AC: update on Ukraine. NYT ran article last week about the Russian and Ukrainian casualties in Bakhmut. This seems to be the big story though there's fighting in other areas as you've covered on your channel.
AM: absolutely. Interesting article in the NYT and there's also been one in the Daily Telegraph. Tried to take a more positive view on the Ukrainian side but talked about the fighting being similar to WWI,
showed Ukrainian soldiers in trenches, said they were suffering heavy casualties.
And in the past 24 hours reports that a string of places in and around Bakhmut have been falling one after the other before the advance - they always say the Wagner Group but I imagine there
are Russian troops involved as well.This battle for Bakhmut has been going on for 4 months and there have been points in the past
when it seemed about to fall but the UAF was able to hold the line, etc. and they may pull off something again. But evidence suggests a tipping point is approaching when the UAF position becomes untenable.
Reports, including the NYT piece, are that UAF casualties have been extremely and disproportionately high, far higher than the Russians. This suggests Ukraine sees Bakhmut as a linchpin in its defenses in Donbass, and I've seen suggestions that Bakhmut in Donetz region is very similar to Poposnya in the Lugansk region, when the Russians captured it the entire Ukrainian position in Lugansk began to progressively and rapidly collapse, Sevrodonetz and Lyschansk soon falling under Russian control.
If true that the capture of Bakhmut has a similar result, it would effectively mean the end of the greater battle of Donbass that's been underway since May. Popasnya took 2 months to capture and
is much smaller. We're 4 months on with Bakhmut now.
AC: is Bakhmut as significant as it was 4 months ago?
AM: I think it's every bit as significant as ever. It's supposedly the hub of the whole transportation network, control of it has enabled the UAF troops to communicate with each other and keep them
supplied. It's also the center of the last big defense line, called by some people the Zelensky Line, that reaches from Marinka and Arvdivka near Donetsk all the way to Siversk in the north. If that collapses the only two big remaining towns under Ukrainian control are Slaviansk and Kramatorsk and it seems they're less defendable
AC: how significant is it that Bakhmut is about to be won by the Wagner Group?
AM: this is the interesting thing (both he and AC say at the same time, we call this "the war inside"). There was an interesting statement by Pregosian, the founder (or so he claims) of the Wagner Group when asked why the battle took so long: that the
Ukrainians defended themselves well there, they built lots of fortifications, etc but important to remember we're not so much interested in Bakhmut as in inflicting as many casualties on the
Ukrainians as possible, turn it into a meat grinder.
Which is probably true but it came across to me as defensive and I wonder whether what really happened is the Wagner Group bit off more than they could chew. And you wonder whether the recent advances may signify Surovikin committed more Russian troops as well as the Wagner Group. I've seen tables showing some of the Russian forces involved and it's now clear that instead of being the lead force, the WG is only one of them. If that's correct, I can see why Pregosian might be wanting to defend what the WG has been doing. It will be a boost for Pregosian and the WG if Bakhmut falls because it's been so associated with them.
AC: re the collective West now reporting on Bakhmut after months of radio silence on it, seems to be confirmation Bakhmut is about to fall. Not 100% guaranteed but it's like they're prepping the public for what's coming.
Rumors over the weekend that Zaparozhia and ZNPP was under attack and about to be taken over, rumors that were denied by the Russian MOD. But there is more talk about an offensive against ZNPP and there are rumors of a Russian retreat from ZNPP.
AM: Russians have shown in the past they'll withdraw from places they don't want to hold, we saw it in Kharkiv and in Kherson. In Kherson they signaled they were considering the possibility of
withdrawing for a long time before they did and never denied it was a possibility.
With ZNPP they've categorically denied they plan to withdraw. Given that, I don't think they plan to do it. And I don't think it makes much military sense, that they would want to increase the areas of
Ukrainian control east of the Dniepr, I think they feel comfortably secure defending it and everything I've heard is that defenses in this region are extremely strong and getting stronger all the time.
AC: more rumors, of a Ukraine offensive toward Russia, Belgorod or actually a town a little closer to the border.
AM: I don't know if that's what the Ukrainians plan to do but there are reports the bulk of UAF previously in Kherson region have now been redeployed to Kharkiv region. And I get the impression the Russians are taking this threat very seriously, that they've been moving troops into this area to beef up defenses and since it's in Russia they're able to deploy serving conscripts there.
I could see the Ukrainians trying to do something like that, seizing Russian territory would give them a big political boost; they might think they could trade this territory for territory the Russians
AC: that would be an invasion of Russia.
AM: correct. One wonders what the Western powers would think of this because as you said it would be an invasion of Russia, it would be a massive escalation, but again, something the Ukrainians might do.
BTW I think it's hardened opinion in Russia that the pullback from Izyum was a mistake because it exposed Belgorod to attack. The general view is that the pullback from Kherson City was justified,
that the Ukrainian hold on it was fragile, they were pinned down and under constant shelling. Even the Guardian said the Russians are in such a strong position they might even retake KC fairly soon (which I don't believe). More talk that we need to recapture the territory we gave up during the UAF offensive like Izyum, Propyansk, Balaklia (?) because doing that exposed Belgorod and core Russian territory to this kind of threat. So we may begin to see some Russian offensives toward that end.
AC: I imagine the goal of this invasion by Ukraine would be to effect some kind of regime change in the Kremlin.
AM: exactly, we've discussed this before. That's the only path to victory for Ukraine and all its Western sponsors. There was a day last week when one after the other article appeared in the British media looking forward to Putin's fall - the Economist, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and others. So I can see why Ukraine might try to invade and why the Russians are taking the risk very seriously.
AC: there's been a lot of stories about Polish casualties in Ukraine. I don't want to overdo it because some of these reports don't seem too reliable. But of all the Western countries, the largest presence in Ukraine is probably Poland, whether you're talking about mercs or NATO military or whatever. So what do you make about these reports of Polish merc casualties in Ukraine? I think being a
mercenary in Poland is illegal, but even casualties of Polish mercs, you're talking about Polish citizens. And I think the number is going to hit a place where everyday people in Poland take notice.
AM: I think we're already there. Like you I don't want to throw around numbers because I don't know how reliable they are but there are a lot of Poles fighting on the Ukrainian side, whether
they're going as volunteers which is what the Polish government wants us to think; or whether they were ordered there by the government in some way and are connected with the Polish armed forces, which I'm not going to try and speculate about here.
But there have been a lot of Poles in the conflict area, they have suffered casualties, there is talk about this in Poland, the Polish government is sensitive and nervous about those discussions. I
think it's also nervous about the fact that it's sent so much military equipment to Ukraine and a lot of it has now been lost. I think it's only a matter of time before this all becomes a big issue in Polish
The big question, which I can't answer, is what will be the effect on Poland when that happens. Will it galvanize public opinion to oppose the war? Or will it strengthen feeling they've already committed so
far and need to stay with it. My instinct is overwhelmingly for the first but given the history, I wouldn't be surprised if it was the second.
AM (final thoughts): No one should be in doubt that the major conflict area from the outset has been Donbass, we've said from the beginning it's where the war was being fought and would be won or lost. We said that if, over the next weeks and months, the Russians were able to break Ukrainian resistance in Donbass, advance to the east bank of the Dniepr - nothing significant stands in the way
between Donbass and the Dniepr - that will probably be the decisive moment in the war. Ukraine would lose its most important industrial
region and the most heavily fortified area of Ukraine and the entire balance of the war would shift completely.
So what happens in Bakhmut matters, if the Russians take it, it will mean a fundamental change in the character of the war from a grinding, siege warfare type of conflict to something altogether