Sunday, September 24, 2023

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Former Russian Commander Points to Lack of Bakhmut Progress

Russian military blogger and former intelligence officer Igor Girkin has reiterated his criticism of Moscow’s efforts in trying to take the city of Bakhmut.

Girkin, who once led Russian-backed forces in the separatist Donetsk region, wrote on his Telegram social media channel that advances made by units from the Wagner Group of mercenaries were “insignificant.”

He also dubbed the widely anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive near the city as “disinformation” because he believed that if Kyiv’s forces were making such an advance, they would have “voiced it to the whole world.”

In any case, he believed that there was no need for such a counteroffensive given the success of Ukraine’s winter campaign in which it has exacted “attrition” on troops fighting for Russia.

“They already firmly hold half of Bakhmut,” he wrote, and surrendering the remaining territory will not change the final situation, because over the winter, Russian armed forces “failed to achieve any success that went beyond purely tactical ones.”

He also said that some settlements that Russia had claimed as captured near the town of Avdiivka, 60 miles to the south of Bakhmut, might soon return to Ukrainian control.

Girkin also goes by the name Strelkov and his social media updates on the war frequently criticize Russia’s forces and their commanders.

His latest comments follow an assessment by think tank the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) that Russia’s defense ministry is looking to “deliberately expend” Wagner forces that are spearheading Russia’s campaign to take Bakhmut.

This was part of a bid to “derail” the political ambitions of Wagner financier, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who last week sarcastically declared he would run to be president of Ukraine, in a dig at the lack of ammunition his troops were getting.

“The Russian military leadership may be trying to expend Wagner forces—and Prigozhin’s influence—in Bakhmut,” the think tank said Sunday.

The Russian public interpreted Prigozhin’s statement as an announcement that he will run in Russia’s presidential elections, scheduled for 2024, the ISW noted, citing political analyst Aleksey Mukhin, who is part of the Kremlin-aligned Valdai Discussion Club.

Mukhin criticized how Prigozhin had portrayed himself as the “commander” of the Wagner forces, which had “directly” affected how assault squads’ combat operations were planned and managed.

The think tank said that Mukhin’s accusations showed that the Kremlin and Russia’s defense ministry may be trying to blame Prigozhin “for the slowed pace of advance in Bakhmut and for high casualties among Wagner mercenaries.”

Sean McFate, a US Army veteran and adjunct professor at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, said there was a “huge schism” within Wagner’s old guard of professional soldiers and its new recruits, the latter often drawn from prisons.

The Kremlin was also distancing itself from the Wagner financier, with whom Girkin has been involved in a public spat.

“I do think that there’s this rift between the siloviki and Prigozhin and I think it’s very toxic,” McFate told Newsweek, referring to those in Russia’s security services who are close to Putin. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all that the siloviki are doing their best to sabotage Wagner’s efforts.”

Newsweek has contacted the Russian defense ministry for comment.

Russian military blogger and former intelligence officer Igor Girkin has reiterated his criticism of Moscow’s efforts in trying to take the city of Bakhmut.

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