After the announcement of their withdrawal from the embattled Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, the Russian mercenary group Wagner claims to be receiving the ammunition and reinforcements it needs from Moscow. “We were promised as much ammunition and weapons as necessary to continue the fighting,” said the head of the Wagner troupe, Yevgeny Prigozhin, on Sunday on the Telegram channel of his press service. In addition, he was assured flank protection so that his units did not run the risk of being surrounded. Moscow initially did not comment on this.

General Sergei Surovikin is responsible for coordinating the mercenaries with the regular units – “the only person with a general’s star who knows anything about fighting,” Prigozhin said.

In the past, Prigozhin had repeatedly blamed the Russian Ministry of Defense for the heavy losses suffered by his mercenary force in Bakhmut. Due to a lack of artillery ammunition, the losses during the storming of the city were five times as high as necessary, he said. That is why he recently announced the withdrawal of his units from May 10th. That night he had justified the decision with the impending danger of his troops being crushed. He claimed that 50,000 Ukrainians died in the Battle of Bakhmut, but at the same time admitted “tens of thousands” of dead and wounded on his own side.

The bloodiest battlefield of the war

The Battle of Bakhmut has become the bloodiest battlefield in Russia’s 14-month war of aggression against Ukraine over the past six months. With high losses, the Wagner fighters deployed there pushed the Ukrainians further and further back, but were not able to completely conquer Bachmut. A withdrawal from the now completely destroyed city in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk would not be a particularly significant defeat for Moscow from a military-strategic point of view – but from a symbolic point of view it would be all the more so.

Prigozhin, like Surovikin or the Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov, whose units were actually supposed to take over the Wagner positions in Bakhmut, is considered a hardliner in Russia’s war of aggression. International military experts had taken Prigozhin’s complaints about a lack of ammunition as a diversionary tactic to distract from their own failures. The temporarily planned exchange with Kadyrov reflects Prigozhin’s distrust of the Russian military leadership on the one hand, but also gives him the opportunity to save face if the Wagner troops cannot take Bakhmut, the US Institute for War Studies (ISW) judged.

Power struggle within the Russian elite

Experts have been talking for months about a power struggle within the Russian elite that has reduced the efficiency of Moscow’s warfare. Disputes over competences and constant changes in position at the top have exacerbated the Russian army’s massive leadership problems. This is one of the reasons why Russia has still not achieved its war goals after more than a year.

According to Ukrainian estimates, the Russian military is currently not in a position to conduct major offensive operations. “Today, Russia does not have the potential, militarily, economically or politically, to launch another attempt at a serious offensive anywhere in Ukraine,” Ukraine’s military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov said in an interview published on Yahoo News on Saturday evening (local time). However, Russia is still strong enough to organize the defense of the occupied territories.

“That’s the problem we’re facing right now,” he said, referring to the upcoming Ukrainian counter-offensive. He reiterated Kiev’s goal of recapturing the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia has annexed since 2014, “because our victory is not possible without the liberation of Crimea.”

Ukrainian offensive imminent

Because of the expected Ukrainian offensive, the Russian occupiers in the southern Ukrainian region of Zaporizhia have announced in the past few days that areas close to the front will be evacuated. Enerhodar, where the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant is located, is among the towns to be evacuated.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was alarmed by the tense situation around the nuclear power plant. The situation is becoming more and more unpredictable and the risk of danger in the Russian-occupied nuclear power plant is increasing, said IAEA boss Rafael Grossi on Saturday evening. “I am extremely concerned about the very real security risks,” he warned in a status report. “We must act now to prevent an impending serious nuclear accident.”

German authorities confirmed on Sunday that no radiation had escaped so far. “There is currently no evidence of increased radiation levels, neither in Ukraine nor in Germany,” a spokesman for the Federal Environment Ministry told the newspapers of the Funke media group (Sunday). The Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) continuously collects data on radioactivity in the environment at around 1700 measuring probes.