ISW: Putin loses confidence in mercenary Wagner Group over futile attempts to seize Ukraine’s Bakhmut

Russian President Vladimir Putin no longer relies on the Wagner Group, Russia’s notorious mercenary private military company, over its fruitless attempts to capture the town of Bakhmut, east Ukraine, and is now focused on reforming the regular army, US Institute for the Study of War (ISW) notes in its daily report.

“Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s star has begun to set after months of apparent rise following his failure to make good on promises of capturing Bakhmut with his own forces,” the ISW underlines.

Putin is believed to have given Prigozhin and ex-head of the Joint Grouping of Forces in Ukraine Sergey Surovikin chances to show what drafted convicts and a campaign targeting Ukraine’s civil infrastructure can achieve, the analysts note. However, both failed: the Wagner Group could not capture Bakhmut, while weekly strikes on Ukraine and its population yielded very few results apart from exhausting Russia’s stockpile of high-precision missiles.

“Putin appears to have decided to turn away from relying on Prigozhin and his irregular forces and to put his trust instead in Gerasimov, Shoigu, and the conventional Russian military once more,” the ISW writes. Earlier, the Russian leader handed command over the Russian troops in Ukraine to General Valery Gerasimov, while the Russian Defence Ministry on 17 January announced large-scale reforms to expand the Russian army.

According to the ISW experts, these reforms and appointments “mark a significant inflection in the Kremlin’s efforts to reconstitute its conventional military and a deemphasis of short-term mitigation efforts such as the use of irregular formations on the frontlines”.

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The Ukrainian General Staff reported in its morning bulletin that Russian forces continue to advance in the Bakhmut direction. The Ukrainian army repelled a Russian attack near Bakhmut and other locations, while the Russian military was engaged “in unsuccessful offensives in the Lyman, Avdiivka, and Zaporizhzhia directions”, the agency noted.

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