The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) appears to have deprioritized the Bakhmut offensive in favor of preparing to defend against an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive, putting the Wagner Group and Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin in a potentially difficult position, Report informs, citing the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
Wagner’s continued persistence within Bakhmut is incongruent with the overall slow-down in the pace of Russian offensive operations elsewhere in Ukraine as conventional Russian forces appear to be largely shifting focus to prepare to receive the much-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Aside from very limited and localized attacks in the Kreminna area and near Donetsk City, Russian forces have largely ceased offensive operations throughout the theater, likely signifying a transition to the defensive.
It would be an operationally sound decision for the Russian MoD to begin withholding and stockpiling ammunition and supplies in order to prepare for any Ukrainian counteroffensive actions, and Prigozhin’s desperate statements indicate that the Russian MoD is likely doing so. ISW has recently reported that Prigozhin began appealing to the Russian MoD to provide Wagner with necessary ammunition once again after a brief period during which it seemed that relations between Prigozhin and Russian military leadership had improved. Prigozhin’s renewed anger reached its peak in the May 4 video of Prigozhin essentially screaming at Gerasimov and Shoigu and accusing them of the deaths of Wagner fighters.
The losses suffered by Wagner in Bakhmut, alongside the likely de-prioritization of the Bakhmut effort by the Russian MoD, may leave Prigozhin and Wagner in a particularly bad spot.
It is not immediately clear whether Prigozhin actually intends to withdraw from Bakhmut on May 10 or whether he made the announcement in a last-ditch attempt to secure MoD support. If Wagner does withdraw, then it will likely need Russian MoD equipment to protect and facilitate the retrograde. The Russian military lacks the reserves needed to man positions Wagner might abandon in Bakhmut, moreover.
The massive losses suffered by Wagner in Bakhmut for the sake of tactical gains, as well as the overall shift of the Russian military towards a more cautious posture preparing for defensive operations, appears to be offering Ukrainian forces opportunities for fruitful counterattacks in various areas of the front. Ukrainian forces appear to be seizing some of these opportunities, as noted below, but ISW does not assess that these counterattacks are necessarily part of the anticipated counteroffensive.