Report: Russia May Be Trying to 'Deliberately Expend' Wagner Forces

Group has taken heavy losses in Bakhmut
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 13, 2023 12:50 PM CDT
Report: Russia May Be Trying to 'Deliberately Expend' Wagner Forces
Ukrainian soldiers fire a self-propelled howitzer towards Russian positions near Bakhmut, Ukraine, Sunday, March 5, 2023.   (AP Photo/Libkos)

As fierce fighting in and around the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut continues, both sides are taking heavy casualties—but Moscow may not be troubled by some of the losses, according to the Institute for the Study of War. A Sunday report from the think-tank states that Russia's defense ministry is likely using the battle as an opportunity to weaken the Wagner mercenary group and its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has openly criticized military leadership. The military "may be trying to deliberately expend both elite and convict Wagner forces in Bakhmut," hoping to derail Prigozhin's "ambitions for greater influence in the Kremlin," the report states.

Commanders on both sides have called the battle for Bakhmut a "meat grinder" and Western officials estimate 20,000 to 30,000 Russian fighters have been killed or injured, Business Insider reports. On Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky estimated 1,100 Russians had been killed in the last few days, and Russian officials said 220 Ukrainians had been killed in the last 24 hours, the Guardian reports. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, head of Ukraine's ground forces, said Ukrainian troops are "inflicting the heaviest possible losses, sparing neither themselves nor the enemy."

Wagner fighters, many of them recruited from prisons, have been in the forefront of the fight for Bakhmut for months but they failed to meet Moscow's deadline of seizing the city by the end of December, the ISW report notes. It predicts that Vladimir Putin will continue trying to push his former ally Prigozhin to the sidelines, and "will likely use Wagner’s high casualties, reports about poor morale, and war crimes to deflect from likely equal or possibly worse problems within the Russian Armed Forces." In a video released Saturday, Prigozhin appeared to mock military commanders and repeated his demand for more ammunition, Al Jazeera reports. He said he was speaking from a building near the center of Bakhmut. (More Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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