By Gwynne Dyer

Monday’s stunt, where Yevgeny Prigozhin held a Russian flag in his hands and declared that his ‘Wagner’ mercenary soldiers have finally conquered the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, probably marks the end of Russian winter offensive. It was just a charade, of course.

The footage was shot at night, in front of a nondescript administration building that signifies nothing in particular.

Even Prigozhin admitted that it was only a victory “from a legal point of view”, i.e. he was standing on a street-corner that he wanted us to believe – well, wanted Russians to believe was really Bakhmut city’s centre.

Ukrainian troops held 60% of Bakhmut yesterday, and they probably still hold 59% of it today. But when a costly four- month Russian offensive ends with an average advance of maybe five km., the audience demands closure.

It’s now the Ukrainians’ turn to launch their long- anticipated offensive, but they’ll have to wait a little longer.

It will rain almost every day for the next two weeks, and the ground has to dry out before tanks can manoeuvre off-road. What will happen then?

The one thing that could provide a decisive outcome is a wholesale collapse of the Russian army. Armies sometimes do collapse when the losses are very high and the morale is very low, but it’s unlikely that the Russian forces in Ukraine are that far gone.

They haven’t been doing well, of course, and it’s safe to say that the Ukrainians can no longer be decisively defeated.

Ukraine’s armoured forces can probably even manage one or two ‘thunder runs’ like the one last September that took back most of Kharkiv province.

However, if the Russian army doesn’t collapse, the Ukrainians would have to do eight or ten of those in a row to push the Russians all the way back to their own borders. That would verge on the miraculous.

Otherwise, the outlook is for local Ukrainian victories within in a continuing war of attrition through the summer and into next winter. The Western powers will be looking for signs that Vladimir Putin’s position as supreme war leader is weakening. Putin will be hoping for a Trump victory in 2024 or a collapse of the German coalition government.

None of those things feels at all imminent, and the attrition is strangely balanced even though Russia’s wealth, population and resources are so much greater than Ukraine’s.

That is because Putin is waging a scaled-down version of
a 20th-century total war, which includes constant attacks
on cities and other non-military targets. That didn’t ‘break
the enemy’s will’ then and it won’t do so now, and it uses up
Russian resources and forces pointlessly.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainians are constrained by their own
lack of means and the restrictions imposed on them by
the NATO powers to wage a strictly limited war: only
against military targets, and only on their own territory.
Paradoxically, this operates to their advantage, since it
prevents them from doing wasteful and irrelevant things.
That’s why realism about what is attainable and what is
not usually prevails within the Ukrainian civil and military
leadership. Their highest priority in the summer offensive will
therefore be just to win back enough territory to convince
their Western backers to go on supplying and supporting
Those are not necessarily the best targets strategically,
but for Ukraine the political outcome (continued Western
support) is more important than the military one.