The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, recently claimed to have raised a Russian flag over Bakhmut’s city hall in Ukraine. In a video posted at night, he stated that the city was now Russian “in a legal sense”. However, Ukraine dismissed the video as a mere stunt and asserted that their army still controls the eastern city.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported that, as of Sunday, Ukraine still held much of Bakhmut, although Russian troops were attempting to encircle it from the south and east. The ISW also noted that the city council building is in a part of the city recently claimed by Russia.
Wagner, which is officially classified as a private military company, has suffered heavy losses in the fight for Bakhmut. Many of its recruits are convicts released from Russian prisons who have been drafted to increase the group’s numbers. Additionally, regular Russian military troops are also fighting in Bakhmut.
The battle for Bakhmut has resulted in thousands of deaths on both sides, with Russian losses believed to be far higher than Ukraine’s. Despite its lack of strategic value, Ukraine has seen it as an important drain on Russia’s military equipment and manpower. Russian commanders hope that taking Bakhmut will give them a platform for further territorial gains.
In December, the UK Ministry of Defence noted that if Russia captures the city, it “would potentially allow them to threaten the larger urban areas of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk”. Ukraine is expected to launch a fresh offensive in the coming weeks to try and reclaim the territory currently occupied by Russia. This operation is expected to begin when Western supplies, such as German Leopard tanks, arrive in the country.