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Putin’s conscripts flee from battle as Ukrainian forces retake key territory

 May 14, 2023

In a significant shift in the Ukraine-Russia conflict, Ukraine's military forces have successfully launched a counteroffensive against Russian positions near Bakhmut. This development alarmed Russian leadership.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Russia's Wagner mercenary group, expressed concern over the situation, as reported by the Daily Mail. Prigozhin admitted that the Ukrainian offensive was progressing "full steam ahead," indicating a grim outlook as territories once claimed by Russian forces are now being retaken by Ukrainians.

His comments come amid growing anxiety over the United Kingdom's recent decision to supply Ukraine with long-range munitions.

Counteroffensive in Bakhmut

Prigozhin, clearly alarmed, rebuked the Russian Defense Ministry's recent statement suggesting that their troops were merely regrouping. He contended that the troops were actually fleeing, signaling a major setback for Russia in the ongoing conflict.

Meanwhile, Russian-installed officials in the Luhansk region of Ukraine reported that missiles fired by Kyiv had damaged two factories and several houses in the area. The extent of the damage suggests the use of long-range missiles, stirring speculation among military analysts.

Long-Range Missiles and UK Involvement

Further supporting these speculations, the U.K. announced this week that it had delivered multiple longer-range cruise missiles to Ukraine, Reuters reported. These missiles can hit targets up to 300 kilometers away, making them the longest-range rockets supplied to Ukraine by its Western partners.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Gian Gentile commented on the development, saying the combination of these missiles with U.S.-supplied HIMARS rocket systems could significantly increase the firepower of the Ukrainian forces. He said, "These weapons would certainly instill fear in the Russian troops on the frontline." 

Russia quickly condemned the U.K.'s decision, labeling it as an "extremely hostile step." However, the Ukrainian leadership seems to be encouraged by these developments. In his address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised his troops and commented on the waning morale of the Russian forces.

The Frontline Reality

Prigozhin expressed sarcasm and frustration over handling the military situation in a direct address to Kremlin Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the Guardian reported. On the other hand, Zelenskyy has been cautiously optimistic about the counteroffensive in Bakhmut, stating that a more robust offensive is yet to commence.

The Russians have denied reports of Ukrainian gains in Bakhmut. Yet, the Russian Defense Ministry did issue a statement acknowledging a change in positions for strategic reasons. Ukrainian forces reportedly launched a large-scale assault north of Bakhmut, which would be the biggest Ukrainian offensive since November if confirmed.

Prigozhin accused the Russian military leadership of lying about the situation and failing to provide necessary ammunition to Wagner. He warned that this lack of support could lead to "great tragedy" for Russia.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maylar confirmed that the Ukrainian forces had advanced near Bakhmut, while Russia's Defense Ministry denied any "breakthroughs" by the Ukrainian forces. 

Significant Territorial Gains

Reports suggest that Ukrainian forces have made significant territorial gains south of Bakhmut. This development could protect a critical supply chain, according to commanders of Ukraine's 3rd Separate Assault Brigade. The battle for Bakhmut, a former salt mining town, has been raging for eight months, with forward movements indicating a potential strategic shift.

Zelenskyy dismissed speculation that the activity in Bakhmut signals the start of a larger Ukrainian counteroffensive. He stated that Kyiv was delaying the campaign due to a lack of sufficient Western weapons, a statement interpreted by some as a tactic to keep Russia guessing.

Successful Operations and Gaining Ground

The commander of Ukraine's 3rd Separate Assault Brigade, known only by his call sign 'Rollo,' explained that the enemy intended to use their position for future attacks along the canal in the direction of Kostiantynivka. Kostiantynivka is part of an essential logistics chain leading to the city of Kramatorsk, and its defense is vital for the Ukrainian forces.

According to Rollo, the territorial gains followed other successful operations. One operation secured an access road near Khromove, north of Bakhmut, while another allowed Ukrainian forces to reclaim lost positions in the Industrial College inside Bakhmut city. These victories signify not only the reclaiming of lost ground but also strategic positioning for potential future offensives.

Shifting Balance in the Ongoing Conflict

Reports of pushback by Ukrainian forces and the introduction of long-range missiles indicate a possible shift in the balance of the ongoing conflict. Zelenskyy praised his troops, and comments from Russian leadership suggest concern about the evolving situation on the ground.