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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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International

Ukraine, Russia both have reasons to lie about Bakhmut

May 23, 2023

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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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What is happening in Bakhmut? Does Russia control it? Does Ukraine? And what about the Russian separatist groups fighting for Ukraine? Did they really liberate Russian-held villages?

From the start of the war, finding the truth about what’s happening on the ground in Ukraine has been a struggle. The last few days are no exception.

On May 22, two militant groups of Russian nationals fighting against Russian Armed Forces crossed the border from Ukraine, and attacked in the Belgorod region of Russia. The Russian city is about 45 miles north of Kharkiv in Ukraine.  

The Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC) and Freedom of Russia Legion claimed responsibility for starting the battle, which lasted more than 24 hours. The two groups said they coordinated their operations with Ukraine’s Armed Forces and were creating a security zone to protect Ukrainian civilians.

Publicly, Ukraine’s government said it has nothing to do with the groups. Just like Russia said it had nothing to do with the Russian-speaking soldiers who showed up in Crimea in 2014.

On Tuesday, May 23, the Kremlin said the cross-border raid had been quashed and more than 70 attackers were killed. There was no proof of the casualties and the Kremlin offered no explanation why it took so long to stop the raids. The Kremlin did say the incursion into its territory was meant to distract from Bakhmut.

That city in eastern Ukraine is the site of the longest and bloodiest European land battle since World War II. Over the weekend, Yevgeny Prigozhin said his Wagner mercenaries had completely taken the city. The D.C.-based think tank the Institute for the Study of War said that was likely true. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and others in his administration maintain the battle for Bakhmut is not over.

If Bakhmut did fall, of course Zelenskyy would try and keep up morale by saying the battle for the city isn’t over. The price in dollars and lives to keep Bakhmut is astronomical. Not to mention losing the city means giving Russia its first major victory in the war in months.

For the past eight months, Russians have been slowly advancing in what they call the “Meat Grinder.” Ukrainian forces have been slowly pulling back, but in the last couple of weeks, Ukraine made gains in the north. Prigozhin himself acknowledged the gains and said his troops were in danger of being encircled.

Ukraine also said it still has forces in the southwestern part of Bakhmut fighting. Taken as a whole, the Ukrainians could be setting up Russian forces for a classic military maneuver called a pincer; where they draw in enemy forces and attack them on both sides.

There is speculation that this is how Ukraine plans to launch its much-anticipated spring counteroffensive.

The fact is, after a trove of classified Pentagon materials ended up in a video gaming chatroom, Ukraine stopped sharing its most sensitive battleplans with the West. Which means most of the world likely won’t know the truth about Bakhmut or the raid into Belgorod until after the war, if ever.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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WHAT IS HAPPENING IN BAKHMUT? DOES RUSSIA CONTROL IT? DOES UKRAINE? AND WHAT ABOUT THE RUSSIAN SEPARATIST GROUPS FIGHTING FOR UKRAINE? DID THEY REALLY LIBERATE RUSSIAN-HELD VILLAGES?

FROM THE START OF THE WAR, FINDING THE TRUTH ABOUT WHAT’S HAPPENING ON THE GROUND HAS BEEN A STRUGGLE, AND THE LAST FEW DAYS ARE NO EXCEPTION.

ON MONDAY, TWO MILITANT GROUPS OF RUSSIAN NATIONALS FIGHTING AGAINST RUSSIAN ARMED FORCES CROSSED THE BORDER FROM UKRAINE AND ATTACKED IN THE BELGOROD REGION OF RUSSIA.

THE RUSSIAN VOLUNTEER CORPS AND FREEDOM OF RUSSIA LEGION CLAIMED RESPONSIBILITY FOR STARTING THE BATTLE, WHICH LASTED MORE THAN 24 HOURS. THE TWO GROUPS SAY THEY COORDINATED THEIR OPERATIONS WITH UKRAINE’S ARMED FORCES AND WERE CREATING A SECURITY ZONE TO PROTECT UKRAINIAN CIVILIANS.

