As the battle for Bakhmut rages between Ukraine forces, the Russian military, and the notorious Wagner PMC, tens of thousands are thought to have been killed at the time of writing.
The ferocious battle over the city in Eastern Ukraine is currently the longest ongoing fight that has taken place during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the bulk of combat is being spearheaded by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner mercenaries.
However, as the battle appears to inch closer to its closing phases, Prigozhin has complained that not only do Wagner forces lack the required ammunition but figures on their own side may have betrayed them.
Wagner mercenaries have been fighting for months on end in gruelling urban warfare as they attempt to capture the city from Ukrainian forces. The battle has degraded into a gruelling WW1-style war of attrition that has been referred to as a “meat grinder”.
Behind the scenes, it appears Prigozhin is embroiled in a power struggle with the Russian defence ministry. He recently launched a bold accusation against them and claimed they’d been withholding supplies from Wagner forces.
Prigozhin created a social media post that detailed his complaints about his country’s defence ministry, claiming that the Russian troops who were alleged to be deployed to the Bakhmut frontline had been diverted elsewhere.
More crucially, promised ammunition supplies vital for Wagner to maintain their relentless assaults on Ukrainian positions had been dramatically late to arrive. In reference to the ammunition deliveries, Prigozhin said the following:
“We are trying to understand what the reasons are — the usual bureaucracy or betrayal.”
As Wagner has been responsible for the brunt of combat in Bakhmut, Prigozhin issued a warning that if his organization is denied men and ammo any further, Wagner’s troops would not be able to maintain control over their positions and captured areas. As a result, the shortage could lead to a dramatic collapse of the Russian frontline.
“If Wagner retreats from Bakhmut now, then the entire front will crumble,” Prigozhin said.
At the time of writing, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been raging for over a year. Bakhmut has become the epicentre of what has turned into the most violent and prolonged battle of the entire conflict. All of this is despite the fact that the city has little strategic value.
Those observing the battle for Bakhmut claim that either side is attempting to exhaust one another in order to hinder their enemy’s ability to launch a new summer offensive in the next few months.
“The Russians are 150 metres from us in some places. We don’t see them but we can hear their voices”– A Ukrainian soldier in Bakhmut.
Despite the fact that the industrial city has been transformed into a charred wasteland in a raging battle that has driven most of its pre-war population of 72,000 out and turned them into refugees, Bakhmut holds little strategic value.
The small city is over 30 miles from the closest major Ukrainian cities of Kramatorsk and Slovyansk. However, after Ukrainian troops launched a series of successful counteroffensives and regained territory that Russian forces had seized, Bakhmut has become one of the few places where Russia has made gains across a 600-mile frontline that has grown largely stagnant in recent winter months.
This has turned Bakhmut into a morale-focused prize. Russia needs to capture the city to provide a morale boost for its forces fighting in the country, and Ukraine needs to regain it for similar reasons. For the latter, the city has become a symbol of resistance that must be held at all costs.
During a recent trip to the United States, Zelensky gave a battle-scarred Ukrainian flag from Bakhmut to members of the U.S. Congress before comparing the battle for Bakhmut to the crucial Battles of Saratoga during the American Revolutionary War.