Escalating Conflict: Ukrainian Forces Break Through Russian Lines Near Bakhmut
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine continues to escalate as reports emerge of Ukrainian forces breaking through Russian lines in counterattacks near Bakhmut. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, published an assessment on Thursday stating that Ukrainian forces likely broke through some Russian lines in counterattacks near Bakhmut, citing Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Commander Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi as saying that Russian forces “retreated up to 2 kilometers behind Russian lines in unspecified sectors of the Bakhmut front.” Since Tuesday, Ukrainian forces have successfully penetrated Russian defensive lines outside Bakhmut and regained a few square miles of territory according to Ukrainian commanders, Russian military bloggers, and Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of Wagner. However, Russia's defense ministry disputed those reports on Thursday night, claiming “the statements spread by individual Telegram channels about ‘defense breakthroughs' in various sections of the line of contact are not true.”
Since the conflict began, Bakhmut has been a key battleground between Russian and Ukrainian forces. Reports have emerged of Ukrainian advances at front-line areas in eastern Ukraine, such as in the war-torn city of Bakhmut, where Wagner Group mercenaries have played a key role in brutal and intense fighting for months. The Ukrainian troops indicated that they executed “efficient retaliatory strikes” which compelled a number of Russian soldiers to withdraw.
The extent of Russia's control over Bakhmut is uncertain following reports of their withdrawal from certain positions. However, earlier estimates suggested that Russia held around 80% of the city.
Prigozhin, who has been publicly and ostentatiously feuding with Russia's defense ministry for months, stepped up his complaints and attacks in May, as a push by his paramilitary forces and Russian troops to capture Bakhmut lost momentum. Bakhmut is witnessing clashes between Wagner combatants and attempts from Russian troops to progress through the sides.
Although the exact timing of a Ukrainian counteroffensive remains uncertain, Ukrainian officials have warned that it may not manifest as a single, decisive assault. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on May 11th that it was not yet under way. But there have also been bullish statements by Ukrainian commanders about ongoing, if limited, battlefield successes, and mostly unconfirmed reports by Russian military bloggers of Ukrainian advances. The following events have been reported: the potential surrounding of Russian troops in Bakhmut, the approach of Ukrainian armored units towards Soledar, an assault on the southern region of Bakhmut in Mayorsk, and a Ukrainian push towards Belgorod, a city in Russia. Reports have emerged of Ukrainian drones carrying out fresh attacks on Russian logistics centers situated at the rear of their positions.
According to ISW, the use of subpar Russian troops to guard the flanks near Bakhmut implies that Russia has abandoned its efforts to surround the area, despite Prigozhin's persistence. However, the fact that these units are incapable of carrying out such a simple task suggests that Russian flanks in Bakhmut and other similarly staffed areas of the front may be susceptible to Ukrainian counterattacks.
The situation is fluid, and it is difficult to predict the outcome of the conflict; however, what is clear is that the tensions between Russia and Ukraine continue to escalate, and there seems to be no end in sight.
0. “Ukraine gains ground in Bakhmut for 1st time in months amid Russian disarray” The Week, 12 May. 2023, https://theweek.com/russo-ukrainian-war/1023455/ukraine-is-gaining-ground-in-bakhmut-for-the-1st-time-in-months-amid
1. “Wagner chief says Ukrainian forces having success in Bakhmut” The Washington Post, 11 May. 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/05/11/bakhmut-battle-zelensky-wagner
2. “Wagner boss says Ukraine counteroffensive in ‘full swing' amid counterattack” Business Insider, 11 May. 2023, https://www.businessinsider.com/wagner-group-prigozhin-zelenskyy-ukraine-counteroffensive-full-swing-2023-5
3. “Russian Forces Fall Back In Bakhmut” OilPrice.com, 12 May. 2023, https://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Russian-Forces-Fall-Back-In-Bakhmut.html
4. “Russian Attempt to Cover Up Bakhmut Retreat Majorly Backfires” The Daily Beast, 12 May. 2023, https://www.thedailybeast.com/russian-attempt-to-cover-up-bakhmut-retreat-majorly-backfires
5. “A renewed push on Bakhmut fuels rumours of a Ukrainian counter-offensive” The Economist, 12 May. 2023, https://www.economist.com/europe/2023/05/12/a-renewed-push-on-bakhmut-fuels-rumours-of-a-ukrainian-counter-offensive