Fog of War: Russian Mercenary Chief Claims Bakhmut Breakthrough, Ukraine Says Situation is ‘Critical’

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Russian mercenary group, claimed on Saturday that his mercenaries had captured the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut after a long siege.


Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Russian mercenary group, claimed on Saturday that his mercenaries had captured the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut after a long siege. A Ukrainian official denied that Bakhmut had fallen but called the situation “critical.”

  • “We took the whole city,” said Prigozhin in a video posted on Saturday. Bakhmut offers little strategic value to either side, but the monthslong battle for the small eastern city turned the siege into the longest and bloodiest battle of the war so far.
  • A Ukrainian defense spokesman told Reuters, “This is not true. Our units are fighting in Bakhmut.”
  • Even so, Ukrainian forces have reportedly been “slowly pulling back” to the city’s western edge while other military operations have “made their most rapid gains for six months” to the north and south of the city.
  • The combination of a pullback inside the city and advances around Bakhmut’s north and south could signal the beginning of an encirclement operation designed to turn any Russian advance in Bakhmut into a pyrrhic victory. Russia may take Bakhmut, but what does that matter if they’re trapped inside?
  • Soviet forces famously trapped the Nazi 6th Army inside Stalingrad after allowing them to take the city, allowing the Soviets to starve them out. Ukraine may be attempting a similar reversal in Bakhmut. This assumes, of course, that Ukraine’s movements are being conducted as part of a plan and not out of necessity due to setbacks on the battlefield.
  • The news out of Bakhmut comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in Japan for the G7 summit of the world’s leading democracies. Zelensky is attending the G7 summit to shore up international support for Ukraine ahead of its planned summer counteroffensive.
  • Zelensky’s arrival at the summit came hours after President Joe Biden ended months of indecision and said the US would support the delivery of American-made F-16 advanced fighter jets to Ukraine from Western allies and would train Ukrainian pilots to use the jets.
  • Biden also announced a new $375 million aid package for Ukraine, including shells, anti-tank weapons and armored vehicles to assist in the upcoming counteroffensive.


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • The New York Times reported on the shifting battle lines in and around Bakhmut. Ukrainian forces “have since built on their success, reclaiming more than 12 square miles to the north and south of the city… But even as Ukrainian forces have fought to take back critical areas around Bakhmut, Russian forces have relentlessly worked for months to occupy the city’s center.”
  • CNN wrote, “If confirmed, for Russia Bakhmut’s capture would mark the country’s first gain in months,” but any breakthrough comes at an immense human cost. A NATO source “told CNN they estimated that for every Ukrainian soldier killed defending Bakhmut, Russia lost five.”
  • The Washington Post reported on expected targets for Ukraine’s planned summer counteroffensive. “Intrigue about where Ukraine’s counterattack will occur has focused on the Zaporizhzhia region, or in the east around the embattled city of Bakhmut, Isabelle Khurshudyan and Kamila Hrabchuk report from Ukraine’s southern Kherson region.”



  • The Wall Street Journal noted Russia’s Defense Ministry has not confirmed Prigozhin’s claims, but the video he posted to Telegram declaring victory was broadcast on Russian state television. Prigozhin and the Defense Ministry have publicly feuded for months and the Wagner boss blames the Defense Ministry for ammunition shortages and the deaths of many of his troops.
  • The New York Post observed Bakhmut, “dubbed ‘the meat grinder,’ has been the focus of Russia’s longest and bloodiest battle in the war. The city does not have major strategic importance for Russia in the war…but it has taken on symbolic importance for both sides due to the intensity of the fighting and size of losses.”
  • Russia announced a new round of sanctions including bans on 500 Americans from entering the country, according to Fox News. The sanctioned Americans include former President Barack Obama, Stephen Colbert, Republican Sens. Katie Britt, Eric Schmitt, and JD Vance, and freshmen members of Congress from both parties.


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© Dominic Moore, 2023