The Institute for the Study of War reported that the Russian Ministry of Defense is “likely seizing the opportunity to deliberately expend both elite and convict Wagner forces in Bakhmut,” in its latest update on March 12.
The report provides a timeline of the rivalry between Wagner mercenary group leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Chief of the Russian General Staff General Valery Gerasimov.
According to the report, Kremlin’s alleged strategy to expend Wagner forces in the battle for Bakhmut comes after the Prigozhin’s “relentless defamation campaign” against Russian MoD that began in May 2022. The campaign focused on the Russian military’s failures during the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kharkiv and Donetsk oblasts and reserve call-up in the fall.
As Prigozhin’s ambition and criticisms of the regime insiders within MoD alarmed Putin, Wagner is unlikely to return to the level of support they received from him in the spring of 2022. Instead, Wagner forces will likely be used “as a scapegoat for the costly drive on Bakhmut once the offensive culminates,” the D.C.-based think tank's assessment said.
The report comes amid Wagner’s attempts to recruit more members by opening new recruitment centers in 42 Russian cities.
The costs of the drive on Bakhmut have included significant personnel losses among Russian forces. Serhiy Cherevatyi, Ukraine’s Eastern Military Command spokesperson, said 239 Russian soldiers were killed and another 293 injured in the front line sector around Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast on March 12.