May 25, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10629

Two Contrasting Assessments Of Russia's Conquest Of Bakhmut

May 25, 2023
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 10629

Following a grueling six-month battle that claimed many Ukrainian and Russian lives, Russia has conquered Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. The Russian leadership and its media surrogates play up the victory. Political scientist and columnist Irina Alksnis argues that the Ukrainian raid into Russia's Belgorod province was prompted by Kyiv's loss of Bakhmut. According to her, this mission was an attempt at media spin designed to divert attention from the loss of Bakhmut and convince Ukraine's Western backers that Ukraine remained a worthy recipient of their military and economic largesse.

In contrast, an editorial in Nezavisimaya Gazeta is far more reserved about the success in Bakhmut. The editorial states that Bakhmut was a personal victory for Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner Private Military Company, though it is less of a victory for the Russian Army. The fighting has exhausted Wagner and it remains to be seen whether the regular troops could fill the breach while Wagner troops recovered. According to the text, Russia has had to confront a Ukrainian enemy that was gaining strength and has displayed strategic acumen.

MEMRI presents both articles below.

A soldier of the Wagner PMC waves the company's flag over conquered Bakhmut (Source:

Irina Alksnis describes the raid into Russian territory as a desperate suicide attempt to dilute the impact of Ukraine's defeat in Bakhmut. She writes: "A counter-terrorist operation continues in Belgorod Oblast against a Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance group [hereafter – DRG] that has infiltrated the region.

"Essentially, the current actions of Kyiv and its Western patrons (no doubt they had a hand in today's events) demonstrate as clearly as possible the dead end in which Russia's adversaries currently find themselves.

"Does this Ukrainian action have any military sense? Not in the least. The outcome is quite clear: the saboteurs will be mopped up and, since they have been sent to their deaths, those who survive can consider themselves very lucky.

"The true aim of Kyiv's operation is purely mediatic, PR, and terrorist (in the sense of seeking to sow panic, intimidate Russian society, and thereby influence its attitude to what is happening).

"The most obvious aspect of Kyiv's plans, which the Kremlin has also pointed out, is an attempt to offset the loss of Artemivsk (Bakhmut). But this is only part of the overall picture, as for that side, the situation appears hopeless in general.

"Kyiv has a vital interest in preserving the 'status quo,' primarily in the sense of continuing to scrounge off its transatlantic partners. But in order to do so, it needs to demonstrate success in the military field. But it is not doing so well: Artemivsk has been lost, and the counter-offensive, which has been loudly announced for so long, is being postponed again and again, which raises legitimate questions among the sponsors about its prospects in general.

"In the West, on the other hand, the situation is, in some sense, even worse. Over the past nearly year and a half, it has staked too much on attaining a victory over Russia (both militarily and economically). And, unlike its past military and political escapades, now the West cannot afford to lose. Its system of world domination is already crumbling with growing speed in a completely obvious manner.

"No emergency measures passed by Washington in an attempt to coerce non-Western countries into the previous state of meek submission are yielding significant results. In such a situation, admitting failure to 'punish' Moscow, for which so much effort, money, and resources have been allocated, could come as a straw that breaks the camel's back. The collapse that is already underway will turn into a swift meltdown.

"All this is compounded by the aggravating contradictions and conflicts within the West per se, its establishment, as well as the increasing financial and economic problems that cannot be dealt with by conventional methods. So, the U.S. and Europe have successfully backed themselves into a corner, from which they can extricate themselves only via a victory over Russia, and this is looking increasingly illusory.

"It is not surprising that the decision was made to turn to a tried and tested method, whereby the West (and Kyiv as well) have had considerable success – media spin. For thirty years, what CNN was broadcasting was real to the world, and what it was silent about simply did not exist.

"Sending a DRG to the Belgorod Oblast is fully consistent with this approach and could provide a much-needed media victory. There is only one problem: the West, among others, is promptly losing its information monopoly, especially in the non-Western part of the world. Kyiv, too, could certainly use today's events to continue to brainwash its own population.

"Except that the rest of the planet lives in the real world and makes decisions according to the real state of affairs. The last year has demonstrated that very well. And no fairy tales of the global media mainstream, even turned-on to maximum intensity, will remake Kyiv's suicide operation into a great military 'victory' for the ZSU [Armed Forces of Ukraine].

"What's more, the recourse to media tools to imitate the desired outcome only reinforces the West's disconnect from reality and understanding of real processes. After all, its ideological narrow-mindedness and foreign policy stagnation, which so surprises many, are a side effect of the West's belief in its own media-generated illusions. Well, for many years this actually worked.

