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Ukrainian service members fire a mortar towards Russian troops outside the frontline town of Bakhmut, in Donetsk region, Ukraine March 6, 2023.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty/Serhii Nuzhnenko via REUTERS

What We’re Watching: Battle for Bakhmut, Xi’s diplomatic muscle, AUKUS sub deal

The Bakhmut killing field

Bakhmut, home to about 75,000 people before the war, has become an urban killing field. Western intelligence agencies say up to 30,000 Russians have died or been seriously injured in the fight to take this town. Ukrainian casualties, harder to estimate, are also running high.

Russians appear to be fighting mainly to achieve some victory following months of setbacks followed by stalemate. They also hope the eventual capture of this town can boost their chances of advancing on larger cities in other parts of Donetsk province, though some analysts say they won’t have the manpower or firepower to advance beyond Bakhmut anytime soon. Adding to Russia’s complications, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War argues that the country’s defense ministry has likely pushed large numbers of Wagner Group mercenaries to the deadliest sites of fighting in Bakhmut to reduce the Kremlin influence of Wagner chief and frequent critic of the Russian military Yevgeny Prigozhin by thinning out his force.

Though badly outnumbered, Ukrainian forces have been slow to surrender Bakhmut because they want to inflict as much damage as possible on Russian forces ahead of an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive in the coming weeks. For now, the killing continues.

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Yevgeny Prigozhin, left, serves Vladimir Putin dinner at a Moscow restaurant in 2011.

Reuters

A dangerous game for “Putin’s Chef”

In November, we profiled the uber-controversial Russian mercenary chieftain, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a man once determined to remain in the shadows who, since Russia invaded Ukraine, seems eager to become the war’s most famous man.

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A woman pushes a baby carriage carrying her belongings, in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake, in Adiyaman, Turkey.

REUTERS/Sertac Kayar

What We’re Watching: Erdogan points the finger, Xi’s conundrum, Russia’s recent losses

Ankara searches for someone to blame

As the search and rescue effort in Turkey and Syria becomes increasingly disheartening a week after a deadly 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit the region, the central government in Ankara has turned to recriminations, issuing 113 arrest warrants for people suspected of being responsible for the thousands of collapsed buildings. Engineers and building contractors are among those who have been given detention orders (though only 12 have so far been taken into custody) after 170,000 buildings collapsed or were badly damaged. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, has sent mixed messages on liability: After first saying that “such things have always happened” in quake-prone Turkey, he has also pushed for more arrests. Some analysts suggest that – ahead of a tough reelection battle in May – Erdogan is trying to divert blame for failing to enforce building regulations and refusing to account for the billions of dollars raised under an earthquake tax implemented after the devastating İzmit quake in 1999. Authorities say that the security situation is also deteriorating in southern Turkey, where lootings and clashes between rival groups are rife. Still, amid the devastation there is a very small silver lining: The border crossing between Turkey and Armenia opened Saturday for the first time in more than three decades to allow aid through.

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Luisa Vieira

Why “General Armageddon” got demoted

Vladimir Putin has again replaced his top general in Ukraine, the second such move in 11 months of war. The Russian Defense Ministry announced on January 11 that Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov will take over as commander of his country’s war on Ukraine.

He replaces Sergei Surovikin, a man Russian media have dubbed “General Armageddon” to hype his fearsome reputation as the guy who flattened the Syrian city of Aleppo in 2016.

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Evgeny Prigozhin (L) assists Russian President Vladimir Putin

Reuters

The man with his own army

Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner Group mercenary force and a longtime ally to Vladimir Putin, has become an increasingly prominent figure in the war in Ukraine — and perhaps in Russia’s future. His private army, media platform, and Putin’s deepening dependence on his fighters to bolster Russia’s lousy military performance make him a character worth a close look.

Who is Yevgeny Prigozhin?

Little is known about Prigozhin before the nine years he spent in prison as a young adult following his conviction on robbery and fraud charges. After his release in the dying days of the Soviet Union, he set up a highly profitable hot dog stand in St. Petersburg, and from there he built a restaurant business that helped feed Russian soldiers and later catered events for Russia’s richest and most powerful. He also caught the attention of Vladimir Putin.

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