Russia’s fight for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut is said to be hampered by huge losses as well as tensions between Moscow and the mercenary troops fighting Kyiv’s forces.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense (MOD) said that the Russian assault on the Donetsk town “has largely stalled” which was mostly down to the “extreme attrition of the Russian force,” although it also noted that Ukraine has also faced high troop losses.
The update on Saturday said Russia had probably shifted its operational focus towards Avdiivka, located south of Bakhmut, and to the Kreminna-Svatove sector in the north, areas “where Russia likely only aspires to stabilize its front line.”
“This suggests an overall return to a more defensive operational design after inconclusive results from its attempts to conduct a general offensive since January,” said the MOD update on Saturday which in the past has had a tendency to emphasize Ukrainian gains and Russian losses.
Russia has been reeling from huge losses of manpower and equipment in Bakhmut as well as the failed attack on Vuhledar in February. “Tactically, these attacks have been a disaster for Russia,” Paul D’Anieri, political science professor at the University of California, Riverside, recently told Newsweek.
“They are probably a strategic disaster as well, in that they’ve eroded Russia’s ability to attack or defend without any appreciable gain in territory,”
The British officials also said that Russian’s campaign is likely to have got worse because of tensions between the Russian Ministry of Defense, which Newsweek has emailed for comment, and the Wagner Group of mercenaries fighting for Moscow, headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin.
The businessman thought to have close links with Vladimir Putin has repeatedly railed against the Russian defense establishment for not providing his troops with enough ammunition.
The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S.-based think tank, noted on Thursday the Wagner chief’s rejection of the Kremlin’s claims that in Ukraine, Russia is fighting NATO and even questioned the presence of Nazis there, which was one of Putin’s pretexts for war.
Prigozhin also took aim at Russian officials, saying it was “ridiculous” to believe that they had gone ahead with the invasion without taking into account that Ukraine would receive NATO help. He characterized the fight as being “exclusively with Ukrainians” equipped with NATO-provided equipment but not the alliance itself.
However, the Wagner chief has been softening his rhetoric towards the Russian MOD for fear of losing his mercenary forces, the think tank said. Prigozhin’s comments also added weight to reports that Kyiv’s forces were planning a possible counteroffensive in the east of the country towards the Russian region of Belgorod.