"And now it no longer works, though they still don't realize it."[1]

Irina Alksnis (Source:

In an editorial titled "What Are the Lessons of the Battle for Bakhmut," Nezavisimaya Gazeta called the battle an individual, but far from decisive, episode in the war. Moreover, the war was a victory for Yevgeny Prigozhin and highlighted the qualitative gap between Prigozhin's mercenary force and Russia's regular army. The text states: [2]

"The Wagner PMC [Private Military Company] has taken complete control of the town of Bakhmut (Artemivsk) in the Donetsk People's Republic. 224 days of a brutal 'meatgrinder' are behind us. There has not been such a significant event on the fronts of a special military operation [hereafter – the SVO] in terms of media impact, since the storming of Mariupol was completed exactly one year ago.

"Supporters of the intensification of the SVO are rejoicing and making plans, 'now it is possible to advance further, as the road to the cities of Slavyansk and Kramatorsk has opened, the full purge of Ukrainian forces from the DPR is coming, the return to Russia of the legendary cities that once started the 'Russian spring' in Donbass is approaching... or maybe not?

"In fact, as a result of the battle for Bakhmut, we have a unit [the Wagner PMC] that was exhausted and bled out in grueling combat, a unit that needs time for a breather. It appears to be almost the only unit in the entire country that knows how to effectively carry out assault tasks (well, at least it indisputably possesses unique positive experience in this regard) and knows how to present it to the media. No, certainly, there are heroes in the units of the Russian Armed Forces too. But they weren't those who were taking Bakhmut.

"There is also a 'warlord' [i.e., Prigozhin], who has openly rebelled against the military command. A man, who for some reason has been allowed to discredit the leadership of the Russian Armed Forces in a way that even the authors of the law [prohibiting this very activity] did not anticipate.

"He criticizes the Russian army while 'cementing' [i.e., strengthening] his own, private one, which is an unheard-of thing in a country at war. A 'buccaneer' is outdoing the 'parquet generals' from the General Staff.

"This moment is his finest hour – his own, not the country's. Because the whole country is holding its breath waiting to see what will happen when the units entrusted to him leave the territory taken and go on a well-deserved rest leave, handing over the defense to regular army units.

"There is no one, except maybe former DPR Defense Minister Igor Strelkov (aka Girkin), who has criticized the leadership of the Defense Ministry more strongly and more radically [than Prigozhin] and has talked openly about the weakness of the Russian army.

"Could this be why the Ukrainian terrorists are not targeting them? Whatever the case, this very 'warlord' demonstrated an astonishing, supreme efficiency, for which, apparently, everything was forgiven to him. At least for now.

"And there is an adversary that is supplied by the West with everything it needs to sustain a military confrontation [i.e., Ukraine], including long-range missiles, advanced tanks, air-defense systems and, eventually, aircraft (this apparently is merely a matter of time). [This is] an adversary that is becoming smarter and more flexible by the day; for whom the loss of Bakhmut is an unpleasant, but long expected episode in military planning; which thinks in terms of a counteroffensive (and not without basis). Kyiv yearns to retake what has been lost, i.e., to regain territories, where it will be able to do what it pleases, deploying its immense Slavic soul all the way. One can imagine what will happen in Crimea, should Ukraine break through there.

"Thus, it turns out that the capture of Bakhmut, while an undisputed military success, still does not look like such a clear victory for Russia. Naturally, it is a clear victory for Wagner and its founder. They have confirmed their tough reputation, but they have raised a question in the process: who else but them? The Russian Ministry of Defense now clearly lags behind in terms of its regular units (i.e., paratroopers, marines, motorized riflemen... or any other)."

A personal victory for the "warlord" Prigozhin (Source:

"And another thing, the capture of Artemivsk by Russian forces is an important but individual and far from decisive episode in the military campaign. Someday (maybe even soon) it will play a role in the offensive against the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. For now, we have to think about how to repel the Ukrainian 'counter-offensive' and speculate whether 80 years later operation 'Citadel' can again be converted into the victorious Battle of Kursk."[3]


[1], May 22, 2023.

[2], May 22, 2023.

[3] The 1943 Operation "Citadel" was Germany's last major offensive against the Red Army. The German attempt to destroy the Kursk salient resulted in the largest tank battle in world history. After the Battle of Kursk, the German Army was in constant retreat until its surrender in May of 1945.

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