Why what happens in Bakhmut matters in Russia
I have long thought that Putin felt that Ukraine as a thriving democracy was a danger so close to the authoritarian Russian state. With many Ukrainians speaking both languages, and talk of EU and NATO membership, I wonder if that wasn't the big threat to Putin rather than an actual military threat from NATO membership. With free flow along the Ukr-Rus border, how long would it be before Russians realized that there was a better way of governance. Just a thought. But it does seem that Putin made a mistake of great magnitude on 2/24/22.
I was struck by the mention of Stalingrad along with Bakhmut. As a youth I remember the importance of Stalingrad. Stalin insisted they it would not be lost to the Nazis. Countless soldiers were thrown into the house-by-house conflict and orders were issued to shoot any Soviet soldier who retreated.
Stalingrad was symbolic of the reversal of the Nazi invasion. It was the turning point in the Soviet/German conflict.
In a microcosm, it appears that Bakhmut was Putin’s ‘Stalingrad’ in Ukraine. It has no dominant strategic value. Rather it was symbolic of Putin’s ‘special military operation.’ The Wagner group was heading the grinding assault. The US and others were puzzled why Zelensky was so firm on retaining Bakhmut. Putin desperately wanted to point to the full capture of Bakhmut before his ‘glorious’ May 9th event.
Instead, Ukraine launched a modest counter offensive, retook portions of Bakhmut, and denied Putin his minor May 9th ‘victory’—a humiliation!
“Ukraine is the country in the world where more people say what they want in the Russian language than anywhere else. It was that freedom, expressed in Russian, that threatened Putinism.”
Just one old tank and no aircraft were present at Russia’s Victory Parade this year. 🇷🇺 #It’sOver
Yes, the operational situation at Bakhmut looks a lot like Stalingrad, and in two specific ways. 1. The long-term and increasingly obsessive attempt to take a "symbolic" city still has left the enemy with part of it. That's what happened at Stalingrad. 2. More importantly, the flanks on both sides of the troops attempting to take the city are held by weaker types of soldiery. At Stalingrad, the result was a Soviet tank-led counterattack on both those weakly-held flanks simultaneously (starting Nov. 19, 1942). It led first to the total encirclement of the Nazi army in Stalingrad, and then to its eventual destruction. This may not happen at Bakhmut, but us hope that is does.
The spectre of Prigozhin as the next Russian tyrant is chilling. Still, to cite Omar (and Machiavelli), if you come at the king you best not miss. I was wondering what his play was when he went so public with his complaints last week. Still wondering, but the fissures between these cagey power-mad men is morbidly fascinating. Thanks, Dr. Snyder, for putting it in context. Glory to Ukraine.
Genuinely wondering Dr. Snyder, and excuse my ignorance, but while it makes sense for Putin leaving Wagner out to dry in Bakhmut (in order to make them look weak), isn't it also the case that the regular Russian army is also looking very weak in the area? If Wagner units are broken, or retreat, that also leaves regular forces exposed to counterattacks and thus casualties and perhaps even envelopment and destruction, at least if my admittedly paltry warfighting knowledge is accurate. Would Putin want his own military, as opposed to a discontent PMC like Wagner, to be degraded as well?
Thank you, again, for your wonderful analysis which helps me make sense of this ever changing landscape. Let’s hope that Putin comes to see that it is in his best interest to lose Ukraine.
One element of being a successful politician is the ability to prrofit from any outcome. This is what Putin has done via-a-vis the war. Since the beginning, Russian media have portrayed him as being defferential to his military experts. So is it also regarding the Wagner Group. Should they succeed, it will be a glorious victory for the Rodina; else, betrayal of the Russian people by a corrupt oligarch. Putin will be portrayed by his cadre of liars as a military genius if Russia wins, and as a great leader betrayed by those around him, and ganged up upon by the facist West should she lose. It may take a century before he comes to be known as Vladimir the Vile.
I can’t help but compare Putin’s Russia with Xi Jingping’s government. Taiwan is comparable to Ukraine. Almost the same arguments are used in both cases for “reunification”. The politics of eternity is evident in both cases.
ISW has for a long time pointed out the insignificance of Bakhmut for the outcome of the war. As a trap for Prighozin it makes a lot more sense. Prighozin has been tempted to profit from the mines in the area, and he is making himself a retreat by establishing in the middle of the gold rush in Africa. Evil people are not always stupid; and the US has all the reasons to go after him for setting Trump on the throne.
Wow! I like this analysis.
Professor Snyder, I don’t know if you’ll read this comment, but I recently returned from being in Ukraine off and on for the past year as a humanitarian worker. We put together a thank you video while in the Donbas. I sent it to your assistant, but have not received a response. How can I get it to you?
Thanks for this enlightening post. I've been following Prigozhin's ammunition rants closely, but have been hesitant to come to any conclusions about them because I didn't know enough about him or his motives.
Excellent, very interesting
As always, I appreciate the depth behind the observations and comments by Dr. Snyder. I watched the video of Prigozhin ranting on MSNBC and he is either a madman, a mad man or a made man who has been betrayed by his own mob. It seems Russia is to be ruled by some man whose name starts with "P" but what comes after is not yet known.