The Ongoing Battle of Bakhmut: Ukrainian Forces Seize Tactical Initiative Against Russian Troops and Wagner Mercenaries

The Battle of Bakhmut, a months-long conflict between Ukrainian and Russian troops, continues to rage on in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region.[0] According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Ukrainian forces have seized the tactical initiative and made significant gains in counter-attack operations, with the Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces spokesperson, Serhiy Cherevaty, stating that Ukrainian troops had advanced up to 500 metres in the direction of Bakhmut in a day, “liberating Ukrainian land.”[1] Russian forces have also made territorial gains in Bakhmut, with the Russian Ministry of Defence claiming on 19 May that Ukraine had continued its counteroffensive near Bohdanivka, three miles northwest of the city and Ivanivske.[2]

The battle has become a theatre for another struggle between Russia’s military leaders and the mercenaries Moscow sent to the front to bolster its conventional forces last year: the Wagner Group.[3] Led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, it is in Bakhmut that his forces planned to outdo the regular Russian armed forces and disgrace Sergei Shoigu, the Kremlin's defence minister.[4] Prigozhin has hinted at growing “threats” from the MoD, but, for now, it seems he can retain his high profile for as long as he remains useful to the Kremlin.[5] The row between Prigozhin and Russia’s top military brass is not a new phenomenon, with Russian elites frequently squabbling for power and favours from the Kremlin.[5] However, the longer Wagner remains at the epicentre of these fierce hostilities, the more it risks having its manpower decimated.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said that Ukrainian forces had liberated nearly 20 square kilometres on the Bakhmut front and repeated that fierce fighting for the city of Bakhmut itself is still underway, with Russian forces making minor gains.[6] According to Maliar, the Ukrainian military still maintains control over the southern and western regions of Bakhmut. However, the Russian leadership has gathered their reserves and reinforced their troops in the city.[7]

The conflict in Bakhmut has been one of the most violent occurrences of the ongoing war, as Ukrainian troops have been resisting Russian troops led by Wagner contractors in order to protect the city.[4] To advance the administrative borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the Russians require Bakhmut as a facilitator.[5] Due to the costly manpower involved in urban warfare, the Russian command has utilized assault units from the Wagner Group, which is notorious for its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin.[5]

The conflict is ongoing, with both sides hoping to take credit for victories while deflecting blame for defeats. The longer the conflict continues, the more the risk of decimated manpower for both sides, with Wagner in particular at risk of becoming expendable, which could become a life-threatening development.

0. “Ukraine Makes ‘Tactically Significant Gains' in Bakhmut Battle: ISW” Newsweek, 19 May. 2023,

1. “Bakhmut battle rages as Ukraine claims advances, Russian retreat” Al Jazeera English, 19 May. 2023,

2. “Situation in Bakhmut: Armed Forces of Ukraine seize initiative, try to counterattack” Ukrinform, 19 May. 2023,

3. “A City—and a Warlord—Under Siege” The Dispatch, 19 May. 2023,

4. “How Ukraine turned Russia's Bakhmut trap on its head | Defence in Depth” The Telegraph, 19 May. 2023,

5. “Prigozhin Takes On Russian Ministry of Defense – Jamestown” The Jamestown Foundation, 17 May. 2023,

6. “Russian forces still focused on Bakhmut despite efforts to reprioritise ahead of counteroffensive” Euronews, 17 May. 2023,

7. “Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister on Bakhmut: ‘We’re buying time for certain planned actions’” Meduza, 18 May. 2023,

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