The founder and CEO of the mercenary Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, declared victory (again) on Saturday, making sure to point out the futility of the Russian Defense Ministry in taking over Ukraine’s 58th largest city.
Confirming what Mark Sumner and I repeatedly predicted, he then declared that his troops would withdraw from the city on May 25, leaving the defense of the city to the Russian regular army. He is happy to take credit for the capture, leaving his rival, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, to bear the blame when Ukraine inevitably liberates the city.
Russian dictator Vladimir Putin directly praised Prigozhin for capturing the city according to state media. “Vladimir Putin congratulates Wagner’s assault teams and all Russian troops, who provided the required assistance and protected the flanks, with the completion of the Artyomovsk liberation operation,” reads a statement. Kremlin statement. “All who have distinguished themselves in battle will be recommended for state decorations.”
“Artemovsk” is the Russian name of Bakhmut. Despite Prigozhin disorderly attacks on the war effort in recent weeks, Putin still supports him.
Yes, there was a party, but the mood on Russian Telegram and Twitter seemed oddly subdued, none matching the effort put into this operation. When even Prigozhin says that “you“The village of Bakhmut is of no strategic importance for further westward progress”, there is not much to celebrate here. It’s also hard to really sell the ‘liberation’ narrative when every inhabitant was driven from the city, every structure destroyed.
Bakhmut mattered when Russia dreamed of enveloping Ukrainian defenses in the Donbass with a pincer maneuver that crossed Bakhmut to the south and Izyum to the north. But Izyum was released last October, rendering this strategy moot. So now Russia can sit in the ruins of Bakhmut for no apparent reason.
Do you know who the big winner is? Ukraine.
Many people, myself included, argued that Ukraine would be best served by occupying the heights west of Bakhmut, firing on Russian troops in the town. Now they can do just that.
All of those hills west of Bakhmut, except the Berkhivka Heights, are still held by Ukraine, and Ukraine’s success on the flanks means they are likely to remain so.
With Ukraine now having their sights set on Bakhmut, it will be like shooting fish in a barrel. There’s a reason why Prigozhin recorded his video in central Bakhmut, as opposed to the city’s more recently captured western neighborhoods. It’s not safe there. Once Wagner steps down, Russia may not even bother to put up a real defense. Ukraine is not going to make an exposed frontal assault on the city. They are not unnecessarily stupid like Wagner. And there’s no value in the rubble. What matters is that the Russian offensive has reached its climax, that they are no longer trying to advance, and that any invader who wanders into Ukraine’s line of sight will be pulverized.
Meanwhile, Prigozhin seeks to redeploy his group of mercenaries to Sudan and other African hotspots, where he can terrorize the local population and plunder their natural resources. If Putin allows him to do that, that’s terrible news for Africa, but it’s one less chip Russia will have to play in Ukraine.
In other words, Ukraine now finds itself in a better place than it was before Wagner’s Pyrrhic victory. War historians will debate the value of Ukraine’s fierce extensive defense for decades. But for now, none of that matters. Ukraine has the upper hand.
ps Chechen Kadyrovites promised to relieve Wagnerian forces in Bakhmut. Two weeks later, they still haven’t shown up. I will be shocked if they ever do.
With US blessing, a Western coalition is now ready to deliver F-16s to Ukraine after proper training. Although the Biden administration has not explicitly stated it, the United States, with more than 1,000 F-16s in service, will necessarily have to be a donor. Most people assume the biggest challenge is pilot training, but that’s the easy part. As we’ve hammered home time and time again in our coverage, the real challenge is maintenance and logistics. Check out this great thread on the difficulties of sustaining aircraft:
At this point, it’s clear everyone thinks Ukraine has the capability to sustain the aircraft, but that won’t happen quickly unless private military contractors handle much of the early maintenance ( which could very well happen). Ukraine certainly expects to have the planes in autumn.
What is not a challenge or a concern is Putin. “We see that Western countries are still adhering to the escalation scenario,” Deputy of Russia Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told state agency TASS. “This involves colossal risks for themselves. In any case, this will be taken into account in all our plans, and we have all the necessary means to achieve the objectives we have set ourselves.
Blah blah blah blah. it’s the same tired script that Russia repeats every time Ukraine gets a new weapon system.
“Now a few important words, very important for those who might be tempted to intervene in current events,” Putin said on February 24, 2002, just two days after launching his illegal invasion. “Anyone who tries to hinder us or threaten our country or our people should know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to consequences you have never faced in your history. We are ready for any turn of events. All the necessary decisions in this regard have been taken. I hope I will be heard.
“All the necessary decisions have been made.”
“We have all the means necessary to achieve our objectives.”
So many “necessary” things have been accomplished, so many “immediate consequences” threatened. Yet Russia has no real way to back up its threats, which makes it even more sad and pathetic. It is amazing how such (veiled nuclear) threats once prevented the delivery of better weapons, be it HIMARS, tanks, medium range cruise missiles or aircraft. Now we definitely have a “boy who cried wolf” situation. No one believes or cares what the Kremlin says or threatens.
There is several avenues for Ukraine’s upcoming counter-offensive.
Everyone expects Ukraine to push south into Zaporizhzhia Oblast, either towards Melitopol or Mariupol, in order to cut Putin’s cherished “land bridge” between mainland Russia and the Crimean peninsula. This is certainly what Russia thinks, with an intricate network of trenches and other defensive locations running through this entire region.
I have already defended the Starobilsk approach for two reasons. First, it would cut off a major supply route from the Belgorod region to eastern Ukraine. In addition, Starobilsk is the hub of the transport network of the whole region. Every road and railway line radiates from the city like the spokes of a wheel. Once Ukraine took it, all that bit of red in that northeast corner of Ukraine would be instantly freed.
However, I am now convinced that Russia has almost already conceded it. He had plenty of time to redirect his logistics to eastern Ukraine. And he only built a single line of new trench defenses east of Svatove. Given its challenges in managing this front of more than 1,000 kilometers and its manifest absence of mobile reserveit seems unlikely that there will be many – just enough to keep Ukrainian forces on that front, but not enough to present any real resistance if Ukraine makes a serious effort to break through Svatove.
Therefore, assuming that Russia To moved its logistics, a Ukrainian attack in that direction would be of little value. Liberating all that empty steppe would look great on a map, but it wouldn’t do much to bring Ukraine closer to victory.
The Melitopol and Donetsk directions make the most strategic sense. If Russia puts up fierce resistance, it is better to devote the bulk of the Ukrainian assault brigades in these directions. But if the Russian resistance crumbles quickly, throwing a brigade or two around Svatove to get to Starobilsk would be a great “icing on the cake”.
Vitaly and his wife celebrated when they learned Vitalia was pregnant in November 2022. He died days later on the front line. This baby is now born.
“Please everyone who knows my husband, Vitaly Kirkach-Antonenko, congratulate him on becoming a father. Anyone in Sloviansk, visit him and give him flowers. He will never be able to kiss his little daughter, but Vitaly was waiting for her. . We dreamed together of this day, we imagined our joy and our pride when we would be able to hold our firstborn in our arms. Thank you to everyone who helped us everything time, thanks to your support during these six most terrible months” • wrote Natalya Kyrkach-Antonenko.
Ukrainians have one of the most poignant send-offs for their fallen heroes: