Colonel: Wagnerians play a key role in Bakhmut's 'meat grinder'

Mart Vendla.
Mart Vendla. Source: ERR

Although Russia has also sent paratroopers to fight in Bakhmut, the main work there is done by Wagner's mercenaries, said Col. Mart Vendla, deputy chief of the General Staff of the Estonian Defense Forces.

Vendla stated that the fight for Bakhmut in Eastern Ukraine, which started eight or nine months ago, continues to be intense. "It has been a meat grinder for a long time. Even now, one could say, it is one of the most intense places on the front," he noted.

Vendla said that while Ukrainian forces are able to hold the front line there, the situation is difficult because Russian forces still largely surround the city. Therefore, it is also difficult for Ukraine to supply its forces.

"But the front is holding for now. Russian troops are moving forward, but we are talking about tens of meters, in some cases a hundred. These are very small gains," the colonel added. He explained that Russian troops are still advancing there in waves, and at the same time, Ukrainian troops are wearing down Russian troops by holding the front line.

"In urban combat, every apartment, stairwell, and alley is contested. And the fact that airplanes are used in the battle is relatively bad for the Ukrainian side, because, as you know, the Russian air force is generally kept away by Ukrainian air defenses, and if they still manage to come and support their offensive with airplanes, then the situation on the ground is even worse," he said.

"If the Russians are managing to get this close with their planes, they probably don't use precision munitions very much," Vendla said, speculating that close air support is rather relying on more traditional fire support capacity.

"Precision munitions would be going too far just to bring down concrete buildings. A cheaper solution should be used there. And if air defenses allow them to get close, then they probably use the cheapest ammunition possible, which is consumed in industrial quantities," explained the colonel.

Increasing numbers of Russian assault troops are reportedly being used in Bakhmut. According to Vendla, however, the paratroopers are there more in support roles.

"The main work in this meat grinder is still done by the so-called Wagnerians in whose training little time is invested, and it's more like passing through the meat grinder with them. Airborne troops, which by definition are light, fast, well-armed, well-trained and sport a high cost are not simply sent to the slaughter as a rule," said Vendla.

"The airborne troops have been in Bakhmut for almost a month. And if in the beginning we believed they were replacing Wagner units there, this has not been confirmed. Rather, the airborne troops will support from the sides when Wagner goes on the offensive."

Recently, there is more and more talk that the Ukrainian forces are preparing for a major offensive in the spring. Vendla said that probably only Ukrainian army commanders know the details of the offensive.

According to Vendla, an important aspect of the spring offensive is the weather, i.e. when the terrain is dry enough for the machines to move on. Another important moment, according to him, is that the Russian troops have dug themselves deep into trenches, which means that it is much more difficult for the Ukrainian troops to make quick penetrations and gains than before.

Western countries, including Estonia, have contributed to the training of Ukrainian soldiers.

"Talking about general numbers in various formats, about 17+ brigades with between 35,000 and 50,000 soldiers remain relevant. In essence, it can be said that the European Union largely organizes training and equipment. A thousand Ukrainian soldiers have been trained on the territory of Estonia. All training is organized in four groups. The Defense Forces, in cooperation with the Defense League, have mainly contributed to the first two, which is individual training. The second level is specialized training, for example, artillerymen have been trained as part of it. It is important to create capabilities, not just train people. So artillerymen, medics and certainly also snipers are trained in Estonia," Vendla listed.


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Editor: Michael Richmann, Marcus Turovski

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