Russia steps up efforts to collect elusive prize from Ukraine city – Times of India

KYIV: The fate of Bakhmut seemed on the line Monday, as Russian troops continued to push into the devastated eastern Ukrainian city, but its defenders still denied the Kremlin the prize it had been seeking for six months at the cost of thousands of lives.
Intense Russian shelling targeted the Donetsk regional city and nearby villages as Moscow deployed more resources there in an apparent attempt to end Bakhmut’s resistance, local officials said.
“Civilians are fleeing the region to escape 24-hour Russian shelling as additional Russian troops and weapons are deployed there,” the Donetsk government said. Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
Russian forces that invaded Ukraine just over a year ago have been attacking Bakhmut for months, leaving Kiev’s troops on the defensive but unable to deliver a knockout blow.
More generally, Russia continues to struggle to generate momentum on the battlefield. The full-scale invasion of Moscow on February 24, 2022 quickly came to a halt and was then pushed back by a counter-offensive from Ukraine. During the bitterly cold winter months, fighting has largely stalled.
Bakhmut is not of great strategic value and analysts say the possible fall is unlikely to bring a turning point to the conflict.
Its importance has become psychological – for Russian President Vladimir Putin, a victory there will finally bring some good news from the battlefield, while for Kiev the display of determination and defiance reinforces a message that after a year of relentless attacks, Ukraine stood by support among its Western allies.
Still, some analysts questioned the wisdom of the Ukrainian defenders who held out much longer, while others suggested a tactical withdrawal may already be underway.
Michael Kofman, the director of Russia studies at the CAN think tank in Arlington, Virginia, said Ukraine’s defense of Bakhmut has been effective because it has exhausted Russia’s war effort, but Kiev now needs to look ahead.
“I think Bakhmut’s stubborn defense has accomplished a lot, exhausting Russian manpower and ammunition,” Kofman tweeted late Sunday. “But strategies can reach points of diminishing returns, and as Ukraine seeks to divert resources to an offensive, this could hinder the success of a more important operation.”
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, noted that urban warfare favors the defender, but believed that the smartest option for Kiev right now may be to retreat to positions that are easier to defend.
In recent days, Ukrainian units have destroyed two key bridges just outside Bakhmut, including one connecting it to the nearby town of Chasiv Yar along the last remaining Ukrainian supply route, according to British military intelligence officials and other Western analysts. Demolition of the bridges could be part of efforts to slow down the Russian offensive as Ukrainian troops withdraw from the city.
“Ukrainian forces are unlikely to pull out of Bakhmut all at once and are pursuing a gradual withdrawal to exhaust Russian forces through continued urban warfare,” the ISW said in a report published late Sunday.
Putin’s ambition is to take full control of the four provinces, including Donetsk, which Moscow illegally annexed last fall. Russia controls about half of Donetsk province, and to take the remaining half of that province, its troops must pass through Bakhmut.
The city has been the only gateway to larger Ukrainian-held cities since Ukrainian forces recaptured Izium in Kharkov province in a counter-offensive last September.
But it will take at least six months to conquer Bakhmut, which had a pre-war population of 80,000 and was once a popular holiday destination.
“Russian forces currently do not have the manpower and equipment necessary to support large-scale offensive operations for a renewed offensive towards (the nearby cities of) Kramatorsk and Slovyansk, let alone a years-long campaign to capture the whole of Donetsk Oblast the statement said. according to ISW.
Bakhmut has taken on an almost mythical meaning for its defenders. It has just become Mariupol – the port city in the same province that Russia captured after an 82-day siege that ultimately came down to a massive steel mill where determined Ukrainian fighters held out alongside civilians.
Moscow tried to solidify its rule in the territories it occupied and annexed. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu traveled to Mariupol and visited some of the city’s rebuilt infrastructure, the defense ministry reported Monday.
Shoigu was shown a newly built hospital, emergency rescue center and residential buildings, the ministry said. Meanwhile, Russian forces attacked central and eastern regions of Ukraine at night with Iranian-made Shahed drones, Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yurii Ihnat told Ukrainian media on Monday. Of the 15 drones launched by Russia, 13 were shot down, Ihnat said. It was not immediately clear whether the attack caused any damage.
Also on Monday, Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, claimed it foiled an attempt to assassinate nationalist businessman Konstantin Malofeyev. It claimed the effort was a plot by Ukraine’s security services and the Russian Volunteer Corps, a group claiming to be part of Ukraine’s armed forces.
According to the FSB, the leader of the Russian Volunteer Corps, Denis Kapustin, masterminded the alleged assassination attempt and planned to install an explosive device under Malofeyev’s car.
No details were given as to how exactly or at what stage the FSB intervened. Footage released by the agency shows a man interfering with a car purportedly belonging to Malofeyev, then a robot extracting an object from under a car in a parking lot.
Malofeyev is a media baron and the owner of the ultra-conservative Tsargrad TV that has supported Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine and declared the invasion of Moscow a “holy war.” He is sanctioned by the US.

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