Russian regular army forces are likely replacing units of the exhausted mercenary group Wagner Group in order to maintain the offensive in Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast, after heavy losses sustained during the capture of Soledar and nearby areas in January, the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest update.
Combat footage posted on Jan. 20 indicates that Russian Airborne Forces are operating around Bakhmut, which had previously been almost exclusively the purview of Wagner.
Russian forces are attempting to prevent Ukraine from regaining the initiative ahead of a planned large-scale offensive in Donbas, but they likely lack the combat power necessary to sustain more than one major offensive operation while fixing Ukrainian forces in the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts, the report said.
No open-source evidence suggests that Russian forces have regenerated sufficient combat power from their losses in the early phases of the war to conduct simultaneous large-scale mechanized offensives in the next several months.
One anonymous US official quoted by the ISW reportedly stated on Jan. 5 that the Wagner group had sustained more than 4,100 deaths and 10,000 wounded, including over 1,000 killed between November and December near Bakhmut.
Up to 300 mercenaries from Wagner were reportedly brought to a hosputal in the town of Yuvlineyvy in Luhansk Oblast, but doctors reportedly refused to provide medical assistance to the mercenaries since most of them were sick with HIV/AIDS, syphilis, tuberculosis, and pneumonia, according to a Jan. 29 report from the Ukrainian General Staff.
Of the 50,000 convicts recruited by mercenary company Wagner Group from the Russian prison system, only 10,000 remain in the military ranks, according to Olga Romanova, head of Russia Behind Bars, an NGO that protects the rights of convicts.
The rest have deserted or have been killed or wounded, she said.
The Wagner Group is Russia’s most high-profile mercenary group and was founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch, Putin confidant, and a former convict.
Along with the Russian military, the group has taken part in the battles for Soledar and Bakhmut in eastern Donetsk Oblast. Wagner is known for its human rights abuses all over the world.