As Russian troops strike Bakhmut, Ukraine admits that the situation there is “increasingly difficult”.


Ukrainians watch a movie on TV at a humanitarian aid center in Bakhmut on February 27, 2023 during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Dimitar Dilkoff | Afp | Getty Images

Officials in Kiev admitted that the situation is rapidly deteriorating around Bakhmut, a besieged mining town in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk that Russian forces have been trying to capture for months.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday evening that the situation in the Bakhmut area was “increasingly difficult”.

“The enemy is constantly destroying everything that can be used to protect our positions, gain a foothold and ensure defense,” he added.

Zelenskyy said those defending Bakhmut – a city Ukraine has repeatedly described as a “our fortress” because it was heavily fortified – and the surrounding area were “real heroes” and that Kiev was trying to ensure its troops have as many weapons as possible. over there.

Russian troops and mercenaries from the Wagner Group have been trying to capture Bakhmut for months, with the city and its surroundings becoming a scene of death and destruction. Despite the relentless fighting, it is estimated that several thousand civilians remain in the city.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister Hanna Maliar said on Telegram on Monday that “the situation at the front is difficult. The enemy army is stepping up the intensity of its attacks. The most difficult situation remains in the direction of Bakhmut.”

She said Russia is using the tactics of “exhaustion and utter destruction” but said Russian forces suffered significant casualties, losing between 600 and 1,000 people daily, she claimed. Maliar added that the Ukrainian forces were conducting defensive operations despite the “numerical superiority of the enemy”.

An image of the damage after attacks as the war between Russia and Ukraine continues in Bakhmut, Ukraine on February 24, 2023.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Russia also claims to kill hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers in Donetsk every day, but given the chaotic nature of war and the importance of both sides accentuating their opponent’s losses, it is difficult to estimate the true number of deaths in the region .

However, it goes without saying that Bakhmut has been labeled a “meat grinder” even by the head of the Wagner Group’s mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose troops are advancing slowly.

Russian profits

Due to the sheer scale of the bombardment and the manpower thrown at Bakhmut, Russian forces have made incremental gains in the surrounding area and have gradually encircled the city, defense analysts suggest, though Ukraine’s armed forces continue to insist they are repelling Russian attacks on Bakhmut . and surrounding settlements.

Yet Russian officials continue to claim that their forces are surrounding and even entering the city. Yan Gagin, an adviser and spokesman for the acting head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, a pro-Russian separatist area in eastern Ukraine, told the Russian news agency Tass on Monday that Russian troops have been looting the ammunition and manpower supplies of the Ukrainian armed forces in Artemovsk, the Russian name for Bakhmut.

“That is a rather unrealistic estimate,” Samuel Ramani, a geopolitical analyst and associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, told CNBC, “[but] unfortunately I agree with Zelensky that the situation in Bakhmut is getting more and more difficult.”

“Maliar also points out that the ammunition artillery fire coming from the Russians is quantitatively much greater than the Ukrainians can repay it with,” he noted.

“So even with NATO bringing in more ammunition and bringing Leopard tanks and many other things into the battle lines, it’s just too hard for the Ukrainians to quantitatively match what the Russians are firing,” he said.

“Having said that, I don’t think the Russians will get a quick victory in Bakhmut, I think the Ukrainians can hold out for a while. The Ukrainians launched a kind of counter-offensive this weekend that was eventually reversed. But the point is that they gained a little bit of momentum and traction,” he noted.

No surrender?

Russia’s slow but steady advance into Bakhmut has raised the question of whether Ukraine will have to decide to withdraw its troops from the city to save its personnel. But there are no signs yet that Kiev is ready to give up.

In order to maintain morale among the fighters, the commander of the Ukrainian ground forces, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, visited the city over the weekend to try to cheer up the warring units and discuss the strategy for the city’s defence.

Local residents walk down a street as the sound of shelling continues in Bakhmut on February 27, 2023.

Dimitar Dilkoff | Afp | Getty Images

Nevertheless, Syrskyi reportedly said on Tuesday that the situation in Bakhmut was “extremely tense”.

“Despite considerable casualties, the enemy launched the best-prepared assault units [the] Wagner [Group]trying to break through the defenses of our troops and encircle the city,” Syrskyi said, according to a statement posted on the official Telegram channel of the Ukrainian ground forces.

Ramani of RUSI said that while “the Ukrainians are numerically outnumbered and outmaneuvered in terms of personnel, they will not surrender in terms of ammunition either.” But he said it would have to be seen whether Ukraine decides to send its elite troops to Bakhmut or whether to reserve those troops for a counter-offensive expected in the spring.

“If I had to make a prediction about Bakhmut, it would be that the Ukrainians will hold out for a while, but as we get closer to spring, they can make a tactical retreat… and redeploy their forces on the counter-offensive and then strike Bakhmut again,’ he said.

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