May 27, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Wagner mercenaries head is accused of plotting a coup against Putin

Institute for the Study of War

Wagner Group mercenaries appear to be withdrawing from Bakhmut city to reconstitute and regroup in the rear as Russian offensive operations decrease in and around the city. Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian offensive operations had dramatically decreased to two skirmishes in the Bakhmut direction, and Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar attributed this decrease to the Russian relief-in-place and regrouping of forces in the area. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on May 27 that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations west of Khromove (immediately west of Bakhmut) and in the direction of Predtechyne (15km southwest of Bakhmut). Malyar stated that Ukrainian forces hold dominant elevated positions north and south of Bakhmut and that Ukrainian forces stopped combat operations on May 26 and 27 to fulfill other unspecified tasks. Malyar also stated that Ukrainian forces continue to control positions in the southwestern outskirts of Bakhmut City. A prominent Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces are not conducting active operations aimed at regaining positions in Bakhmut City itself despite the possible continuation of localized Ukrainian counterattacks northwest and southwest of the city.

Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov stated that Wagner mercenaries are withdrawing from the city of Bakhmut and are “regrouping to another three locations.” Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin reiterated that Wagner forces continued to withdraw from Bakhmut city on May 27. Prigozhin’s statements are likely true given the decrease in Russian offensive capabilities around Bakhmut and Ukrainian statements regarding the situation in Bakhmut.

The Russian military command may be transferring Donetsk People’s Republic’s (DNR) forces to relieve Wagner Group forces in Bakhmut city. The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) assessed that the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) forces have likely entered Bakhmut city as of May 24 and begun clearing operations. ISW previously observed elements of the 132nd Separate Guard Motorized Rifle Brigade of the DNR’s 1st Army Corps operating in the Bakhmut direction after previously fighting in the Avdiivka area. It is unclear at this time if elements of the 132nd Brigade are operating inside of the city, but DNR Head Denis Pushilin previously raised the DNR flag in Bakhmut – which likely indicates that the DNR forces are assuming control over Bakhmut. Pushilin also indicated that DNR elements were clearing the city as of May 23.

Key Takeaways

    Wagner Group mercenaries appear to be withdrawing from Bakhmut city to reconstitute and regroup in the rear as Russian offensive operations decrease in and around the city.

    The Russian military command may be transferring Donetsk People’s Republic’s (DNR) forces to relieve Wagner Group forces in Bakhmut city.

    The Russian transfer of DNR elements to Bakhmut may decrease the tempo of Russian offensive operations on the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line.

    The Russian military command appears to be reinforcing Bakhmut’s flanks with regular formations, however.

    Former Russian officer and ardent nationalist Igor Girkin accused Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin of planning a coup against the current Russian leadership.

    Ukrainian officials denied Western reporting that suggested that a Chinese diplomat expressed interest in a negotiated ceasefire in Ukraine amidst the likely renewal of Russia’s information campaign surrounding negotiations.

    Russian forces continued limited offensive operations northeast of Kupyansk and south of Kreminna.

    Russian forces continued to launch unsuccessful offensive operations on the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line.

    Ukrainian forces continued to strike rear logistics nodes in southern Zaporizhia oblast.

    The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) warned on May 26 that Russian forces are preparing to conduct large scale provocations to create radiological danger at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).

    The Russian Ministry of Justice registered the civil society group “Council of Mothers of Wives” as a foreign agent on May 26, likely to curb resistance to ongoing and future Russian force generation efforts.

    Russian authorities are escalating efforts to portray Russia as a safe guardian of Ukrainian children.

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