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Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin speaks next to the bodies of what he says are Wagner fighters killed in Ukraine.

Press service of "Concord"/Handout via REUTERS

As Wagner backs down, the battle for Bakhmut continues

On Sunday, Yevgeny Prigozhin, owner of the Wagner Group mercenary force fighting for Russia in Ukraine, suddenly reversed his threat of withdrawing from the eastern city of Bakhmut after Moscow reportedly promised to send more bullets. In an expletive-laden video last week, Prigozhin had threatened to pull out entirely if the Russian military continued to starve them of ammo and other equipment.

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A pair of glasses with blood on them in the aftermath of deadly shelling in Kostiantynivka, Ukraine.


What We’re Watching: Russia hits eastern Ukraine, Finland's election results, UBS-Credit Suisse probe, European leaders prepare for Xi meeting

Russia’s defense chief says more ammo is on the way

At least six Ukrainians were killed Sunday in the eastern city of Kostyantynivka as Russian forces continued their onslaught on the nearby city of Bakhmut in hopes of occupying the entire Donetsk region in the Donbas.

The attack on residential buildings in the industrial city comes as Russian forces in eastern Ukraine appear increasingly depleted and desperate – and unfolded just days after President Vladimir Putin announced a spring conscription, confirming that 147,000 more soldiers will be called up this month in anticipation of a fresh Ukrainian offensive.

Later on Sunday, a prominent Russian nationalist and military blogger was killed when a St. Petersburg cafe was hit in a targeted attack. Russian authorities have since arrested a woman, reportedly an anti-war activist, who – records show – spent time in jail for participating in an anti-war protest.

It’s clear that Russia’s defense establishment is jittery: In recent days, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu addressed Russia’s depleting ammo reserves, telling high-ranking military officials that “necessary measures are being taken to increase” stockpiles.

This comes after the British military announced that Russia’s failure to make advancements in Bakhmut was largely due to artillery ammunition shortages that are causing Russian forces to ration their rounds, which hardly sounds like a winning military strategy. Still, it remains unclear exactly how Moscow is planning to rapidly increase its stash of short precision weapons.

Crucially, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War reported in recent days that amid stagnation on the battlefield, a reshuffle amongst Russian senior commanders could soon be in the cards.

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Reporter for U.S. newspaper The Wall Street Journal Evan Gershkovich, detained on suspicion of espionage, leaves a court building in Moscow, Russia March 30, 2023.

REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

What We’re Watching: Moscow’s muscle flex, Bolsonaro’s return, Lasso losing his grip

Russia nabs US journalist

A Wall Street Journal reporter apprehended by Russia’s notorious Federal Security Bureau in the city of Yekaterinburg Thursday has appeared in court in the Russian capital on espionage charges, which the Journal has dismissed as bogus.

Evan Gershkovich, who works out of the Moscow bureau for the New-York based outlet and earlier this week penned a bombshell feature on how sanctions are hurting the Russian economy, was on a reporting trip when he was seen being escorted into an FSB van in scenes reminiscent of the Soviet era. Indeed, he’s the first US journalist to have been arrested by Russian authorities since Ronald Reagan was in the White House. The Committee to Protect Journalists has demanded his immediate and unconditional release.

The Kremlin claims that the 31-year-old reporter was “collecting state secrets” on behalf of the US government. But many analysts say this is likely an attempt by President Vladimir Putin to flex his muscles and gain some leverage amid reports that Russia is stalling in Ukraine, with one US general claiming that ongoing fighting in Bakhmut is a “slaughter-fest” for Moscow.

Putin may be looking to secure some sort of trade deal with the US, like he did last fall when Washington agreed to swap WNBA star Brittney Griner, held in a Russian prison, for Viktor Bout, a Russian citizen and notorious arms dealer held in US custody since 2008. But Griner was held for the lesser offense of possessing a small amount of weed oil. Espionage is a whole other ballgame.

We’ll also be watching to see whether US media outlets now respond by pulling reporters out of Russia. After all, the US State Department has urged all US citizens to leave the country fearing a situation just like this.

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