State propaganda casts capture of Bakhmut as a big win for Russia
Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin and Russia’s Defense Ministry announced over the weekend that they had taken complete control of eastern Ukraine’s Bakhmut after a grinding nine-month battle for the city. The Ukrainian authorities denied the claims and said that fighting in Bakhmut continued. That did not stop Russian propagandists from hailing the complete capture of the town as a major victory for Russia.
- On Saturday, Prigozhin’s press service published a video in which he claimed that Bakhmut had fallen and his troops alone took part in the decisive assault. The following day, Russia’s Defense Ministry also reported the capture of the town, but added that Wager fighters took Bakhmut with the help of artillery and air support from the Russian army’s regular forces. Putin congratulated the mercenaries and regular soldiers via Russia’s news agencies. In the morning, the message was repeated on the Kremlin website. Putin promised everyone involved would receive medals.
- When the first Russian statements about the capture of Bakhmut emerged, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was visiting Japan. At a press conference, he said that Ukrainian forces were still fighting for the city.
- Russian propaganda channels ignored Prigozhin’s initial claims on Saturday. But the next day, the “capture” of Bakhmut made all the state-owned news headlines. “Artyomovsk has been liberated. An event of historic proportions. An important strategic point and a huge tactical success for our forces,” reported the morning news on state-owned Channel One. In other broadcasts, presenters said that “taking Bakhmut has great strategic significance” and Ukrainian soldiers “will not be told the truth [about the fall of the city] for a long time.” Other propaganda outlets claimed that “taking Bakhmut opens a road to Seversk and Kramatorsk for the Russian army.” Several war correspondents compared the capture of Bakhmut to the capture of Mariupol exactly a year ago and called it “Russia’s first big victory this year.”
Why the world should care
Russia is desperately seeking some kind of victory – and Russian propaganda has hailed the capture of Bakhmut as precisely that. However, the city has little strategic value, according to military experts. After 224 days of fighting, almost nothing remains of Bakhmut, with Zelenskyy saying “Bakhmut remains only in our hearts.”