Bakhmut Falls – Who, What, Where, and Why – WWIII Prelude News 21/05/2023

I haven’t posted on this channel since the beginning of May as I’ve been busy with other projects and, on the 1st, declared the battle for Bakhmut all-but over. It took 2 weeks longer than I predicted for the final assault to be successful.

Artyomovsk (Bakhmut) Falls – Who, What, Where, and Why

After several months of fighting, with slow and methodical advances by Russian troops, the key town in the battle for Donbas has been captured or liberated according to the Russians.
This comes after months of Ukraine claiming that this is just a small town which is no big deal, yet pouring thousands of troops and untold resources into it and constantly lying about it’s defensibility. In the past month, conditions had gotten so bad that troops were sent to march and drive through open fields vulnerable to Russian artillery as Wagner PMC forces finally closed off the westerly roads leading to their resupply depots. One of the last roads got nicknamed “the highway of death” as Ukrainian troops sped down it, away from Bakhmut, either to flee the battlefield or as part of resupply and reinforcement. With the late Winter and early Spring rains, men on both sides in Bakhmut and all along the front lines down to Kam’yans’ke lived in water mud that came up to their kneecaps. Deplorable, inhuman conditions.

Pro-Western media and commentators used Russia’s slow progress as evidence that Russia was either at a stalemate in Bakhmut or they were undermanned and underequipped. These theories were bolstered by the occasional outbursts by Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner Private Military Company which was doing most of the heavy lifting in the offensive. His claims were that the Russian power structure were deliberately not supplying his men with the ammunition and equipment they needed to do the job they were tasked with, going as far as to call his effective-superiors traitors to Russia two weeks ago. The theatre around Prigozhin is interesting. On face value it looks like the Russians are in disarray and can’t keep their troops in line, and thus are incompetent and weak.

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”

— Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

One of two things are true: 1) Prigozhin was telling the truth and Russia captured Bakhmut while playing at a handicap and with Ukraine being supplied with not only Western tanks and missile systems, but Western mercenaries also; 2) this all was a ruse designed to lure Ukraine into confronting a formidible foe in their much-anticipated counteroffensive instead of conserving manpower and digging further into their positions. Either looks good on the Russians and should be lauded as a grand strategic success.

While Western media and other commentators were celebrating over perceived incompetence and weakness of the Russian forces and leadership, Russia was conducting a protracted war of attrition – in other words, just wait for your enemies to die in disease-riddled trenches or in misguided skirmishes they launch themselves. It’s different from the warfare we’re familiar with, such as launching dozens of missiles at a time, at tens of millions of dollars at a pop, to carpet bomb your enemy’s position, or sending “human waves” to relentlessly wear down the enemy. Russia, although the biggest nation on Earth, has roughly the same population as the United States, and they can neither afford the loss of human life nor the demands for peace from bereaved families and friends. They know that this is a long and complicated war, so to avoid war exhaustion on the front lines and back home they must play it slow and smart. This strategy worked for them as the recent leaked Pentagon files revealed a kill ratio of about 7:1 in Russia’s favour at the peak of the Bakhmut conflict.

In my opinion, the greatest master-stroke in Russian misdirection came just over a week ago. Ukraine has been under tremendous pressure from their Western masters to launch their much-anticipated counteroffensive. The past 3 weeks have seen what many commentators say were false-starts to this counteroffensive, with the biggest one coming days after Prigozhin went on the frothing rant against his superiors in the Russian government, calling them traitors, and going on to threaten the withdrawal of Wagner forces, in response to the lack of supplies. Ukrainian strategists, likely coked up to their eyeballs like their glorious leader, decided this was a good time to rush Bakhmut. It happened to be their last move in the town.

The town, although small and supposedly of no significance, will prove to be a tide-turning security for Russia in their conflict with Ukraine. Foremostly because they now control the rail network that runs through the town, connecting Russia to Donbas, all the way down to Crimea. It’s also a pretty good communications position, which will be a boon to their operations efficiency going forward.
The town has almost entirely been reduced to rubble. This is a result of the actions of both Ukrainian and Russian forces at various points in the past few months. Russia shelling positions and Ukraine sabotaging buildings as they withdrew from areas.

“Vladimir Putin congratulates Wagner assault teams as well as all Russian troops, who rendered the required assistance and shielded the flanks, with the completion of the operation to liberate Artyomovsk.”

— Kremlin Press Office, 21/05/2023

The featured image of this post will likely become an iconic photo. On May 20th Wagner and presumably other Russian forces flew Wagner PMC and Russian flags, and Prigozhin gave his victory speech. However, the Russian commentator at Military Summary channel surmised that this was an act of insubordination as it is the job of the President to announce such things. Furthermore, the date of May 20th is already “taken,” as the date marks the day in 2022 when the siege on the formidible fortress of the Avostal Steel Plant in Mariupol ended and the city was completely liberated. Our friend’s speculation was substantiated as Putin’s office waited until the early hours of the next day to announce the capture of Bakhmut.

Ukraine has failed to launch it’s counteroffensive so far, meaning the West may simply refuse to continue shipping military aid to them. On top of that, there’s no saying what this defeat will do to the national enthusiasm to continue this conflict. I would even suggest that there may be some rumblings within the upper echelons of Pres. Zelenskyy’s government which could lead to a change in power and a coming to terms with Russia.

Time will tell.