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Battle of Bakhmut may severely degrade Wagner Group’s best forces, depriving Russia of some of its most effective, most difficult-to-replace shock troops – ISW

KYIV. March 7 (Interfax-Ukraine) – The Battle of Bakhmut (Donetsk region) may, in fact, severely degrade the Wagner Group’s best forces, depriving Russia of some of its most effective and most difficult-to-replace shock troops, according to the report of the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) for March 6.

“The Wagner attacks already culminated once, causing the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) to commit some of its elite airborne troops to the fight. It may well culminate again before taking the city, once more forcing the Russian military to choose between abandoning the effort or throwing more high-quality troops into the battle,” the report reads.

At the same time, the analysts say, that the opportunity to damage the Wagner Group’s elite elements, along with other elite units if they are committed, “in a defensive urban warfare setting where the attrition gradient strongly favors Ukraine is an attractive one.”

The Institute notes that Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin apparently fears that his forces are being expended in exactly this way.

At the same time, according to analysts, Bakhmut is not intrinsically significant operationally or strategically as ISW has previously observed. But Ukraine’s fight for Bakhmut has become strategically significant because of the current composition of Russian forces arrayed in the area.

“Some Western reports have recently suggested that Ukraine is expending its own elite manpower and scarce equipment on mainly Wagner Group prison recruits who are mere cannon fodder, noting that such an exchange would be to Ukraine’s disadvantage even at high ratios of Russian to Ukrainian losses. That observation is valid in general, although the pool of Russian convict recruits suitable for combat is not limitless and the permanent elimination of tens of thousands of them in Bakhmut means that they will not be available for more important fights,” the Institute says.

The analysts also say that The Kremlin is returning to its previously unsuccessful volunteer recruitment and “crypto-mobilization” campaigns to avoid ordering another major involuntary reserve call-up.

“Such voluntary recruitment drives may also indicate that the Kremlin is running out of combat-ready reserves to continue its offensive operations past the Battle of Bakhmut and its failed offensives around Vuhledar and in Luhansk region,” the ISW says.

As for the situation on the battlefield, the Institute reports that the Russian occupiers continue to try to advance in Bakhmut area, as well as conduct ground attacks along the Svatove-Kreminna line and in Avdiyivka area.

The Ukrainian army, in turn, repels the invaders’ attacks in several directions, and, according to ISW, is preparing forces for a counteroffensive in the South of Ukraine, which may begin as early as late March-early April.