The Victory in Bakhmut
(Strategy Page) h/t Claudio – Russian efforts to declare the ten-month battle for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut a victory was disputed by revelations about Russian losses and continued advances by Ukrainian forces. When Russia declared victory in Bakhmut, Ukrainian forces were still holding western portions of the city. As Russia began moving most of its troops from the city after the victory announcement, Ukrainian forces advanced and reoccupied the territory Russians had recently captured. The Russian victory was further tarnished when Wagner Group officials complained that they lost 20,000 troops killed and many more wounded during the long battle for the city.
Wagner accused the Defense Ministry of not supplying the mercenaries with sufficient ammunition and supplies to speed up the fighting and reduce Russian (especially Wagner) losses. Ukraine does not release casualty data but it was obvious from satellite photos and reports from eyewitnesses that Ukrainian casualties were much lower because the Russians were doing most of the attacking without using many armored vehicles or tanks. Ukrainian forces largely fought from inside buildings or well-protected bunkers and had several safe (from enemy fire) displacement routes prepared so that the Ukrainian troops could safely abandon a position and move to another. These protected routes were also used to bring in supplies or evacuate casualties. The Internet chatter about losses in Bakhmut confirmed the heavier Russian losses.
Some Ukrainians criticized the defense of the city because of the Ukrainian losses. In the end, the Battle for Bakhmut absorbed all the offensive forces available to the Russians and lost most of those troops, taking a city where a proclaimed victory was an embarrassing defeat. Russia is rebuilding an offensive force in Russia but this process won’t be complete for another year. Meanwhile, the reluctant conscripts and mobilized reservists in Ukraine have little training, few weapons, and poor leadership. Russia is also training more junior combat officers to replace the heavy losses suffered in early 2022.
Most of the Russian losses at Bakhmut were not Russian soldiers but Russian mercenaries working for the Wagner Group, a private military contractor organization formed in 2014 on the order of Vladimir Putin. He asked Yevgeny Prigozhin, one of the wealthy Russian businessmen who backed Putin, to organize it and that included finding an experienced special operations officer to run day-to-day operations. This turned out to be retired spetsnaz Lt. Col. Dmitry Utkin, whose code name was “Wagner.” Utkin understood that Wagner Group was created for carrying out illegal military operations outside Russia. The first of these was the 2014 seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.
Wagner Group has been in Ukraine ever since and increased its personnel there to over 50,000 by 2022. A smaller number of Wagner Group personnel work worldwide as highly paid mercenaries working for foreign governments, especially in Africa. Wagner Group requires large payments from the Russian government to keep its operations going and expanding. These payments are illegal, if only because private military contractors are illegal in Russia. Recently additional military contractor organizations have been created by influential Russian businessmen. To many Russians, this proliferation of private armies seems to be the prelude to another Russian Civil War…more.
The Propaganda War
There are a lot of them these days, but the push and pull over the Russian invasion of Ukraine is fierce. One look at the map shows that while much of the gains Russia made early were retaken, the lines are now static with neither party having the capacity to launch a theater-wide or even regional offensive of any consequence.
** Last week Germany announced that, after the government statistics agency revised its recent GDP figures, it was clear that the country was in recession. In recent history, it has tended to hold up well as the global economy softened relative to some of Europe’s weaker economies. But this time it seems that Germany is leading the pack into recession.
This is because the recession that is currently looming over Europe is fundamentally different from previous iterations. The coming recession is no simple turning of the business cycle. Instead, it could be the beginning of the deindustrialization of the European economy, which no longer has access to cheap Russian energy.
I guess that the bridge won’t hold 50 tons after all.