The Kremlin has been forced to deny claims by pro-Moscow bloggers and the head of the Wagner mercenary group, that Ukrainian troops had made a breakthrough in the flashpoint city of Bakhmut.
What has Russia said?
In short, Russia claims that everything is great and going according to plan for the Kremlin.
In a Telegram post late on Thursday evening, the Russian Ministry of Defense said: "Statements, circulated by individual Telegram channels about 'defense breakthroughs' that took place in different areas along the line of military contact, do not correspond to reality.
“The overall situation in the area of the special military operation is under control.”
Russia elaborated on Friday, claiming: "In the tactical direction of Soledar, the enemy yesterday carried out offensive operations along the entire line of contact, which is more than 95 kilometres long, adding that Ukraine had deployed "more than 1,000 military personnel and up to 40 tanks."
"All the attacks of the units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine have been repelled."
Is it under control?
Not in the slightest. As Kyiv Post reported on Wednesday, a fierce Ukrainian counterattack in the Bakhmut sector destroyed Russian tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, killing as many as 500 soldiers from the Wagner mercenary group, in the worst tactical defeat suffered by the Kremlin’s forces in months.
In fierce, close-in fighting, soldiers from Ukraine’s 3rd Assault Brigade, backed by T-64 tanks and M-113 armored personnel carriers, wiped out a chain of Russian defensive positions to the southwest of Bakhmut, advancing Ukrainian-controlled territory to the key Bakhmutovka River.
Both the Wagner group’s commander, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and Ukrainian military sources claimed Kyiv’s forces had advanced 2.6 kilometers along a 3-kilometer front line in the area, though western analysts were more reserved in their assessments.
Ukraine said on Friday that its forces had recaptured chunks of territory around Bakhmut.
"The enemy has suffered great losses of manpower. Our defence forces advanced two kilometres (around one mile) near Bakhmut. We did not lose a single position in Bakhmut this week," Deputy Defence Minister Ganna Malyar said in a statement on social media.
Prigozhin has also claimed that a regular Russian army infantry unit holding sites in the area abandoned its position, thereby allowing attacking Ukrainian units to outflank his own forces.
AFU tonight, #Bakhmut— АЗОВ South (@Azovsouth) May 11, 2023
You hear more great news in this direction, probably tomorrow🔥👊🏻💀 pic.twitter.com/KFqL1XEVno
Have these claims been verified?
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) confirmed that geolocated footage, from May 9 and 10, “indicates that Ukrainian forces likely conducted successful limited counterattacks north of Khromove [immediately west of Bakhmut] and northwest of Bila Hora [14 kilometers southwest of Bakhmut] and made marginal advances in these areas.”
However, it cautioned that it “has not observed visual confirmation of these reported wider Ukrainian advances,” i.e. 2.6 kilometers along a 3-kilometer frontline.
Even so, the movement on the ground and the fact the Russian Ministry of Defense has felt the need to comment, indicates things aren’t going well for Moscow.
What else did Russia say?
Russia said it had repulsed several Ukrainian attacks in the course of the day, adding that the ongoing battle on Thursday evening occurred near Malynivka, in the eastern Donetsk region, and involved both air power and artillery.
It did not comment on reports over alleged withdrawals by Russian troops near Bakhmut, but said its forces were "continuing to liberate the western parts" of the city.
How should this be read?
The ISW noted that Russia’s response was made “uncharacteristically quickly”, adding: “Prigozhin’s and the MoD’s responses are reflective of increased panic in the Russian information space over speculations about planned Ukrainian counteroffensives and indicate increased concern among Wagner and Russian MoD leadership, as well as reflecting Kremlin guidance to avoid downplaying Ukrainian successes.”
Are the developments in Bakhmut part of the long-awaited counteroffensive?
Prigozhin seems to think so, saying: "The Ukrainian army's plan is in action ... All the units which have been trained, which have received weapons, tanks and everything they need are already fully engaged.”
But developments in Bakhmut as well as other incidents such as exploding Russian fuel depots and derailed trains are likely all preparatory actions as part of the build-up to the counteroffensive, with the main thrust proper yet to begin.
Zelensky said on Thursday that Ukraine needs more time before beginning the highly anticipated counter-offensive against Russian forces. "Mentally we're ready ..." Zelensky told the BBC.
"In terms of equipment, not everything has arrived yet.
"With (what we have) we can go forward and be successful. But we'd lose a lot of people. I think that's unacceptable. So, we need to wait. We still need a bit more time.”
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