Wagner's goal under Bakhmut is to exhaust Ukrainian forces, and to some extent, it worked
The goal of the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC) was not so much to capture Bakhmut as to exhaust the Ukrainian military. To some extent, this plan worked, as in eight months of fighting for the city, Ukraine lost some of the troops needed for the spring offensive.
Source: The Wall Street Journal
Details: The WSJ states that, despite significant losses, Wagner managed to achieve certain results under Bakhmut.
"With their policy of executing on the spot troopers who attempt to retreat or surrender, and a disregard for losses that is shocking for modern warfare, Wagner’s disposable penal battalions have emerged as a unique threat to Ukrainian defenders, advancing at the time when the regular Russian military remains largely stalled.
No military in a democratic society can keep sending wave after wave of soldiers to near-certain death to gain another few hundred yards. Even Russia’s regular armed forces, known for their high tolerance of casualties, shy away from dispatching troops on clearly suicidal missions. Yet it is precisely such an approach that has allowed Wagner to come to the verge of capturing Bakhmut, at a cost that Ukrainian and Western officials estimate at tens of thousands of Russian casualties." WSJ states.
The media reports that Ukraine has also suffered large casualties during the eight months of battling for Bakhmut, losing some of the troops that it needs to mount a spring offensive with new weapons supplied by the U.S. and allies.
At times, up to 18 human waves of Wagner troops have attacked a single trench here in a 24-hour period, said Sr. Lt. Petro Horbatenko, a battalion commander in the Third Storm Brigade, one of the Ukrainian units on the Bakhmut front.
"A Wagner fighter doesn’t have an option to pull back. Their only chance of survival is to keep moving ahead," he said. "And this tactic works. It’s a zombie war…They are throwing cannon fodder at us, aiming to cause maximum damage. We obviously can’t respond the same way because we don’t have as much personnel and we are sensitive to losses," he said.
WSJ states that Wagner’s goal, Mr. Prigozhin has said, wasn’t so much to take Bakhmut but to grind down Ukraine’s military.
"To an extent, this plan worked: As Ukraine poured some of its best brigades in to defend the city in recent months, even a lopsided casualty ratio in the Ukrainian favour ultimately worked to Moscow’s advantage given Russia’s larger population — and the fact that Russia was trading ill-trained prisoners for the lives of Ukrainian troops," WSJ notes.
WSJ thinks that such losses in the Bakhmut area are threatening Kyiv’s ability to mount a strategic counteroffensive once the current mud season ends in the spring and unpaved roads become passable again.
"The war is won not by the party that gains territory, but by the party that destroys the armed forces of the adversary. Here, we are using up too much of the offensive potential that we’ll need for a breakthrough once Ukraine’s black earth dries up," Sr. Lt. Horbatenko, the Third Storm Brigade battalion commander, said.
Background: Yevgeny Prigozhin, Head of the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC), is confident that the retreat of his troops from the city of Bakhmut will collapse the entire front, and then Russia will blame the mercenaries for the defeat in the war.
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