After months of intense ground warfare in eastern Ukraine, Russian forces appear to be losing steam amid high casualty rates and lackluster armament the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces said Thursday.
“The aggressor is not giving up hope of taking Bakhmut at any cost, despite losses in manpower and equipment,” Oleksandr Syrskyi, Commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, said in a Telegram post translated by Pravda. “Sparing no expense, they are taking considerable losses and running out of breath.”
Syrskyi said the majority of the Russian forces fighting in the region continue to be Wagner mercenary troops, despite an alleged push by the defense ministry to stop relying heavily on the for-hire soldiers.
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Last month Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Wagner and once a top ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin, accused the defense ministry of purposefully withholding arms shipments to his men in a move to dismantle the mercenary group.
The ministry has denied such claims and suggested arms supplies have just fallen behind, though cracks in Russia’s war effort continue to emerge as tensions over strategy continue to be brought to the public’s attention.
Earlier this week, Prigozhin issued a letter to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu urging him to back his Wagner forces in Bakhmut and warned of a Ukrainian plot to cut off his men from Russia’s military supply lines.
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In the letter, which Prigozhin made public, he said that “in late March, early April” Ukrainian troops will attempt to strike Wagner positions on Bakhmut “to cut off Wagner units from the main forces of the Russian armed forces.”
The Wagner chief also claimed that his troops control 70% of the city, though he said this position would be put at risk if Ukraine is successful, adding it would have “negative consequences for the special military operation.”
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It is unclear how the defense ministry will respond, though the British Ministry of Defense on Tuesday said Wagner forces were at risk of becoming depleted as they are no longer allowed to accept recruits from Russia’s penal system and noted that many of the recruit’s 6-month service time is almost up – suggesting there could be a large exodus from the mercenary force.
The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces said Thursday that “very soon” his troops will be able to “take advantage of this opportunity” in Bakhmut and will look to expel Russian troops, similar to moves it took against Russian positions across the Kharkiv region and around Kyiv.