A Ukrainian soldier walks past graffiti “Bakhmut Loves Ukraine” in the city in the Donetsk region (AP/Libkos)
Map: Institute for the Study of War
UPDATE 1832 GMT:
The US State Department has expressed serious concerns about the docking of a sanctioned Russian cargo vessel at a South African naval port in December.
The US Ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, said he was confident a Russian ship had picked up weapons in South Africa, violating the country’s declared neutrality over the invasion of Ukraine.
Deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said officials raised the concerns with multiple South African officials.
Pretoria criticized Ambassador Brigety’s remarks and said it has begun an independent inquiry.
UPDATE 1221 GMT:
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has confirmed that the UK is giving Storm Shadow missiles, with a range of about 155 miles, to Ukraine.
Wallace told MPs in the House of Commons, “The donation of these weapons systems gives Ukraine the best chance to defend themselves.”
Since last summer, the US, UK, and other countries had rebuffed Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s request for long-range missiles, concerned that they would be used on strikes inside Russia.
UK officials said earlier today (see 1057 GMT) that they had obtained assurances the missiles will only be used on battlefields in Ukraine.
Each Storm Shadow missile costs about £2.2 million ($2.75). Usually fitted to the UK’s Typhoon fighter jets, they have been used against targets in Libya and Syria.
Experts say the missiles could be strapped to Soviet-made MiG-29 fighter jets — which are being delivered by Poland and Slovakia to Ukraine — without much difficulty.
UPDATE 1057 GMT:
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group, says Ukraine’s counter-offensive has started in the Bakhmut area in the Donetsk region (see also Original Entry).
Having spoken on Tuesday among heavy losses among Russian troops and his fighters, Prigozhin said that Ukrainian operations were “unfortunately, partially successful”.
However, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told media outlets that the counter-offensive has not begun: “We can go forward and be successful. But we’d lose a lot of people. I think that’s unacceptable. So we need to wait. We still need a bit more time.”
Zelenskiy noted that some armored vehicles, supplied by an international coalition, have yet to arrive.
Meanwhile, “multiple senior Western officials” say the UK has supplied Kyiv with Storm Shadow long-range cruise missiles, a significant breakthrough meeting Zelenskiy’s long-stated request for the munitions.
The Western officials said the UK has received assurances from the Ukrainian Government that the missiles will not be used on targets inside Russia.
Last week, a UK-led group of European countries asked companies for expressions of interest to supply Ukraine with missiles with a range of up to 190 miles.
UPDATE 0625 GMT:
US Attorney General Merrick Garland has announced the first transfer to Ukraine of forfeited Russian assets.
Garland said on Wednesday that he authorized the movement of millions of dollars from Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev, charged with violation of sanctions on Moscow over Vladimir Putin’s invasion, to Kyiv.
“While this represents the United States’ first transfer of forfeited Russian funds for the rebuilding of Ukraine, it will not be the last,” the Attorney General said.
UPDATE 0601 GMT:
Russian shelling of the Sumy region in northern Ukraine killed one person on Wednesday.
Six communities were attacked with 65 strikes with mortars and artillery. Two residences, a farm garage, and a power line were damaged.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Russia has suffered a notable setback in its year-long attempt to overrun Bakhmut in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.
Both the Ukrainian military and the head of Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said a Ukraine counter-attack regained 2.6 km (1.6 miles) along a 3-km (1.9-mile) front near the city.
Both also explained that Russia’s 72nd Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade — brought in to supplement Wagner’s “human wave” attacks to seize Bakhmut — had been decimated.
Prigozhin, who in a running battle against the Russian Defense Ministry for influence in Moscow, indicated on Tuesday that his mercenaries had also taken heavy casualties.
Our army is fleeing. The 72nd Brigade pissed away 4 square km this morning, where I had lost around 500 men.
He repeated on Wednesday that his mercenaries were being starved of ammunition and supplies from the Defense Ministry: “We’re not receiving enough shells, we’re only getting 10%. We’re scraping by with a minimal quantity of shells.”
The head of Ukraine’s ground forces, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, posted on Telegram on Wednesday
It was the competent conduct of the defensive operation that exhausted the trained forces of the “Wagner” [Group] and forced them to be replaced in certain directions by less well-prepared units of the Russian regular troops, which were defeated and left.
Serhiy Cherevatyi, a military spokesman for the Ukraine military’s Eastern District, also said the Russian brigade had retreated with severe losses. However, he cautioned that the situation remained “difficult” in Bakhmut, where more than 80% of the center is held by Wagner.
Cherevtyi said, “Over the past day, a total of 524 strikes were launched in this [Bakhmut] direction. The enemy pummeled our positions, so their talks about some kind of ammunition shortage are fake.”
He claimed 203 Russians had been killed, 216 wounded, and five captured.
A Russian Offensive in Trouble?
Russia launched its assault on Bakhmut, which had a pre-invasion population of about 70,000, in May 2022 amid an offensive which seized part of the Donetsk region and all of the neighboring Luhansk region.
The city lost strategic significance after a Ukrainian counter-offensive in the autumn liberated all of Kharkiv Province and part of Donetsk. However, Vladimir Putin — who had announced a mobilization of 300,000 Russians to regain the initiative — was invested in obtaining a symbolic victory. So from November, Wagner was used for the repeated, high-casualty assaults on Bakhmut.
The mercenaries made gradual advances, but a wider Russian offensive in Donetsk from January ended in a comprehensive defeat with heavy losses of conventional forces, armor, and other military material.
US officials said last week that the Russians had suffered about 100,000 casualties, including more than 20,000 killed, in the Bakhmut area since November.
With his fighters still unable to complete the conquest of Bakhmut, Prigozhin has stepped up his verbal assaults on the Russian Defense Ministry and military commanders, calling them a “monstrous bureaucracy” and “traitors”.
Last week, he said of his rivals, “[You] will have your guts eaten out in hell!,” as he repeated his accusation that ammunition was being withheld and said his men would withdraw from Bakhmut by Wednesday.
Earlier this week, he stepped back from the threat. However, he continued his high-profile insults: “A happy grandfather thinks that he is fine….How to win a war if it suddenly turns out that this grandfather is a complete asshole?”
Some analysts interpreted the video statement — released during Russia’s Victory Day ceremonies — as an implicit attack on Vladimir Putin, who is commonly referred to as the country’s grandfather.
Citing two “sources close to the Kremlin”, the independent outlet Meduza said Prigozhin’s rhetoric is beginning to “seriously disturb the country’s top leadership”.
One source said Prigozhin — acting “not in a common team and not in common interests” — has crossed “red lines”, even though he maintains direct contact with Putin.
The sources say State media have been instructed to portray the Wagner Group head as a “traitor to Russia” if he continues his criticism of the Defense Ministry and comments about “failures at the front.”
On Wednesday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov tried to fend off questions about Russia’s problems on the battlefield, “The special military operation continues. This is a very difficult operation, and, of course, certain goals have been achieved in a year.”