Russia’s Bakhmut offensive in eastern Ukraine has “largely stalled” due to the sheer number of troops its lost in months of grinding battles.
That’s the latest intelligence assessment from the British Ministry of Defence, which says the impasse “is likely primarily a result of extreme attrition of the Russian force,” but notes that “Ukraine has also suffered heavy casualties during its defence.”
The MoD says that the situation on the ground around Bakhmut has “likely been made worse by tensions between the Russian Ministry of Defence and Wagner group”, which both contributed troops to the area.
Over several weeks the head of Wagner’s infamous mercenary force has found himself kept at arms length by Russia’s military brass, as Wagner committed forces to the battle of Bakhmut, and sustained heavy losses.
Wagner boss Yevgeny Prugozhin took his most outspoken stand against the Kremlin’s Ukraine narrative this week, contradicting Russian claims that NATO is fighting in Ukraine, and questioning whether there are actually Nazis in Ukraine either.
The Kremlin has repeatedly justified its invasion of its neighbour as necessary to purge Kyiv of neo-Nazis, who threaten the peace and security of Russia, despite there being little evidence of this.
In parallel, it has increasingly pitched the war as an existential struggle against NATO, which they claim is butting up against Russia’s borders.
Prigozhin said Moscow is fighting “exclusively with Ukrainians” equipped with NATO-provided equipment and some “Russophobic” mercenaries who voluntarily support Ukraine – but not NATO itself, according to an assessment from the US-based Institute for the Study of War.
Russia shifting the focus of operations
The British MoD says that Russia is shifting the focus of its operations to the town of Avdiivka, south of Bakhmut, and north of the city to the Kremina-Svatove area where Russia hopes to establish its front line presence.
“This suggests an overall return to a more defensive operational design after inconclusive results from its attempts to conduct a general offensive since January 2023,” Saturday’s intelligence report concludes.
Meanwhile US President Joe Biden says that China “has not delivered” any weapons to Russia yet, despite concerns they could do so.
“It’s been three months now that I hear that China is going to supply important weapons to Russia… That doesn’t mean they won’t, but they haven’t done it yet,” Biden said Friday during a visit to Canada.
During a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Moscow this week, Russians and Chinese for their part welcomed the entry into a “new era” of their “special relationship”.
But while the Chinese leader promised moral support and a commercial lifeline, he refrained from promising to supply weapons arms to Russia – at least in public – which could have led to Western sanctions against his country.