Bakhmut has fallen to the Russians

The head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, announced May 20 that all of Bakhmut has been taken. He also said that on May 25 the Wagner forces will hand over control to the Russian army and pull back for rest and retraining. Some Wagner forces will be used in defensive positions that are not sent back for training and rest, writes “Asia Times’.

While Ukrainian sources are claiming Bakhmut was ‘unimportant’, the long battle over nine months was ordered by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, reportedly against the advice of his military commanders.

There are now unconfirmed rumors circulating on Telegram Messenger, where most of the Russian “mil” bloggers operate, that Ukraine’s top general, Valerii Zaluzhny, may be dead. He has not been seen or heard from for some days. 

Also strange is that Zelensky himself would run off to the G-7 meeting in Hiroshima, Japan just as one of Ukraine’s most important battles concluded. There is a sense, no more than that, that there is substantial political turmoil in Kiev that could change the direction of the country and the war.

…Bakhmut is a city of 75,000, at least before the war, in the Donetsk region and is strategically located. It is known as “Salt City,” which refers to the huge underground salt mines that are actually located nearby in Soledar, which fell to the Russians in late January of this year.

The city is a major roadway nexus and also features important rail connections. According to recent reports, the Wagner forces were surprised to find some civilians still living in the devastated city.

Prigozhin thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin. “And thanks to Vladimir  Putin for giving us this opportunity and the high honor of defending our homeland.” He also thanked Generals Sergei Surovikin and Mikhail Mizintsev, who “made it possible to carry out this difficult operation.”

The role of these two top Russian generals in Wagner indicates that the group has transitioned fully from a “private” military organization to a part of the Russian armed forces, and thus follows Russian command decisions in its operations. While Prigozhin is the face of Wagner, he has no military experience.

Almost all standing structures in Bakhmut have been damaged severely or destroyed completely. The Ukrainian army actually blew up a number of buildings as they retreated so Wagner forces could not use them for firing platforms.

It isn’t clear what next steps will be carried out by the Russian army. On the previous night, Russia carried out another large-scale bombing of Ukrainian targets and also claimed they shot down a number of HIMARS rockets and Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

There is still fighting on Bakhmut’s northern flank outside the city, but after some gains by the Ukrainian army, the Russians are now reversing them and retaking lost ground.