While Kiev still denies the capture of Bakhmut, Russia is already distributing medals to fighters. Wagner mercenaries continue to advance on the highway.
Update from May 23, 12:01 p.m.: After the massive territorial gains in the Battle of Bakhmut, Russia's troops are apparently advancing further in the Ukraine war. In doing so, the attackers are primarily supposed to use the existing infrastructure. As reported by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) on Tuesday (23 May), the mercenaries of the Wagner Group have seized the TO504 highway in the southwest of the city. Russian flags on buildings in the west could also indicate the conquest of the rest of the city, it said. Russian units are also said to have advanced on an expressway on the front west of the city of Donetsk.
In recent days, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin had already announced victory in Bakhmut several times. Nevertheless, fighting had flared up again and again in some parts of the city. According to him, the mercenary force plans to withdraw in the coming days and hand over control of the destroyed city to the Russian army. Nevertheless, the situation in the region remains confusing.
Battle of Bakhmut decided: Moscow distributes medals – but what good is victory?
First reported on May 22, 15:46 p.m.: Kiev/Moscow – The battle for Bakhmut has puzzled experts for months, and the alleged capture by Wagner mercenaries and Russian soldiers does not change that. While Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin announces that he will withdraw his mercenaries from the city after months of costly fighting, Kiev continues to hold on to the narrative that the last defenders remain in the city.
For months, observers and war experts have maintained their assessment that Bakhmut does not play a particularly important role for either warring party in the Ukraine war – except perhaps morally. Even if Russian media are now celebrating the conquest of the city around eastern Ukraine and Prigozhin's announcement as a "historic moment", there are hardly any tactical advantages in capturing the city, in which, according to consistent media reports, Ukrainian soldiers probably only remain in some outlying districts.
What is certain between contradictory reports about the capture of Bakhmut: The city in eastern Ukraine is almost completely destroyed. (Archive photo) © Anatolii Stepanov/AFP
Losses in Bakhmut: Biden speaks of 100,000 lost soldiers for Russia
In clear contrast to this assessment are the casualty figures from the battle for Bakhmut, which, according to Western data, are said to be over 100,000 on the Russian side alone. US President Joe Biden spoke of so many losses on the Russian side – possibly fallen and injured soldiers – at the weekend. Intelligence agencies had also repeatedly accused the Russian military leadership and Wagner boss Prigozhin of using their fighters in Bakhmut as "cannon fodder".
In the case of Prigozhin himself, the message sounds much more positive. According to a report by the AFP news agency, the Wagner boss had announced in a Telegram voice message at the weekend that he would withdraw his troops from "Artemovsk" in May. The outdated city name dates back to the period between 1924 and 2016, when Bakhmut was named after a Soviet revolutionary. Before handing over to Russian troops, the private army had built "defensive lines", and if the army could not provide enough personnel for defense, Wagner was armed with "thousands of generals," the billionaire businessman announced.
Battle for Bakhmut: Putin awards medals to "outstanding fighters"
As it became known over the weekend, Russia's ruler Vladimir Putin has already announced his intention to distribute "state awards" to the "outstanding fighters" in the conquest of Bakhmut. As the news magazine Focus reports, the first pictures appeared on social media at the weekend, some of which showed medal awards in Bakhmut itself.
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Fancy a voyage of discovery?
While the Wagner boss celebrates the withdrawal of his men as a success, critical voices interpret the situation as an admission of the weakness of Prigozhin's mercenary troops. Instead of launching further attacks on neighboring eastern Ukrainian territories from Bakhmut, the weakened fighters are retreating into the already occupied hinterland, according to war experts, according to Zeit Online. Many see the battle more as a sign of Ukraine's strength than of the Russian attack. In addition, the Ukrainian military is already reporting the first territorial liberations in the surrounding area of the city, which has long since been conquered by Russia. (saka with AFP/dpa)