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Russians change priority of capturing Bakhmut to prepare for counteroffensive

Saturday, 6 May 2023, 03:54
Russians change priority of capturing Bakhmut to prepare for counteroffensive

Experts from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) have pointed to a shift in the priorities of the Russian Ministry of Defence. The Russians are changing the offensive on Bakhmut to prepare for an expected counteroffensive by the Ukrainian Defence Forces.

Source: ISW

Details: Experts have said that the Russian Ministry of Defence appears to have shifted the priority of capturing Bakhmut in favour of preparing for defence against an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive, putting the Wagner Group and its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin in a potentially difficult position.


Prigozhin released a series of videos on 4 and 5 May, announcing that Wagnerites would leave Bakhmut on 10 May if they did not receive the necessary supplies, and launched particularly harsh and emotional attacks against Army General Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the Russian General Staff, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, and the leadership of the Russian Ministry of Defence in general.

The report points out that despite the shift in priorities of the Russian Armed Forces leadership, the Wagner Group has not stopped trying to completely capture Bakhmut.

Analysts believe that the Wagner Group's continued hold on Bakhmut is inconsistent with the overall slowdown in Russian offensive operations in other parts of Ukraine, as regular Russian troops appear to be shifting their focus to preparing for the long-awaited counteroffensive by Ukraine.

With the exception of very limited and localised attacks near Kreminna and Donetsk, Russian forces have largely ceased offensive operations across the entire battlefield, which likely means a shift to defence.

Quote: "It would be an operationally sound decision for the Russian Ministry of Defence to begin withholding and stockpiling ammunition and supplies in order to prepare for any Ukrainian counteroffensive actions, and Prigozhin’s desperate statements indicate that the Russian Ministry of Defence is likely doing so."

More details: The Russian occupation authorities have announced the forced relocation of 70,000 civilians from the occupied Zaporizhzhia Oblast to the rear under the pretext of evacuation. Yevhen Balytskyi, the occupying head of Zaporizhzhia Oblast, and deputy head Andrii Kozenko announced on 5 May that the Russian authorities would carry out a partial evacuation of 70,000 Ukrainian civilians.

Experts have concluded that the location of these settlements so far from the current contact line indicates that Russian troops are planning a controlled combat withdrawal from their current positions to a prepared defence line rather than trying to hold the current line of contact in the event of a possible Ukrainian counteroffensive.

To quote the ISW's Key Takeaways on 5 May: 

  • The Russian Ministry of Defence appears to have deprioritized the Bakhmut offensive in favor of preparing to defend against an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive, putting the Wagner Group and Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin in a potentially difficult position.
  • Wagner’s continued persistence within Bakhmut is incongruent with the overall slow-down in the pace of Russian operations elsewhere in Ukraine as conventional Russian forces appear to largely be shifting focus to prepare to receive the much-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive.
  • Recently dismissed former Deputy Minister of Defence for Logistics Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev is reportedly serving as deputy commander of the Wagner Group, likely as part of Wagner’s campaign to retain access to Russian military supplies.
  • Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered newly-appointed Deputy Minister for Logistics Alexei Kuzmenkov to control the supply of weapons and equipment to Russian forces in Ukraine.
  • Russian occupation authorities announced the forced removal of 70,000 civilians in occupied Zaporizhia Oblast to areas deeper in the Russian-occupied rear under the guise of evacuations.
  • The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs proposed a draft bill aimed at appealing to growing anti-migrant sentiments in Russia and supporting the Russian military’s efforts to recruit migrants.
  • Russian Human Rights Council head Valery Fadeev reportedly stated that Russian authorities should regulate Telegram channels similarly to how Russia censors state-controlled media.
  • Russian forces conducted ground attacks near Kreminna and Avdiivka and made marginal gains within Bakhmut.
  • Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted limited counterattacks near Bakhmut.
  • The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed it prevented a Ukrainian assassination attempt against an occupation deputy of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) on May 5.
  • Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov continues his own personal force generation efforts aimed at securing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s favor.
  • Russian occupation authorities continue measures to strengthen social control of occupied territories.

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