Wagner Group likely lost thousands in fight for Bakhmut

Wagner Group likely lost thousands in fight for Bakhmut

Russia’s Wagner mercenary group have lost tens of thousands of its fighters — possibly up to half of its 50,000-strong force — during months of bloody battles to capture the key Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, according to analysts.

The Institute for the Study of War think tank reported in its latest update on the war that according to western officials, Wagner Group of Russian regulars have likely lost a “substantial” amount of manpower, which is expected to hobble Moscow’s offensive in the eastern region.

Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff General Mark Milley reported Wednesday that the Wagner Group has around 6,000 professional personnel and 20,000 to 30,000 recruits, mostly convicts, currently fighting in the Bakhmut area.

In late December, National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby put the size of Wagner’s force at 50,000 fighters, more than three quarters of them inmates recruited from Russia’s prisons.

Wagner fighters in Praskoviyivka, Bakhmut region.
Think tank analysts have reported that Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group had sustained tens of thousands of casualties in Ukraine since July.

An aerial view of Bakhmut, the site of heavy battles with Russian troops in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Sunday, March 26, 2023.
The mercenaries, among them thousands of convicts, have been leading the fight to capture the key city of Bakhmut.

The mercenaries have spent months trying to capture Bakhmut, where fighting has been so fierce that it has come to be known as a “meat grinder.”

“It is likely that the difference between Kirby’s 50,000 figure in Ukraine and Milley’s 26,000 to 36,000 figure in the Bakhmut area is the result of casualties from Wagner’s attritional offensive on Bakhmut,” ISW analysts concluded.

Ian Stubbs, senior military advisor to the United Kingdom’s mission to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), said Thursday that 30,000 Russian military and Wagner personnel have been either killed or injured in the Bakhmut area since July, with the number of casualties

March 24, 2023, Bakhmut, Ukraine: A Wagner Group soldier guards an area outside apartment blocks in the city of Bakhmut damaged in Russian shelling attacks.
In December, an estimated 50,000 Wagner mercenaries were fighting in Ukraine. By this week, that number had dropped to 26,000 to 36,000.

“Stubbs stated that Russian and Wagner forces have particularly suffered significant losses in and around Bakhmut in recent weeks and that they urgently need to replenish their personnel,” the ISW update stated.

“These losses in manpower will continue to constrain Russian offensive operations in the Bakhmut area as well as the wider theater, and Wagner’s significant losses will likely threaten its ability to maintain its influential role among Russian forces fighting in Ukraine.”

This information from the Western analysts appeared to have been confirmed by the founder of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who publicly acknowledged Wednesday that fighting in Bakhmut had inflicted severe losses on his forces — as well as on the Ukrainian side.

A Wagner Group soldier guards an area outside an apartment block in the city of Artyomovsk (Bakhmut) damaged in a shelling attack.
Wagner forces have been making gains in Bakhmut and captured a metal plant this week, but they still do not fully control the city.

“The battle for Bakhmut today has already practically destroyed the Ukrainian army, and unfortunately, it has also badly damaged the Wagner Private Military Company,” Prigozhin said in an audio message.

Despite making steady territorial gains in street-by-street fighting in recent weeks, including capturing a metal processing plant in the city earlier this week, Moscow’s forces have yet to take full control of Bakhmut.    

British military intelligence reported the Ukrainians had successfully pushed the Russians back from one of the city’s main supply routes.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier this month ordered more troops to defend the city to deny the enemy a victory.

Wagner Group's founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, pictured, admitted this week that his force had suffered major damage in the fighting.
Wagner Group’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, pictured, admitted this week that his force had suffered major damage in the fighting.

In an interview with the Associated Press this week, Zelensky argued that if Russia were to seize Bakhmut, President Vladimir Putin would exploit the situation to create an international coalition that would force a ceasefire deal on Ukraine on his own terms.

“If he will feel some blood — smell that we are weak — he will push, push, push,” Zelensky said of Putin.

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