Fighters of private military company Wagner are the predominant forces in the Bakhmut area "with occasional support from Russian regular forces, and that appears to be dwindling down at the moment,” western officials said.
"Part of Wagner’s desperation, Prigozhin’s rather emotional outburst is because he sees himself as not only running out of human resource, but now he is also running out of Russian artillery support to provide an offset these losses,” they said.
Death rates among Wagner fighters "have been significantly higher than of the Russian Armed Forces,” they added.
Officials also said Bakhmut “doesn’t hold any operational strategic significance" for either Russia or Ukraine, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's trip to Bakhmut in December has politicized it.
They acknowledged that Russia has "taken territory," but said that the said area is "open ground — wasn’t an urban area or built-up area. And there were no Ukrainian defensive lines there.”
The Western officials said Ukraine "conceded ground to the Russians” and is “surrounded by three sides because they traded that space for time.”
Discussing a timeline, they said Ukraine can still get forces in and out of Bakhmut. “It may well last another month, or the Ukrainians could decide to leave within a week. They could withdraw to prepare defensive lines which they have to the west of Bakhmut.”
“They have shown previously that they are very adept to withdrawing when they need to, or when they feel they need to,” the officials later added.