War in Ukraine: in Bakhmout, the chaotic offensive of Wagner’s forces

War in Ukraine in Bakhmout the chaotic offensive of Wagners

After months of standing still, will Wagner’s forces finally succeed in taking Bakhmout? According to Russian sources, the mercenaries of this private militia, founded by Russian oligarch Yevgueni Prigojine, managed to advance on Sunday in the outskirts of this small town in eastern Ukraine. It has been four months since the paramilitary group of this close friend of Vladimir Putin has been trying – in vain – to progress in this area described by the Ukrainian army as “one of the hottest points” in the Donetsk region.

“Prigojine is trying to win a victory in Bakhmout, to show that his Wagner militia is more efficient than the Russian army, underlines General Dominique Trinquand, military expert and former head of the French mission to the UN. But until then, his results tended rather to prove the opposite.” To win this military trophy, the boss of Wagner, who opened an official headquarters in Saint Petersburg on Friday, did not hesitate to sacrifice his men.

“Cannon fodder”

“It’s here [à Bakhmoutt] that the madness of the Russian command is the most obvious. Day after day, for months, they have been leading people to their deaths,” Volodymyr Zelensky said on October 26. According to his adviser Oleksiy Arestovych, the Russians would record there “in a low range” between 100 and 200 deaths per day.” Prigojine uses his men as cannon fodder, which is not surprising when you see the way some of them are recruited”, points out General Trinquand.

Last September, Wagner’s boss was filmed enlisting inmates in a Russian prison, offering them pay and amnesty in exchange for their services. “Those who advance, those who are the most brazen, most often survive. Those who arrive at the front and say from the first day that this place is not for them are considered deserters, and will be executed”, warned – he then, in the middle of a crowd of prisoners. A practice that goes back at least to the beginning of July, according to the Russian site for the defense of human rights Gulagu.net. In mid-October, Volodymyr Zelensky had indicated that around 2,000 detainees had been recruited.

Limited strategic interest

From a strategic point of view, the interest of taking Bakhmout seems quite limited. “When we see the efforts made by the Russians, seizing Bakhmout would look like a Pyrrhic victory, points out General (2S) Jérôme Pellistrandi, editor-in-chief of the National Defense Review. Behind, they will no longer have sufficient resources to launch a major offensive.” And this, especially since the winter will complicate any operation of this type. At the very least, this military success would make it possible to offer a symbolic victory to Moscow, at a time when its position seems increasingly precarious in Kherson, on the western bank of the Dnieper river.

Less than a first-rate victory capable of turning the tide of the war, Wagner’s determination to take Bakhmout seems more linked to the personal ambitions of its leader. “Prigojine has made this town the symbol of his militia’s involvement in this war. He cannot afford to fail to take it,” said General Trinquand. “It would be a personal snub for him and it would pose a credibility problem for the Wagner group, which is engaged in other theaters such as Syria or Mali, agrees General Pellistrandi. Hence the need for Prigojine to obtain success tactics in Bakhmout.” And this, whatever the price.