Ukraine trapping Wagner Group fighters in Bakhmut ‘like rats into a mousetrap

Wagner PMC appear to threaten Russian Duma Deputy Sobolev

Wagner Group fighters stationed in the centre of Bakhmut are being trapped “like rats into a mousetrap” as Ukrainian forces make efforts to envelop the besieged city in “counteroffensive actions”, according to Ukraine’s top commander. Colonel general Oleksandr Syrskyi said on Telegram on Tuesday that, after a visit to the frontlines in Donetsk, the region in which Bakhmut is located, he believed that his forces were “destroying Russian plans” to finally capture the city, which has been the site of the hottest fighting on the frontline for more than 10 months.

Meanwhile, in the latest round of public discord between Wagner mercenaries and the Kremlin earlier on Tuesday, three of its fighters posted a video branding a top Russian official an “a**hole” and threatening to march on Red Square in Moscow after the politician branded them an “illegal armed formation”.

Rejuvenated Ukrainian forces are retaking lost territory in Bakhmut after two difficult months in which Wagner Group fighters, aided by specialist Russian VDV forces on their flanks, looked as if they would finally capture the city.

Analysts believe the Ukrainian Eastern Group forces are attempting to perform a double envelopment of Bakhmut, using “shaping operations”, a probing type of warfare presaging a (counter) offensive.

While Wagner Group forces carry on fighting in the city centre, with Prigozhin claiming the defending forces control only 0.6 square miles of the area, Ukrainian soldiers are “moving forward and destroying” the Russian men on their flanks.

The fighting, though violent and continual, is currently contained largely to the western side of the city but Ukrainian forces look to have already reversed months of Russian advances.

On Tuesday, Colonel general Syrskyi said on Telegram: “Using the principle of active defence, we resort to counter offensive actions in some directions near Bakhmut. The enemy has more resources, but we destroy his plans.”

He added that “‘Wagnerites’ have climbed into Bakhmut like rats into a mousetrap”. On Monday, he said “the advance of troops along the Bakhmut direction is the first success of offensive actions” in the region in months.

Late on Monday evening, a Wagner Group-affiliated milblogger also claimed that Russian units of the 72nd Motorized Rifle Brigade (3rd Army Corps) had lost positions to the southwest of Bakhmut, near the town of Ivanivske.

While Wagner is focused on clearing the private residential areas on western Bakhmut, according to a Kremlin-affiliated milblogger, the surrounding Russian supportive forces appear to be losing ground, leaving the mercenaries at risk of being trapped inside the city.

As the prospect of a double envelopment looms, though it is far from inevitable, Prigozhin has upped his public criticism of the Russian war generals, who he claims are deliberately withholding ammunition from his mercenaries and forcing them to consider retreating.

And disdain for the Wagner forces inside Russia, particularly among officials, has become more pronounced as a result of Prigozhin’s rants.

State Duma Parliamentarian Viktor Sobolev, on Monday, described the group as an “illegal armed formation” and warned that mobilised servicemen who decide to join its ranks would face 10 to 15 years in prison.

His comments prompted three Wagner mercenaries to publish a video threatening to invade Moscow’s Red Square to “protect the Russian people”. They branded Sobolev as an “a**hole” trying to “stick his nose” into the war effort and, ultimately, cause Russia to “lose the war”.

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What was once believed to be Putin’s personal army, on the cusp of securing Russia’s only territorial gain on the frontline in over half a year, is now the Kremlin’s most vocal critic.

Prigozhin has gone to extraordinary lengths to lambast Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu and the head of the Armed Forces of Russia in Ukraine, Valery Gerasimov, as the discord continues to spiral out of control.

Last month, he posted a gory video in front of dozens of dead Wagner bodies claiming the two officials were responsible for these deaths.

In another video, referring to Vladimir Putin as “grandfather”, he suggested that the Russian autocrat himself was nudging them towards losing the war in Ukraine.

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