Wagner mercenaries are advancing through the eastern town of Bakhmut “like rats into a mousetrap”, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces has said.
Ukrainian troops have launched renewed attacks around Bakhmut’s northern and southern flanks in recent days, leading some analysts to speculate that they may be trying to encircle Russia’s forces.
“Wagner’s men went into Bakhmut like rats into a mousetrap,” Oleksandr Syrskyi said.
Ukraine is now believed to have recaptured about 7.7 square miles (20 sq km) to the north and south of the city in a successful localised counter-offensive operation. But Moscow’s forces, spearheaded by the Wagner Group, have still managed to push deeper inside the city itself.
Hanna Malyar, Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, said the developments in Bakhmut “should not be taken out of context” as they are not part of a broader counter-offensive planned by Kyiv.
“For example, within a few days, our troops liberated about 20 sq km from the enemy in the north and south of the suburbs of Bakhmut,” she wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
“At the same time, the enemy is advancing somewhat in Bakhmut itself, completely destroying the city with artillery,” she said.
South of Bakhmut, Ukrainian forces are believed to have advanced through a wooded area south of the village of Invanivske, in the direction of Klishchiivka, a village Wagner claimed to have captured in January.
And to the north, fighting has been reported in the highlands surrounding the Berkhovskoye reservoir.
‘Advantageous tactical position’
Grey Zone, the prominent Russian military blogger associated with Wagner, last week said the positions recently established by Ukraine give them “an advantageous tactical position, which allows them to conduct reconnaissance and effectively use any type of weapons” on Russian troops in the valley below.
Western officials on Wednesday said Ukraine had managed to hold Russia’s western advance along the line of the Donets-Donbas canal.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s General Staff announced Russia had lost more than 200,000 troops since the start of the war more than a year ago. Only three Nato armies – the US, Turkey and France – have more soldiers than the number of Russians killed or wounded in Ukraine.
Despite the heavy losses, Moscow has amassed more than 200,000 troops to defend more than 600 miles of front line from Kyiv’s anticipated counter-offensive, according to Western estimates.
“Stalin famously noted that quantity has a quality of its own,” a Western official added. “I think quality has a quality of its own, and it’s particularly important with regard to the actual ability to effectively defend, also attack, and the ability to actually be coherent to react to Ukrainians moves.”