War in Ukraine: in difficulty in Bakhmout, kyiv says it wants to “strengthen its positions” against Wagner

War in Ukraine: in difficulty in Bakhmout, kyiv says it wants to “strengthen its positions” against Wagner

“Bahmut will fall. We’re almost surrounded. The units are gradually withdrawing in small groups”. The testimony of this soldier differs somewhat from the communications from kyiv. On the front, pessimism is in order. The Kiev army, however, announced on Monday its intention to “reinforce” its positions in this sector, the epicenter of the fighting in the east of the country, refuting speculation of a withdrawal against Russian troops. of the Wagner group trying to encircle this symbolic city.

An agglomeration of some 70,000 inhabitants before the war, Bakhmout has become, because of the length of the battle and the heavy losses incurred by both sides, the symbol of the struggle between Russians and Ukrainians for control of the industrial region of Donbass . Russian troops have advanced in recent weeks north and south of the city, cutting off three of Ukraine’s four supply routes and leaving only the one leading further west to Chassiv Iar as an exit route.

Despite the threat of encirclement and the city’s limited strategic importance, the Ukrainians continue to fiercely defend Bakhmout, where President Zelensky visited in December and vowed to hold out “as long as possible”. And they don’t seem to be about to fall back: while rumors of a withdrawal have been rife for a week, the commanders-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces “have come out in favor of the continuation of the defensive operation and a strengthening of positions in Bakhmout” during a meeting on Monday with the Head of State Volodymyr Zelensky, said the Ukrainian presidency.

While some analysts question the interest for Ukrainians to cling to this now devastated city, the American think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW) estimated in a note that the defense of Bakhmout remained “strategically sensible” because it “continues to drain Russian manpower and equipment”. The ISW nevertheless estimated on Sunday evening that the Ukrainian army was “probably in the process of carrying out a tactical retreat of limited scope” in Bakhmout.

Wagner in trouble?

On the Russian side, the boss of Wagner Yevgeny Prigozhin who multiplied the statements praising the merit of his men in recent weeks, accused him, for the second time in less than two weeks, the Russian army for not sending enough ammunition to its mercenaries. He mentioned two possible reasons for the delay: “ordinary bureaucracy or betrayal”.

Last month, this close to Putin had multiplied the virulent criticism of the Russian Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, and the Chief of Staff, Valeri Guerassimov, accusing them of wanting to eliminate Wagner by refusing them what he needs to fight. In a sign that tensions persist, in a video posted over the weekend, Yevgeny Prigojine appeared to warn the Russian army, saying that “if Wagner withdraws now from Bakhmout, the whole front will collapse “.

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