A Blog by Jonathan Low


May 11, 2023

Russian Military Teeters On Brink of Chaos As Ukraine Advances At Bakhmut

There appears to be increasing confusion and lack of cohesion among the Russian army, Wagner mercenaries and other private Russian military groups in Ukraine. 

This is not the counteroffensive, but Ukraine is taking advantage of these tactical failures and is advancing where it can do so easily, which will help aid the counteroffensive when it comes. JL   

Mark Sumner reports in Daily Kos:

With Russia in disarray, Ukrainian forces have made advances; one south of Bakhmut, where Ukrainian forces drove more than a kilometer into an area occupied by Russia and took down a line of artillery. The second happened 20 km west of Vuhledar. Wagner mercenaries and Russian military forces have been ordered not to talk with each other, probably so Wagner forces couldn’t inform those troops how bad things were. Ukrainian forces around Bakhmut seem to have stopped backpedaling and begun pushing forward against a Russian military that no longer seems to have coherent plans.

On Wednesday, the disconnect between the reportedly departing Wagner Group mercenaries and Russian military forces moving to take their positions appeared to be getting worse. Not only were there reports the two sides had been ordered not to talk with each other—probably so Wagner forces couldn’t inform those troops just how bad things were at the actual front—there were also multiple videos on Wednesday morning of Russians in the area simply surrendering.

With Russia in disarray, Ukrainian forces have reportedly made advances in at least two areas. One of those is just south of Bakhmut, near the town of Bila Hora, where Ukrainian forces reportedly drove more than a kilometer into an area that had been occupied by Russia and took down a line of artillery. The second advance happened on the southern front, around 20 km west of Russia’s perpetual failure point at Vuhledar. In this area, Ukrainian forces also reportedly pushed the Russians back more than a kilometer.

As this was going on, Russia apparently tried to launch a mini-offensive in the north, attacking multiple objectives around Kupyansk and in the area around Kreminna. None of these seem to have left Russia in possession of any new territory, but they did rack up a lot of fresh scrap, with the Ukrainian military reporting 18 armored transports and two tanks destroyed.

That would be twice as many tanks as appeared in Moscow’s Victory Day parade.

When looked at on a map of the entire front, the number of Russian assaults still seems to greatly exceed the number of points where Ukraine attempted to advance.

Front line activity

With the Ukrainian military reporting 45 assaults by Russian forces over the last 24 hours, it may still be the case that Russia is more active. However, many of these are likely to be the small squad-sized operations Russia has routinely conducted as a means of “reconnaissance by force.” Since Russia has poor satellite data and generally much worse intelligence than Ukraine, these sorts of feeling-out operations are what they have when it comes to detecting the positions of Ukrainian forces.

The high level of activity in the northern half of the line likely represents either rumors—or hope—that Ukraine had shifted forces away from this area, leaving some opening through which Russia might secure an advance. Given that they still haven’t been able to take Bakhmut, and that Vladimir Putin was left without any victories to talk about on Victory Day, it’s entirely possible they’re looking for something, anything, that could be held up as a win. If that’s the case, they didn’t find it on Wednesday when the Ukrainian general staff reported every one of Russia’s advances was rebuffed.

One of the areas where Ukraine reportedly made advances was that spot in the south, which is along a highway running between the village of Zolota Nyva on the Ukrainian side, and the Russia-occupied town of Novodonetske. If Ukraine advanced as far as some accounts suggest, that may be the “formerly” Russian-occupied town, but at the moment, there’s no confirmation from the Ukrainian military.

It would be great to notch a new “Ukraine liberates the town of…” for the next update. We haven’t had one of those in way too long.

The other reported area of Ukrainian advance was near Bakhmut, in the direction of the town of Klishchiivka, which the Russians captured back in February. Ukrainian forces reportedly moved from locations near Ivaniske and Stupochky to assault Russian defensive lines along the edge of a secondary road and a drainage ditch, successfully dislodging Russian forces and destroying a series of artillery guns. And this time, there are videos to support the claims.

This is an area where Wagner is reportedly handing over to the 72nd Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Russian armed forces. But to say that handoff isn’t going smoothly is badly understating the situation.

There have since been claims that those numbers included above, which had indicated 64 Russian service members lost, wasn’t even half of the actual losses. Unconfirmed reports state that Russian forces lost two entire companies, which would be between 200 and 300 men. The 72nd Brigade of the Russian military is said to be in complete disarray and no longer effective.

Reports of what happened from Russian sources suggest that Wagner shifted some of their troops off the line to address a Ukrainian attack at another point. But because the two groups didn’t communicate, the regular military troops didn’t know this was happening. That left the 72nd with a line of artillery with no screen of infantry to protect them. And Ukraine noticed.

Descriptions of the Ukrainian advance state that Russia was pushed out of an area over three square kilometers (or Ukraine may have advanced 3km, there are statements putting it both ways). As soon as I have some better definitions of the current conditions, I’ll update the front lines.

None of this represents “the counteroffensive” that everyone is expecting. The Ukrainian general staff continues to show new equipment entering the country and thousands of soldiers training away from the front lines. The counteroffensive could begin tomorrow, or it may not start for months. In the meantime, Ukrainian forces around Bakhmut seem to have stopped backpedaling and begun pushing forward against a Russian military that no longer seems to have any coherent plans.

This doesn’t mean that Russian guns have gone silent. Wagner Group is reported to be still fighting intensely on the north side of the city and forces from the 57th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade are reported to be pushing in from the east to occupy former Wagner positions. The situation is anything but calm or stable.

But those internecine squabbles within the Russian force attacking Bakhmut are starting to have real consequences on the ground. Whether those effects will go beyond this small advance aren’t clear, but we can hope.

Going back to that message translated by Dmitri…

Russians: “We haven’t seen battalions of the LNR and DNR for a long time, are they still fighting?”
LNR and DNR: “Where are all the Russian armed forces?”
First brigade: “Wagner stole a tank from us.”
Wagner: “They crushed our pickup.”
The Russian military: “The Chechens were not there at all, just us.”
Then Prigozhin and Kadyrov stab each other while Girkin throws shit on everyone.

When Russia is tearing its own military apart so effectively, it’s almost a shame to attack them.


Over the last 24 hours there have been multiple videos of Russians surrendering near Bakhmut, including one where the Russian soldier strips off his uniform and runs onto the field under fire from his own forces before diving into a trench and kneeling in front of Ukrainian troops. I rarely run videos of these surrenders, or any video showing prisoners. However, this one of a Russian soldier surrendering to a Ukrainian drone is worth seeing (and you can’t see the soldier’s face).

One big question from both of these videos: Why do these guys seem to be the only ones remaining in a large section of Russian trenches? Were they left to hold a position after their units retreated?


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