A local but apparently successful Ukrainian counterattack in the battleground city Bakhmut has triggered shock waves of panic across the Russian media space, with the most pessimistic doomsayers predicting Kyiv will try to conquer a couple of provinces of western Russia.
Wagner PMC boss Yevgeniy Prigozhin led off the negative vibes with a May 11 audio message confirming reports his mercenary unit had lost ground in the Bakhmut sector, and angrily contracting statements Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made the day previously that the attacks were local and unconnected with Kyiv’s long-awaited Spring counteroffensive.
"As for the counter-offensive, Zelensky is lying; it is well underway. In the direction of Bakhmut, Ukrainian army units are flanking, and, unfortunately, they are succeeding in some of the positions,” Prigozhin said. The former felon and one-time cook for Vladimir Putin used vulgar language to accuse Russian army high command of failing to support Wagner fighters and opening the door to major Ukrainian advances and even the invasion of Russia.
“The Ukrainian armed forces need to break through in the direction of the Bakhmut. The next directions (objectives) will be Bryansk and Belgorod regions with access to the territory of the Russian Federation, as well as Zaporizhzhia, after which (the Ukrainians) are planning to go in the northern and southern directions."
Igor Strelkov, a Russian nationalist blogger and former Kremlin operative now wanted by Interpol for his role in the 2014 MH17 civilian airline shoot down during the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine’s Donbas region at the time, like Prighozhin predicted the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) high command has readied plans to seize territory in Russia's Kursk and Bryansk regions.
"An offensive may have begun or is about to start…Diversionary strikes could be launched on the "old border" (Belgorod, Kursk, Bryansk regions) to seize several settlements and provoke the Russian Armed Forces to storm them (until their destruction), Strelkov fumed.
A long-running and highly-public feud with Prigozhin notwithstanding, Strelkov like the Wagner boss said Russian army high command corruption and incompetence, and the military top leadership’s failure to prepare for Ukrainian attacks, was threatening Russian national security.
The Russian Ministry of Defense’s public outreach team responded to reports of collapsing Kremlin forces and looming AFU attacks with a statement that, actually, everything is under control and reports of a deteriorating military situation are exaggerated.
"Statements circulated by individual networks services about "defense breakthroughs" occurring in various sections of the front line are untrue" an announcement on the Russian Defense Ministry official website said.
High profile Russian “war correspondent” Simon Pegov in a May 12 post conceded the Ukrainian military has made recent progress and might well do so in the future but, he told subscribers, war is war and the worst thing to fear is not Kyiv’s weapons but a general collapse of Russian morale.
“Today's events cannot be taken seriously. The enemy has progress. Somewhere more, somewhere less, but it is, and will have an impact on the further development of events.
The offensive did not begin today or yesterday, the enemy is daily looking for our weak points and trying to hit them, Pegov wrote. “All of these are pieces of the same puzzle. And where the last piece will fall is not yet clear. Therefore, it is criminal to treat what is happening frivolously. To panic is like death.”
But Dmitry Rogozin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin currently head of the “Tsarist Wolves” military advisor group, weighed in with the argument that Ukraine – an opponent Kremlin spokesmen in Feb. 2022 had predicted would be defeated utterly in a three day cakewalk campaign – is now such a fearsome opponent that Russians have no alternative but total mobilization for a fight to the death against a superior opponent.
"Defeating such a beast (Ukraine), which has felt our blood, can only be achieved through the complete unity of front and rear. We have to keep in mind that the enemy (the Ukrainian army) is much stronger than we are. We cannot act in such a way here that it is every man for himself. It will not work that way,” Rogozin said in a May 11 statement. “That's why there has to be another mobilization. We need help with the staff. Because guys are wounded, our fighters are killed. Even when the front is at a standstill, there are artillery attacks. We are losing combat-ready guys. They need to be replaced," he said.
By the evening of May 11 Kremlin-loyal Russian military correspondents began to report preparations for Ukrainian attacks and even advances by Kyiv troops in new sectors.
"The Kyiv regime (Ukraine) has launched an operation to encircle our forces. There are reports of a Ukrainian breakthrough towards Belhorodka and Yagodne (Donetsk region). Our troops have retreated from their positions," wrote Russian military correspondent Evgeniy Poddubny in a Telegram-published report.
Columns of AFU tanks, self-propelled artillery systems (SAU), multiple rocket launchers (MLRS), and armored vehicles with infantry were moving eastward in the north-eastern Kharkiv sector, adjacent to Russia’s Belgorod Oblast’, the pro-Russia Gazeta.ru newspaper reported. “Modern tanks produced by Western countries were seen in the columns,” the May 12 article said.
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