Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that Wagner forces continue to hand over positions in Bakhmut to the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and withdraw from the city. Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed on May 26 that the MoD is fulfilling its agreement by actively deploying regular Russian units to Wagner-held positions in Bakhmut city. Prigozhin claimed that Wagner is conducting an organized withdrawal from Bakhmut and reiterated that the Russian MoD will fully control the city and its surrounding areas by June 1. A Russian milblogger published footage of Prigozhin visiting Russian rear positions where Wagner forces are allegedly withdrawing to. ISW has not observed visual confirmation of regular Russian forces taking up Wagner positions in Bakhmut itself or that Wagner is leaving the city. ISW has recently observed footage purporting to show elements of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) 123rd Brigade, likely previously deployed near Siversk, operating in the Bakhmut area, and DNR forces may be replacing Wagner formations.
Ukrainian sources claim that Wagner forces are still present in Bakhmut and that the tempo of Russian offensive operations around the city continues to decrease. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar reported that regular Russian units have replaced Wagner units in Bakhmut’s suburbs, likely referring to areas on the flanks around Bakhmut. Malyar claimed that Ukrainian forces still control positions on the southwestern outskirts of the city and that Wagner forces are still present in Bakhmut city itself. Ukrainian sources continue to report that the tempo of Russian offensive operations around Bakhmut has declined since the claimed Russian capture of the city. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Bakhmut and in the direction of Predtechyne (15km southwest of Bakhmut) on May 26.
Continued successful limited Ukrainian counterattacks on Bakhmut’s flanks may complicate the Russian relief in place operation in Bakhmut. Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted successful counterattacks near Orikhovo-Vasylivka (11km northwest of Bakhmut) and Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut). A prominent milblogger claimed that Ukrainian counterattacks near Orikhovo-Vasylivka caused elements of the “Veterany” private military company (PMC) to retreat up to a kilometer from their previously held positions in the area. Milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces captured elevated positions along the E40 (Bakhmut to Slovyansk) highway near Orikhovo-Vasylivka and that fighting is ongoing in the area. A Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces advanced towards Klishchiivka and crossed the Siverskyi Donets Canal, possibly threatening to encircle the settlement and force Russian forces to retreat towards the east. Geolocated footage published on May 24 and 25 indicates that Russian forces likely regained limited positions west of Klishchiivka, however. ISW has previously assessed that Russian forces may struggle to conduct a relief in place of Wagner forces in Bakhmut, and successful limited and localized Ukrainian counterattacks will likely complicate their ability to do so. The decreased tempo of Russian offensive operations in the Bakhmut area and the reported ongoing relief in place operation are likely further providing Ukrainian forces in the area the initiative to launch a new phase of operations around the city if they so choose.
Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that Wagner forces continue to hand over positions in Bakhmut to the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and withdraw from the city.Ukrainian sources claim that Wagner forces are still present in Bakhmut and that the tempo of Russian offensive operations around the city continues to decrease.Continued successful limited Ukrainian counterattacks on Bakhmut’s flanks may complicate the Russian relief in place operation in Bakhmut.Russian forces conducted a large-scale missile and drone strike across Ukraine on May 25 and 26.The Kremlin is likely reviving its information campaign to coerce the West into forcing Ukraine to accept concessions and negotiate on terms favorable to Russia.The Wagner Group reportedly exchanged 106 Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) for an unspecified number of Russian POWs on May 25, suggesting that Wagner may have conducted the exchange independently of the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD).Russian forces continued limited offensive operations northeast of Kupyansk and along the Svatove-Kreminna line.Russian forces continued limited offensive operations along the Avdiivka-Donetsk front.Russian forces continued to target Ukrainian positions in southern Ukraine.Russian officials are continuing to form new volunteer formations to defend Russian regions that border Ukraine.Russian occupation officials continuing attempts to erase Ukrainian cultural heritage by looting Ukrainian artifacts.