All unquiet on the eastern front
The biggest change in Bakhmut is what’s not happening. Russian artillery has nothing left to reduce because it’s all rubble. Ukrainian forces have no more valiant stands to make at the stadium, or the city center, or the citadel. That part of the war is over, at least for now.
Russian forces may have failed to culminate in Bakhmut, in the usual sense of wearing themself so thin they were subject to a rapid pushback. However, they seem to have done the next best thing. They’ve lost so many men, so much gear, and exhausted their supplies to the extent that they can’t move forward. They can only wait for Ukraine to move.
Given enough time, Russia might actually recover, reorganize, and resupply to enable more movement to the west and north. Right now, they’re not going anywhere. Ukraine’s biggest job in the next few weeks may be just making sure Russian forces stay put.
Ukraine also seems reluctant to try and chase any of the gains they’ve made on the flanks. Two weeks ago, as Ukraine made its first significant advances, some sites were predicting that it was Ukraine which would encircle the ruins of Bakhmut and put the Russian forces remaining there in a position where their lines of communication were broken. Nothing like that appears to be underway.
Ukrainian forces continue to move the lines in the area south of Berkhivka. Russia’s reinforcements at Klishchiivka appear to be significant, and there is an exchange of fire between that location and Ivaniske.
There are multiple reports of Russian equipment losses in the Soledar area, which sounds exciting, but I don’t think this is actually anything happening near Soledar. It appears to be further north, near Rozdolivka. And it looks as if these are drone-related losses. Nothing now indicates a push into the area Russia occupies around Soledar. Nothing really indicates much of a push anywhere.
The eastern front is anything but quiet, but it’s at more of a low boil everywhere rather than being on high heat in a few specific locations. And everyone is waiting for what comes next.
As of Friday, reports are coming in that Wagner forces are being withdrawn from the city of Bakhmut. It’s not clear at the moment if they are being replaced by anyone. These are actual observations from the ground rather than just Yevgeny Prigozhin making his latest publicity video, so it seems this time, some movement is actually underway.
It was Wagner forces that occupied Klishchiivka in January as Russia finally began to find success on the flanks of Bakhmut. It was that movement in the south, and the capture of Soledar to the north, which finally positioned Russia to attack Ukrainian positions from three sides, allowing them to make some progress in the city, even if it came at a high cost. However, there are currently no reports that the forces being moved to reinforce the flanks come from Wagner.
Prigozhin was in the area east of Bakhmut on Friday, visiting with the decamping Wagner forces.
What happens to Wagner at this point is anyone’s guess. Maybe Prigozhin believes he can get a higher payback by putting them in Africa.
Still missing in action: Ramzan Kadyrov and the Chechen forces he promised to bring to Bakhmut when he traded insults with Prigozhin on May 7. But then, Kadyrov is probably busy picking out locations to shoot all the videos he needs showing his valiant forces on the way. After all, are you really in Bakhmut if it’s not on TikTok?
It’s been months since we focused on the area around Svatove. The city can be seen almost like a mirror image of Bakhmut—it’s not really that important in itself, but it acts as a gateway to locations that have real value, in this case, the rail hub at Starobilsk to the east.
There’s now a bulge of Russian occupation west of the city compared to previous maps. That’s the result of Russia’s winter offensive, which managed to move a small area of the line about 2 km and recover small areas west of the highway they lost in the fall. Over the last several months, Russia has used this area to run a lot of small unit actions, particularly in the direction of Stelmakhivka, but they really have nothing to show for it.
The biggest question on the ground in this area is the status of Kuzemivka. Since Ukrainian forces reached that location in the early fall, this town has represented the boundary line. It both plugs the access to the road, allowing a northern approach to Svatove and keeping Russia’s artillery in a position to fire on Ukrainian vehicles moving down the P07 highway.
The number of times Russian forces attacked out of Kuzemivka toward Novoselivske, literally just across the tracks, or Ukraine jabbed out of Novoselivske into Kuzemivka would be hard to estimate. There was a period in the winter when it seemed as if military bloggers were announcing a change of control every day.
But back on May 15, there were reports that Ukraine had actually liberated Kuzemivka and held onto the town. This would be an important change, opening access to a new route into Svatove, and there doesn’t seem to be a matching report of Russia taking back the location. However, a number of highly reputable sources continue to claim Russia is in control of at least part of Kuzemivka. Their sources on the ground are probably much better than my Google Translate-assisted scans of Russian Telegram. So I’m not going to draw the blue line around it. Not yet.
Geolocated images in the area show Russian forces being eliminated on the edge of the town after apparently attempting to flank around Ukrainian forces. So Russia is still active in the area, even if they don’t appear to be in control. “In dispute” is probably the best description.
Pictures circulating that claim to show damage to the Russian spy ship hit by a drone boat earlier this week are actually images of the U.S.S. Cole following an attack in 2000. While the images do show what can happen to a warship hit by a small boat laden with high explosives, there doesn’t yet seem to be anything showing the actual Russian ship following the engagement with drones.
Remember that chart of Russian attacks that I’ve posted so many times over the last three months? Today the number of Russian attacks on Ukrainian positions was … 22. Yesterday it was 18. As far as I’m aware, these are the lowest numbers since Ukraine began making these daily situation reports.
If you can’t follow the Ukrainian, like me, you can always dig information out by running Google Translate on the text. Like me.
Something very special is coming this weekend. Starting on Sunday, you’re going to be seeing dispatches from Ukraine produced by former NPR correspondent Tim Mak. Following NPR’s big cutbacks, Tim is back in Ukraine on his own and has started a publication on the upcoming counteroffensive called … The Counteroffensive. Follow the thread below for an introduction to Tim and his project, and join him on Sunday as Daily Kos gets its first reports on Ukraine from Ukraine.
Be sure to check out Tim’s site and follow him on social media. That way, you don’t miss the daily Dog of War.
Dimitri of WarTranslated has been doing the essential work of translating hours of Russian and Ukrainian video and audio during the invasion of Ukraine. He joins Markos and Kerry from London to talk about how he began this work by sifting through various sources. He is one of the only people translating information for English-speaking audiences. Dimitri’s followed the war since the beginning and has watched the evolution of the language and dispatches as the war has progressed.