadership may not want Wagner’s help anymore, Moscow’s lack of troops makes redeployment of mercenaries in Ukraine “impossibly impossible.” avoid”.
In Bakhmut on Thursday, Mr. Prigozhin signaled that Wagner’s withdrawal would take several days.
“We’ll rest and get ready,” he said in the latest video. “And then we will take on a new quest.”