- Ukrainian forces around Bakhmut could retake the city after Wagner Group forces evacuate.
- The ISW suggests that Russian movement in the area is low, leaving openings for a Ukraine offensive.
- Ukrainian troops in Bakhmut said fighting regular Russian troops won’t be as hard as Wagner forces.
As Wagner Group troops evacuate Bakhmut, Ukrainian forces may have a chance to retake the war-torn city — but it’s unclear if that will be Kyiv’s priority as a long-awaited counteroffensive looms.
Russia claimed victory over Bakhmut earlier this month after a long and costly battle for both sides of the war. Shortly after, Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin announced he would be withdrawing his mercenaries from the city on June 1 after Russia claimed full control of the city. Regular Russian troops will replace Wagner’s forces, Prigozhin said.
That transition — coupled with notably low tempo and movement from Russian forces in the area — leaves an opening for Ukraine to potentially retake Bakhmut, according to an assessment from The Institute for the Study of War.
The analysis, released May 28, said: “Ukrainian personnel in the Bakhmut area reportedly expressed optimism that the decreased tempo of Russian operations around Bakhmut may facilitate further limited and localized Ukrainian counterattacks.”
Those offensives, along with “ongoing relief” being provided to Ukraine’s troops, could provide “Ukrainian forces in the area the initiative to launch a new round of operations around the city if they so choose,” ISW stated.
While Bakhmut may have been a symbolic win for Moscow, Ukrainian officials such as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy still assert that Kyiv’s forces are active in the city limits. Now, they’re saying those Ukrainian troops can continue to make gains around the city and stage a “semi-encirclement” to drive Russia out, according to The Washington Post.
It’s unclear if this plan would come as a part of Ukraine’s counteroffensive or if it would be abandoned for other movements in eastern areas along the front lines that prove to be more strategically important to Kyiv.
Nonetheless, the attrition-style fighting of Bakhmut has left Russian forces exhausted ahead of Ukraine’s long-anticipated counteroffensive.