The head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has released an audio message indicating Ukraine now holds the advantage in Bakhmut but Russia is seeking to reinforce the area with elite troops in an attempt the wrest it back.

What’s the latest on the ground?

On Wednesday evening, Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatyi, said Ukrainian forces were continuing to push back Russian forces in some areas.

"We are successfully conducting a defensive operation, counterattacking and during today our units have penetrated up to 500 meters in some areas," he told Ukrainian television.

His comments came a few hours after Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister, Hanna Malyar, said Ukraine had pushed Russian forces away from the flanks of Bakhmut, wresting back about 20 square kilometers (7.7 square miles) from the attempted Russian pincer movement around the besieged city.

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And in yet another audio statement in which he, once again, criticized Russia’s military leaders, Wagner Chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said: "Despite the fact that the enemy has only a few percent of the territory in Bakhmut, surrounding the enemy does not appear to be possible. 

The Institute for the Study of War in its daily assessment on Wednesday highlighted Russian criticism of the Kremlin’s current situation, saying: “One prominent ‘milblogger’ complained that Russian forces must now react to Ukrainian actions, implying that Russian forces are losing the initiative in the Bakhmut area despite the limited nature of Ukrainian counterattacks in the area.” 

ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 18, 2024
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ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 18, 2024

Latest from the Institute for the Study of War.

This all sounds very positive for Ukraine

It does, but it’s not all good news. Maylar also admitted yesterday that Moscow's forces were pushing deeper into the center of the city of Bakhmut.

In a post on Telegram, she said: “The enemy is advancing somewhat in Bakhmut itself, completely destroying the city with artillery.

“Heavy battles continue with different results.”

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Cherevatyi echoed this during his interview, saying: "The enemy is seeking to take over the city at will, striking with all systems and calibers [of munitions].”

What has been Russia’s response?

According to Cherevatyi, the Russian army is moving new troops into the area “primarily paratroopers, in an attempt to achieve some kind of intermediate success."

Prigozhin appeared to confirm this in his audio message, saying: "As a result of the enemy's advance ... Russian paratroopers have taken up positions that are advantageous to the enemy."

Later on Thursday, Prigozhin released another audio message, saying: "Unfortunately, the Russian Ministry of Defense units withdrew up to 750 meters to the north of Bakhmut, exposing our flanks.

"I am addressing the top leadership of the Defense Ministry publicly because my letters are not being read. I have a request to you, Valeriy Vasilyevich (Gerasimov) and Sergey Kuzhugetovich (Shoigu), please don't give up the flanks, don't denudate the settlements for a few more days, keep pushing as hard as you can.

"Do everything in your power to keep the flanks from collapsing."

What about the bigger picture?

Ukraine’s recent advances are just the latest in a string of successes over the last couple of weeks.

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On the evening of Sunday, May 14, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister, Hanna Maylar, said that Kyiv’s forces had captured more than 10 Russian positions on the outskirts of Bakhmut.

“Enemy soldiers of various units have been captured,” Maylar said, in a post on social media on Sunday evening.

“Anyone who knows the real situation and is there now understands the gravity of what is happening,” she added.

On Saturday, Kyiv said its armed forces were “moving forward” in the Bakhmut sector, in what the head of the mercenary group Wagner has described as a “rout” of Russian forces.

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