The fall of Artyomovsk, dubbed Bakhmut by Ukraine, does not mean Russia has turned the tide of battle, Lloyd Austin believes
The city of Artyomovsk, or Bakhmut as it is called by Ukraine, is of symbolic rather than operational importance, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has claimed.
The battle for Artyomovsk – a key stronghold and logistical hub for Kiev’s armed forces in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) – has been going on for months and is described by some as the fiercest in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Asked about the city during his trip to Jordan later the same day, Austin suggested the city was “More symbolic value than it is [of] strategic and operational value,” according to Reuters.
Yan Gagin, an adviser to the DPR’s acting head, Denis Pushilin, said on Monday that Russian forces have surrounded the main city and trapped about 10,000 Ukrainian troops.
However, the Pentagon chief said he would not consider it a strategic setback if Ukrainian forces decided to reposition themselves on new defense lines west of the city.
“The fall of [Artyomovsk] does not necessarily mean that the Russians have turned the tide of this battle,” he said.
Austin acknowledged the possibility of defeat for Ukraine in Artyomovsk, but declined to speculate if or when it will happen.
The German tabloid Bild reported on Monday that the city had become a source of internal conflict between Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky and the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces, General Valery Zaluzhny. Kiev insiders told the outlet that Zaluzhny had called for a withdrawal from the city weeks ago. However, Zelensky’s office said Monday morning that its top generals supported the continuation of the defensive operation in Bakhmut.
Since late January, according to Western media reports, the US government has been urging Kiev to withdraw from Artyomovsk and instead prepare for future counter-offensives in other areas. However, Zelensky has insisted that the city fight for as long as possible
Senior Biden administration officials told the Washington Post in late February that the Ukrainian leader “has symbolic importance” to the city and fears a setback to morale if it is taken by Russian troops.
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