On May 17th, 2022, after the fall of Popasna, Luhansk Oblast, Russian Ground Forces began their artillery bombardment of Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast. That bombardment has been ongoing and part of a major axis of advance by the Russian Ground Forces. On August 1st, 2022, the Russian Ground Forces began their first major assaults on the settlement. However, during the September counter-offensive into Kharkiv Oblast and the October counter-offensive which successfully restored Kherson city to Ukrainian control, the front around Bakhmut was relatively stable with Russian Ground Forces making tactical gains.
On November 12th, with the assistance of Russian Wagner Private Military Company soldiers, a renewed offensive was launched to finally take the strategic city which has tired down at least 20,000 Russian troops since August. At least 2,000 Russian troops have been relocated from Kherson Oblast for the renewed offensive. These forces, combined with prisoner-boosted Wagner forces are seeking to open H-32 running West into the city, T-05-13 running North into the city, and a key railway running North into the city.
While Wagner PMC presence has been well documented on this front since August, with an estimated 2,500 troops on the line, the presence of Western PMCs has been lightly documented. However, pro-Wagner Telegram pages have published this footage in the last twenty-four hours purporting to show former United States Marine Corps Colonel Andy Milburn on the streets of Bakhmut with his organization Mozart Group.
In the video above, the individual giving the patch to a Ukrainian soldier is claimed to be Colonel Milburn. The video below purports to show Milburn walking through a destroyed building in Bakhmut with his staff.
Mozart Group was founded in mid-March by the former American Marine Colonel who named Mozart as a counter-point to Wagner, both being German composers. The Mozart Group assists the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The Mozart Group is composed of Western volunteers with military experience and provides military training, civilian evacuations and rescue, and humanitarian aid distribution. No reporting has indicated that their group has been directly involved in combat so far. However, on their website, they do indicate they are searching for EOD technicians to assist in clearing unexploded munitions.
The presence of both groups on the Bakhmut front is indicative of the ground-breaking precedents set by the 2022 Russo-Ukraine war. The extensive use of one-way attack drones, unnamed aerial and surface combat vehicles, anti-ship missiles (Moskva sinking), failed battalion-level air assault operations (Battle of Hostomels), and many other instances are re-writing the playbook for modern warfare. While it is not clear the extent to which Western PMCs are involved in actual combat, their interoperability with conventional forces opens the door for many possibilities as the war in Ukraine drags on, and beyond.