Wagner Group mercenaries have likely secured the western administrative borders of Bakhmut, but at the cost of depleting their capabilities for future military actions, the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest assessment on May 21.
“Russian forces will likely need additional reinforcements to hold Bakhmut City and its flanks at the expense of operations in other directions,” the think tank said.
Ukrainian hold over the city has been reduced to an “insignificant” part of southwestern Bakhmut around the T0504 highway.
In the meantime, Ukraine’s troops hold the initiative in the city’s outskirts and their advances threaten Wagner troops with encirclement.
Attempts by Russian regular forces to regain positions in the outskirts have been unsuccessful, the ISW wrote.
In an unspecified location, the Ukrainian military claims to have expanded a salient to 1,750 meters wide by 700 meters deep.
Both Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Group founder, and the Kremlin are attempting to leverage the success in Bakhmut for propaganda purposes.
While Prigozhin tries to claim it solely as an achievement of his forces, Russian state propaganda presents it as an opening step toward Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, and Dnipro. Russian military bloggers offer a more sobering look, pointing out the limited significance of the city and warning of the upcoming Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Wagner’s own troops have reportedly been severely depleted by the long fight of attrition and are unlikely to continue any military action in their current state.
“Russian conventional forces will be even more unlikely to pursue offensive operations if Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin delivers on his stated intent to withdraw Wagner personnel from Bakhmut City on May 25,” the ISW commented.
Ten months after Russia's assault on the once-flourishing city in Donetsk Oblast began, Bakhmut was effectively occupied by Russian troops.
This hasn’t been confirmed yet by Kyiv, but is evident based on both official statements and those made by soldiers on the ground to the Kyiv Independent.