Putin’s forces already lost the war, former Russian commander says

Above, a Ukrainian artilleryman from the 24th brigade carries empty artillery cartridge cases at a position along the front line in the vicinity of Bakhmut on Sunday, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian forces have repelled Russian assaults near Bakmut as the battle for the city results in a deadlock, according to a report from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). Getty

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces may have already lost a key battle in Ukraine, according to a former Russian military commander on Sunday.

Above, an image of Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen alongside an inset of former Commander Igor Girkin. Girkin said Putin’s troops have already strategically lost the battle for Bakhmut, as combat for the southeastern Ukrainian city continues.

Putin ordered his “special military operation” on Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Fighting has continued for more than 10 months as Putin’s troops have struggled to achieve substantial victories against their Eastern European neighbor, whose defense effort has been bolstered by Western military aid.

Amid Russian losses, fighting remains concentrated to southeastern Ukraine in the city of Bakhmut, which for months has been the site of some of the most intense fighting in the war. Russian troops in the region are being led by the Wagner Group, a private military force founded by Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, that has faced accusations of committing human rights abuses and attacks on civilians.

Fighting in Bakhmut, which is home to nearby mines containing strategic resources including salt and gypsum, continued over the weekend. Russia appeared to make gains in nearby Soledar, with Russian military experts suggesting Ukrainian soldiers in Bakhmut could face the threat of encirclement.

Still, even a tactical victory in Bakhmut may not turn the tide of the war in favor of the Kremlin, said Igor Girkin, a former Russian commander known for his role in Russia’s 2014 Crimea operation. He wrote in a Telegram post Sunday that Putin’s troops have already lost in a strategic sense.

Girkin said Russian victory in Bakhmut remains “very far away,” predicting it will last for at least another month. Even if Russia achieves a tactical win, he said it would still be a strategic loss, as he suggested other targets in Ukraine may be more worthy of these resources.

“And even if our troops get a tactical victory in it, then strategically, we have already lost, again throwing the best forces and means ‘on an unworthy object,” Girkin wrote.

He added that the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation is largely at fault for ordering the invasion, but that the Wagner Group also shares in the blame for allowing its troops to be used in this combat.

“The commander who allows his soldiers to be wasted so ineptly and fruitlessly (even acting on orders) cannot be considered a good military leader in any case,” he wrote.

As the conflict continues, tensions over Bakhmut have grown within Russian leadership. According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a U.S.-based think tank, the Wagner Group has sought to blame the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) for its slow progress in the battle.

In an interview with Russian state media, Prigozhin reportedly said Wagner Group soldiers struggled to get past Ukrainian lines “due to insufficient armored vehicles, ammunition, and 100 mm shell supplies,” the ISW reported.

Girkin, who has become increasingly critical of Moscow’s leadership in the war, said on Saturday that the Kremlin is seeing split leadership over the invasion following a report that Prigozhin accused oligarchs of discrediting the Wagner Group.

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