A Blog by Jonathan Low


Nov 17, 2022

Russia's Wagner Group Fails To Take Bakhmut After 6 Months, Thousands of Lives

There is no strategic value to the Donbas town of Bakhmut, but that has not stopped the Wagner Group from attempting again and again and again to take it. And failing every time. 

The issue seems to be a point of pride for Wagner - to prove it is better than the Russian army. But so far the goal remains elusive and as Ukraine is now able to transfer battle-hardened troops from Kherson to Bakhmut, will likely remain so. JL 

Daily Kos reports:

Six months later, Russia is still banging its head against Bakhmut. There isn’t anything strategic about Bakhmut. It does nothing to advance Russia’s broader war aims. Thousands of soldiers have lost their lives, on both sides, for land that means nothing to the overall outcome of the war. That’s what’s left of the Russian war effort—small, strategically irrelevant assaults in a handful of places, while Ukraine liberates entire oblasts. Russia celebrates tactical advances measuring in the dozens of meters, while Ukraine gains in the thousands of square kilometers. Let's talk about Bakhmut,  the darkest, most difficult corner of Ukraine.While Ukraine might be advancing everywhere else, Russia (and its Wagner war-criminal mercenaries) are still trying desperately to notch their victory in this godforsaken slice of the Donbas. 

You might remember Popasna, to the east of Bakhmut, from way earlier in the war. Russia captured it on May 7. It is 32 kilometers from Popasna to Bakhmut, and yet here we are, more than six months later, and Russia is still banging its head against the town. And as we’ve mentioned time and time again, there isn’t even anything special or strategic about Bakhmut. It does literally nothing to advance Russia’s broader war aims. Thousands of soldiers have lost their lives, on both sides, for a plot of land that means nothing to the overall outcome of the war. 

I’m bringing it up today because of this: 

This is remarkable, but it’s not the first time this has happened. I was fooled almost exactly a month ago into thinking Russia’s Bakhmut campaign had culminated. In fact, it was just a short pause. This might be a short pause. 

Ukraine has been rushing reinforcements from the new, victorious Kherson front to shore up this front. Russian sources report HIMARS have been working this front, which stymie their ability to properly resource any attacks. And 155mm barrel artillery will make it harder for Russians to surge forward in the no-man’s land between their positions and Bakhmut. It’s legit desolate, hostile terrain for any attacker. 

We’ve oft celebrated the Ukrainian defenders on these difficult Donbas lines, as Ukraine first trained and equipped entire new brigades, then used them to launch successful counteroffensives in Kharkiv and Kherson oblast. It is fitting that those fighting around Bakhmut finally get their well-deserved reinforcements. 

Wagner, for its part, is trying to explain away its failures. 

A report on the ongoing battles of the Wagner Group for the liberation of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. Someone, most of the opponents, has recently begun to jokingly say, well, how much longer will Wagner release him? In principle, against the backdrop of a number of large and lightning-fast successes of the enemy in the Kharkov and Kherson regions, the irony of the enemy is quite justified, only on those fronts where our allies retreated, the fighters of the “orchestra” did not conduct either offensive or defensive actions.

The “Wagner Group” has its own front and its own range of tasks, which is provided by the forces and means of the Office itself, for example, earlier, with the main participation, as well as all possible assistance from our republican allied forces, such large settlements as Severodonetsk (population ~105,000 people), Lisichansk (population ~98,000 people) and Popasnaya (population ~19,000 people). Having completed the above military campaigns, the “musicians”, by occupying approaches with other settlements, reached Bakhmut by July 29 (population ~ 73,000 people).

With its own forces, the Wagner Group ensures a slow but productive advance solely on its own, which is much smaller in relative comparison than the armed forces of Russia or Ukraine. In addition, both the leadership of the "orchestra" and its fighters have never said anything "hating" in relation to the enemy. On the contrary, it has been repeatedly stated that the Ukrainian side is putting up strong and worthy resistance there, realizing for its part the strategic importance of the city. In fact, Bakhmut has been turned into one big fortress, including its outskirts. Rotation after rotation of the enemy makes an attempt to hold the settlement and the front. So everything is known in comparison and objective analysis, for this reason, progress and results are on our side. At least no one from the Wagner Group spoke about Bakhmut for three days.

LOL okay. “We’re not the Russian army, we’ve got our own corner, and we’re doing just fine, thank you.” I wonder what will happen when Wagner runs out of prison cannon fodder. Maybe that already happened. I do love how sensitive they are to being ridiculed for their failures. They deserve all the scorn headed their way. 

Meanwhile, we recently took a look at Russia’s disastrous efforts to take Pavlivka, farther south on the Donbas front line. 


See that east-west dark line, south of Pavlivka? That is the only rail line from Mariupol and the original Russian-held Donbas to Melitopol. It is currently under “fire control” from Ukrainian artillery. Speculation is that Russia is trying to move the Ukrainian front line farther north, away from that rail line. 

Ukraine has plenty of ways to reach that rail line without its shorter-range 155mm howitzers, so it won’t be operational as long as Russia occupies that territory. But whatever their motivations, it looks as if the town is getting the Bakhmut treatment—wave after wave of Russian attacks.

Indeed, both sides are now claiming that the town is a trap designed to continuously lull Russians into successive attacks. Ukrainians are gleefully celebrating the trap. Russians are… well, they are not.  Funny enough, propaganda Telegram sources have claimed Pavlivka conquered multiple times over the past week. Yet when the sun rises the next morning, there’s new video of yet another failed Russian assault. At worst, the rubble of the town is now a gray zone, with neither side occupying it, but with Ukraine holding advantageous defensive high-ground positio

Russian milblogger Alexander Khodakovsky, who has nearly 650,000 followers on Telegram, reports on Russia’s ongoing disaster: 

I will continue the publication, moving from general reasoning to specifics - I will return to the ill-fated Pavlovka. When the idea was hatched, it was assumed that the offensive would go in two directions. The brigade commanders and I, discussing our ability to develop such an offensive at the current moment in time, came to the conclusion that it was unequivocally impossible to realize this plan: the reinforcements were not trained, no matter how they saved it, it was only enough for the first surge ... But the brigade commanders , who had to solve the problem, could not reach out to those who were above them - those who needed any result at any cost.

The superiors then [...] turned off the offensive plan in two directions and threw all the poor forces on Pavlovka, like in a furnace, without stretching the enemy and giving him the opportunity to concentrate all his attention on a narrow area. We have already learned that we have turned off the second direction in the process. And when I wrote that I consider the offensive premature, but I hope for success - we did not know this, and therefore ... we hoped, although we understood that there were not enough forces [...]

Now that planning errors have led to unjustified losses with a meager result, they want to blame the brigade commander of the fortieth, allegedly because he was too slow on his flank, which led to the losses of his colleagues from one hundred and fifty-fifth. They want to hang a criminal case on the peasant and make it extreme in a situation where it was clear to everyone that only those who formed the plan were guilty, and not the executors who fulfilled their duty to the end. It would be right for Commander-in-Chief Surovikin to study this episode in detail and not allow an innocent person to be devoured.

If you read my original story on Pavlivka, you might remember the 155th as the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade of the Russian Pacific Fleet, a more capable unit than your typical Russian cannon fodder. It had been half wiped out in this “furnace,” and it looks like they’re trying to scapegoat its commander, per this report. 

So that’s what’s left of the Russian war effort—small, strategically irrelevant assaults in a handful of places, while Ukraine liberates entire oblasts. Russia celebrates tactical advances measuring in the dozens of meters, while Ukraine shapes the battlefield for gains in the thousands of square kilometers.



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