Possible repercussions of Wagner's control of Ukrainian Bakhmut
The unofficial Russian "Wagner" militia announced the control of the city of Bakhmut in the Ukrainian Donbass region on May 21, 2023.
This announcement came after nearly nine months of bloody confrontations in this small city. This confrontation led to a very great human loss on both sides of the conflict is the longest in the war in Ukraine so far.
Bakhmut does not bear great strategic importance battle-field-wise, but it has become of high importance with regard to fighters’ moral, due to the Russians focus on it; as they are looking for any victory, after a field stalemate that lasted for nearly ten months. During these months, Moscow did not achieve any progress, but rather shifted to a defence position.
The battle provided both sides with a time opportunity for recruiting forces and general mobilization, fortify the rest of the fronts, and emphasize the solidity of the position internally and externally. It’s importance comes from he fact that most of the battle took place in the winter period, when the two sides cannot carry out major offensive military operations.
The fall of Bakhmut in the hands of the Russian forces is expected to lead to a number of repercussions; most notably:
1) Strengthening the influence of the "Wagner" forces and their leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, within the narrow circle close to Putin. The process of controlling Bakhmut came after the Russian Ministry of Defense responded to the demands of the Wagner leader to increase its armament, after he accused ministry of negligence and not supplying Prigozhin with the necessary weapons for winning the battle.
2) The confrontations will move to other areas on the eastern or southern fronts. It is expected that the Ukrainian forces will work on a “mobile defense” strategy based on launching sporadic attacks in areas that confuse the Russian forces to prevent them from carrying out attacks in the Ukrainian depth, similar to what happened in the Belgorod attack of May 22, 2023.
3) Pushing the United States of America and European countries to accelerate their military aid to Ukraine in order to maintain a balance of power and prevent collapses in the Ukrainian army after Bakhmut. Furthermore; there is currently talk about British and Dutch efforts to form an operations room whose mission is to train Ukrainian aviation officers on F-16 planes. Germany is also heading towards training new batches to use Leopard tanks.
The Russian forces have two options after capturing Bakhmut; either to advance west along the T0504 highway to Kostyantynivka, or to move northwest along the E40 to Slovyansk,. The heavy Ukrainian fortifications in both directions; however, are likely to cause significant losses against the attacking Russian forces.
Mostly, however, we will witness a major escalation after Bakhmut. This escalation is related to the moral surplus of the Russian forces; but it is more related to the long Russian preparations for the spring and summer battle, as Moscow seeks to complete its control over the rest of the Donbass region before the onset of winter. These endeavors; however, will face great challenges, given that the rest of the areas in that region are higher than sea level and better fortified by the Ukrainian forces. Such a situation reinforces the belief that the confrontations in Ukraine will last and turn into a war of attrition.