PUBLICLY, UKRAINE’S GOVERNMENT SAID IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE GROUPS. JUST LIKE RUSSIA SAID IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE RUSSIAN-SPEAKING SOLDIERS WHO SHOWED UP IN CRIMEA IN 2014.

ON TUESDAY, THE KREMLIN SAID THE CROSS-BORDER RAID HAD BEEN QUASHED AND MORE THAN 70 ATTACKERS WERE KILLED. THERE WAS NO PROOF OF THE CASUALTIES AND THE KREMLIN OFFERED NO EXPLANATION WHY IT TOOK SO LONG TO STOP THE RAIDS. THE KREMLIN DID SAY THE INCURSION INTO ITS TERRITORY WAS MEANT TO DISTRACT FROM BAKHMUT.

THAT CITY IN EASTERN UKRAINE IS THE SITE OF THE LONGEST AND BLOODIEST EUROPEAN LAND BATTLE SINCE WORLD WAR II. OVER THE WEEKEND, YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN SAID HIS WAGNER MERCENARIES HAD COMPLETELY TAKEN THE CITY. THE D.C.-BASED THINK TANK THE INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF WAR SAID THAT WAS LIKELY TRUE. UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY AND OTHERS IN HIS ADMINISTRATION MAINTAIN THE BATTLE FOR BAKHMUT IS NOT OVER.

IF BAKHMUT DID FALL, OF COURSE ZELENSKYY WOULD TRY AND KEEP UP MORALE BY SAYING THE BATTLE FOR THE CITY ISN’T OVER. THE PRICE IN DOLLARS AND LIVES TO KEEP BAKHMUT IS ASTRONOMICAL. NOT TO MENTION LOSING THE CITY MEANS GIVING RUSSIA ITS FIRST MAJOR VICTORY IN THE WAR IN MONTHS.

IT’S ALSO POSSIBLE ZELENSKYY AND HIS MILITARY ARE TAKING A CUE FROM SUN TZU, AND PRACTICING A LITTLE DECEPTION.

FOR THE PAST 8 MONTHS, RUSSIANS HAVE BEEN SLOWLY ADVANCING IN WHAT THEY CALL THE MEAT GRINDER. UKRAINIAN FORCES HAVE BEEN SLOWLY PULLING BACK. BUT IN THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS, UKRAINE MADE GAINS IN THE NORTH, AND UKRAINE SAYS IT STILL HAS FORCES IN THE SOUTHWESTERN PART OF THE CITY. TAKEN AS A WHOLE, THE UKRAINIANS COULD BE SETTING UP RUSSIAN FORCES FOR A CLASSIC MILITARY MANEUVER CALLED A PINCER; WHERE YOU DRAW IN ENEMY FORCES AND ATTACK THEM ON BOTH SIDES.

MAYBE THIS IS HOW UKRAINE PLANS TO LAUNCH ITS MUCH-ANTICIPATED SPRING COUNTEROFFENSIVE? WHICH SHOULD PROBABLY BE CALLED A SUMMER COUNTEROFFENSIVE AT THIS POINT. OR MAYBE NOT.

THE FACT IS, AFTER A TROVE OF CLASSIFIED PENTAGON MATERIALS ENDED UP IN A VIDEO GAME CHATROOM, UKRAINE STOPPED SHARING ITS MOST SENSITIVE BATTLEPLANS WITH THE WEST. WHICH MEANS MOST OF THE WORLD LIKELY WON’T KNOW THE TRUTH ABOUT BAKHMUT OR THE RAID INTO BELGOROD UNTIL AFTER THE WAR, IF EVER.

FOR MORE UNBIASED, STRAIGHT FACT REPORTING ABOUT THE WAR IN UKRAINE, HEAD OVER TO STRAIGHT ARROW NEWS DOT COM.