Russia's losses in Ukraine

Ukraine Vows To Continue To Defend Bakhmut As Wagner Boss Complains About Ammunition

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Ukraine has vowed to continue to fight for the eastern city of Bakhmut, a brutal monthslong battle that has left heavy casualties on both sides, as Russia’s defense minister kept up a morale-building effort in the war zone and the head of the Wagner mercenary group stoked further tensions with Russia’s military commanders.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on March 6 discussed the situation in the besieged Donetsk region city with Valeriy Zaluzhniy, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and Oleksandr Syrskiy, the commander of the ground forces, where “they spoke in favor of continuing the defensive operation and further strengthening our positions in Bakhmut,” according to the president’s website.

Zelenskiy has acknowledged in recent days that the battle for the eastern Donbas region is “painful and challenging” and the Ukrainian General Staff said in its regular battlefield update on March 6 that Russia was concentrating its main efforts on offensives in the areas around Bakhmut, Avdiyivka, Lyman, and Shakhtarsk in Donetsk, as well as farther north in Kupyansk, in the Kharkiv region.

It claimed to have fought off more than 95 enemy attacks in a handful of areas of the most intense fighting.

The enemy “is continuing its attempted assault on the town of Bakhmut and surrounding settlements,” the General Staff said, citing shelling in more than a dozen Donetsk municipalities.

The Ukrainian military said Russian forces were moving columns between the southeastern Kherson region and occupied Crimea “in order to mislead” the Ukrainian side.

It alleged that the feint was “causing discontent” among Russian personnel due to what it said was “a lack of a sufficient amount of fuel and even any hint of the effectiveness of such maneuvers.”

New signs of discord in Moscow emerged on March 6, with the boss of the Wagner private military group, which has spearheaded much of Russia’s attacks in the region, demanding more ammunition supplies while complaining one of his aides had been refused entry to the military’s operational headquarters.

“On March 5, I wrote a letter to the commander of the SMO grouping about the urgent need to allocate ammunition. On March 6, at 8 a.m., my representative at the headquarters had his pass cancelled and was denied access,” Prigozhin, who has been demanding more ammunition for weeks, said via his press service on Telegram.

Reports of missteps and low morale have dogged Russia’s military from the early days of the unprovoked invasion.

But RFE/RL cannot independently confirm casualty or battlefield developments claimed by either side in Russia’s yearlong full-scale war in Ukraine.

During a Middle East visit on March 6, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin downplayed Bakhmut’s significance, saying it was more “symbolic” than anything else while declining to suggest its eventual fall to Russian forces.

In Photos: Ukrainian troops are putting up fierce opposition as Moscow’s forces close in on the eastern city of Bakhmut.

Ukrainian Troops Put Up Fierce Resistance As Battle For 'Fortress Bakhmut' Rages On
Photo Gallery:Ukrainian Troops Put Up Fierce Resistance As Battle For ‘Fortress Bakhmut’ Rages On

“I think it is more of a symbolic value than it is strategic and operational value,” Austin said in Amman, Jordan, adding, “The fall of Bakhmut won’t necessarily mean that the Russians have changed the tide of this fight.”

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu appeared determined to project confidence in a purported visit to eastern Ukraine to meet with senior commanders and survey the situation that was shared in multiple Defense Ministry releases during the weekend and again on March 6.

The ministry said Shoigu had visited the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which was captured last year after a long siege.

But statements by the founding head of the Wagner mercenary group whose soldiers are fighting concurrently with Russian regular troops suggested more tension over the course of the war and differing levels of support from Moscow and its war planners.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, long considered close to President Vladimir Putin, warned in a Telegram statement released by Wagner’s press department on March 5 that the offensive around Bakhmut could implode if his mercenary ranks didn’t get ammunition soon that was promised after public appeals in February.

Prigozhin said a week ago that Russian fighters were closing their “pincers” around Bakhmut.

“For now, we are trying to figure out the reason: is it just ordinary bureaucracy or a betrayal,” Prigozhin said, according to Reuters.

Prigozhin has repeatedly criticized Russian military commanders and routinely claims victories distinct from the efforts of regular army troops.

On March 4, Prigozhin cautioned that “if Wagner retreats from Bakhmut now, the whole front will collapse” and “the situation won’t be sweet for any military formations protecting Russian interests,” according to Reuters.

Zelenskiy acknowledged in his regular video address late on March 5 that the battle for the eastern Donbas region was “painful and challenging,” as the Kremlin’s forces continue efforts to encircle the city of Bakhmut, which has been largely destroyed after months of Russian shelling.

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