Ukraine’s claim to have made some advances in Bakhmut in the Donetsk region this week has resulted in mixed responses from the Kremlin and Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose Wagner Group is involved in a bloody battle for the city.
On Friday, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar wrote on her Telegram channel that Ukraine’s armed forces advanced 2 kilometers (around 1.2 miles) in the direction of Bakhmut.
Russian and Ukrainian soldiers have clashed for months in the battle for Bakhmut—a small industrial city with a pre-war population of 70,000. Russia’s conventional troops have been fighting alongside fighters from Prigozhin’s paramilitary outfit, the Wagner Group, although the Russian tycoon has recently made repeated threats to withdraw over a lack of ammunition from Russia’s Defense Ministry.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, said in an assessment published Thursday that Ukrainian forces likely broke through some Russian lines in counterattacks near Bakhmut.
It cited Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Commander Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi as saying that Russian forces “retreated up to two kilometers behind Russian lines in unspecified sectors of the Bakhmut front.”
Prigozhin separately said Ukrainian forces have started a long-anticipated counteroffensive and recaptured three kilometers of ground in and around Bakhmut. He said in a letter to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu that the Wagner Group controls 95 percent of Bakhmut but that units under the control of Russia’s armed forces had been “successfully counterattacked” by Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Moscow has denied reports of Ukrainian breakthroughs in the fight for the city. The “overall situation in the area of the special military operation is under control,” Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The ISW assessed that the responses from Prigozhin and Russia’s defense ministry are “reflective of increased panic in the Russian information space over speculations about planned Ukrainian counteroffensives.”
The Russian responses so far “indicate increased concern among Wagner and Russian MoD leadership as well as reflecting Kremlin guidance to avoid downplaying Ukrainian successes.”
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in an interview published on Wednesday that Russia is confident its troops will eventually be able to capture Bakhmut.
“We have no doubt that [Bakhmut] will be taken, it will continue to be held,” Peskov told Bosnian Serb broadcaster ATV, declining to elaborate on future military tactics and strategy, which he said is “the prerogative of the military.”
Peskov added: “[It’s] quite an emotional situation. Very tough offensive operations are being carried out there.”
Source : Newsweek