Wagner’s group is a paramilitary organisation that has for over nine months been trying to conquer the Ukraine city of Bakhmut; this organisation was created with the support of the Kremlin with the organisation led by a former caterer Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Currently, the Waggoner group consists of 50,000 combat personnel fighting for control over the region Bakhmut’s original plan is believed to have been to encircle the city, which began successfully in January 2023 with the Waggoner group taking the Ukrainian village Klishchivka and surrounding the City Siversk.
In mid-February, the Russians were within reach of Ivanivske (Town) and Chasiv Yar (City); these locations were taken and threatened by the Russians to destroy any supplies and soldiers trying to reinforce the city of Bakhmut.
Ukrainians were left with the only available supply route to Bakhmut by the 0-0506 road and surrounding dirt tracks to send supplies to the besieged city; this is where the Russians launched a three-pronged offensive to surround the city and forced the surrender of the defending Ukrainians.
Internal Divisions in Russian Military Effort
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Waggoner group and the commander of the invading forces in the Bakhumet region advance, was stalled in May.
Prigozhin has directly accused the Russian Ministry of Defence, particularly Sergei Shoigu, who has been the Minister of Defence since 2012, of lying to Vladimir Putin, which potentially means the Waggoner group may have to withdraw from the region due to the lack of ammunition.
The growing tensions between the Waggoner group and the Russian Federation by Vladimir Putin opens up the possibility of an internal conflict, potentially a civil war, due to the Wagner group being the only army at the disposal of the Russian government until the next batch of mobilisation.
It’s necessary to highlight that in 2022 when the Russians began their invasion on 24 February between that time and the start of 2023, Russians suffered at the most 200,000 deaths and a further 200,000 casualties.
These numbers are essential to highlight that they are dubious in accuracy due to the lack of good-quality information. Still, it is substantial enough to argue that the new call-up of Russian conscripts will not be as effective as the previous professional forces that invaded Ukraine in 2022.
This potentially may leave the Waggoner group as Russia’s main effective fighting force in the short term, providing there is not another significant disaster on the Russian side of the conflict.
It will be interesting to see what may happen in the future, and it may be concerning the Wagner group if it significantly expands during this conflict; it could potentially lead to problems in Russia.
In December 2022, United States National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby claimed Wagner has 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts.
Ukrainians Reclaiming Territory
With the Russian state’s failure to keep the Wagner group adequately supplied with ammunition and other materials, the Ukrainian army pushed the Russians to the watered reservoir of Berkhivika and reached the town of Klishchivka to the South of Bakhmut.
Even with this good news, it’s important not to have over expectations; it appears there is more of the case of the Russians pulling back and trading space for time to re-equip their army. As for Ukrainians, the territory they have reclaimed is primarily forest and the countryside.
There is still a long way to go in this conflict, where there will be repeats of backwards and forwards in the advancements and retreats of both armies.
An example of trading space for time can be found during the American Civil War 1861 to 1865 in the Western theatre of combat during the Battle of Shiloh (1862), where the American Union army, 66,812 strong, was fighting the rebel Confederate States of America Army of Tennessee 44,699 strong.
The Union was initially losing the battle until the leadership of Ulysses S Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman traded space for time and slowly withdrew and consolidating the Union army into an effective fighting force and successfully pulling back slowly and thereby trading territory in exchange for reforming the Union army.
What happened during the Battle of Shiloh has been and will be repeated during the Ukraine war and many other conflicts; this kind of tactic that involves trading space for time was also used by the communist leader Chairman Mao Tse-tung who was accused of being timid by other communist leaders in the 1930s.
But it was his calm demeanour and trading space for time that helped to enable the Communist victory in 1949, having been at war since 7 December 1927.
This reinforces the point that Ukrainians and Russians will be giving up and gaining territory throughout this war like a good old-fashioned tug of war until one side is victorious and that Ukrainians of Russian advance is not necessarily mean one side is being crushed.
They are just buying time to reform and consolidate their military forces. It won’t be into one army that has been destroyed in detail in the way made explicit for Victor either conquer Ukraine or see the liberation of Ukrainian territory.
Neither side is sufficiently exhausted from the war due to attrition, lack of materials, or other reasons; the war may go on providing Ukrainians keep their casualties low and still have access to the materials from the Western alliance.
As for the Russians is a very different story because they can still afford to throw bodies at the problem, providing they have the appropriate equipment.
A historical analogy can be found again in the American Civil War; by 1863, it was clear from a strategic point and due to General Grant’s advance down the Mississippi that the war was effectively over for the Confederate States of America.
Unfortunately, the Confederate States of America army, particularly the Army of Northern Virginia, was still intact, and the only way the war was going to end was due to Ulysses S Grant’s war aim was not to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond but to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia and thereby effectively ending the war.
Ukrainians in this historical example are Confederacy in the sense that they are fighting a predominantly defensive war within their territory, and to be victorious Ukrainian army must remain intact.
(Fun fact the British during the American Civil War gave at least 60,000 rifles to the Confederate States of America)
Sources and Bibliography
Conflict in Ukraine: A timeline (2014 – present) link
NRA Throwback Thursday: Guns of 1861 link
Britannica Chinese Civil War link
Unearned Wisdom Strategy 11: Trade Space for Time (The 33 Strategies of War) link
America Battle Filed Trust Shiloh link
Wikipedia Battle of Shiloh link
Britannica William Tecumseh Sherman United States General link
PBS What to know about Russia’s Wagner mercenaries as they threaten to leave Ukraine’s front-line link
Politico Inside the stunning growth of Russia’s Wagner Group link
Britannica Russia-Ukraine War link
Mail Online Ukraine’s STALINGRAD: Hand-to-hand bayonet combat, phosphorus bombs and ‘meat waves’ of Russian convicts… The year-long battle for Bakhmut still rages, but when the Nazis exhausted themselves, it could yet be a turning point towards Putin’s defeat link.
The Great Courses: The American Civil War by Gary W. Gallagher link
Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee, by Michael Korda link
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