The six-month battle for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut has been the longest and bloodiest fight of the war so far.
Little known outside Ukraine before the Russian invasion, Bakhmut has become a symbol of the country’s fortitude and perseverance in the face of the Kremlin’s onslaught.
The Ukrainian leadership vowed again this week to keep defending the city, but some observers have warned that holding on to it could be too dangerous and costly.
Here is a look at Bakhmut, the battle and its possible consequences.
WHAT KIND OF CITY IS BAKHMUT?
Bakhmut, which had a prewar population of more than 70,000, was an important center for salt and gypsum mining in the Donetsk region of the country’s industrial heartland known as the Donbas.
The city was also known for its sparkling wine production in historic underground caves. Its broad tree-lined avenues, lush parks and stately downtown with imposing late 19th century buildings made it a popular tourist attraction.
When a separatist rebellion engulfed the Donbas in April 2014, weeks after Moscow’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, Russia-backed separatists won control of the city but lost it a few months later.
HOW DID THE FIGHTING EVOLVE?
Russian troops first attempted to recapture Bakhmut in early August but were pushed back.
The fighting abated in the following months as the Russian military faced Ukrainian counteroffensives in the east and the south, but it resumed at full pace late last year. In January, the Russians captured the salt-mining town of Soledar just a few kilometers (miles) north of Bakhmut and advanced to the city’s suburbs.
The relentless Russian bombardment has reduced Bakhmut to a smoldering wasteland with few buildings still standing. Russian and Ukrainian soldiers have fought ferocious house-to-house battles in the ruins.
Soldiers from Russia’s private Wagner Group contractor have spearheaded the offensive, marching on “the corpses of their own troops” as Ukrainian officials put it. By the end of February, the Russians approached the only highway leading out of the city and targeted it with artillery, forcing Ukrainian defenders to rely increasingly on country roads, which are hard to use before the ground dries.
WHAT DO UKRAINIAN AND RUSSIAN OFFICIALS SAY ABOUT THE BATTLE?
Ukrainian authorities have hailed the city as the invincible “fortress Bakhmut” that has destroyed waves of Russian assailants.
As Russian pincers were closing on the city, a presidential aide warned last week that the military could “strategically pull back” if needed. But on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his top generals decided that the army will keep defending Bakhmut and reinforce its troops there.
For the Kremlin, capturing Bakhmut is essential for achieving its stated goal of taking control the entire Donetsk, one of the four Ukrainian regions that Moscow illegally annexed in September.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that the seizure of Bakhmut would allow Russia to press its offensive deeper into the region.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the rogue millionaire who owns the Wagner Group, charged that his forces were destroying the best Ukrainian units in Bakhmut to prevent them from launching attacks elsewhere.
At the same time, he harshly criticized the Russian Defense Ministry for failing to provide Wagner with ammunition in comments that reflected his longtime tensions with the top military brass and exposed problems that could slow down the Russian offensive.
WHAT DO EXPERTS SAY?
Military experts note that Ukraine has turned Bakhmut into a meat grinder for Russia’s most capable forces.
“It has achieved its aim as effectively being the anvil on which so many Russian lives have been broken,” Lord Richard Dannatt, the former chief of the general staff of the British armed forces, said on Sky News.
Phillips P. O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St Andrews, said the battle for Bakhmut “confirms that the Russian army is still struggling with basic operations.”
He noted that the Kremlin’s continuing emphasis on land grabs regardless of losses means that “Russian strategic aims are bleeding the Russian army greatly.”
While Ukrainian and Western officials pointed out that Russian combat losses were much higher than Ukrainian, some observers argued that the defense of Bakhmut was distracting Ukrainian resources that could be used in a planned counteroffensive later in the spring.
Michael Kofman, director of Russia studies at CAN, a Washington-based think-tank, observed that the Ukrainian defenders “achieved a great deal, expending Russian manpower and ammunition,” but added that it could be wise for Ukraine to save its forces for future offensive operations.
“Strategies can reach points of diminishing returns,” and given that Ukraine “is trying to husband resources for an offensive, it could impede the success of a more important operation,” he said.
WHAT COULD HAPPEN NEXT?
Ukrainian and Western officials emphasize that a Ukrainian retreat from Bakhmut will not have strategic significance or change the course of the conflict.
The Ukrainian military has already strengthened defensive lines west of Bakhmut to block the Russian advance if Ukrainian troops finally retreat from the city. The nearby town of Chasiv Yar that sits on a hill just a few kilometers west could become the next bulwark against the Russians. Further west are Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, the heavily fortified Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk.
And even as the Russian military tries to pursue its offensive in Donetsk, it needs to keep large contingents in other sections of the Donbas and in the southern Zaporizhzhia region where Ukrainian forces are widely expected to launch their next counteroffensive.
2 thoughts on “Battle for Bakhmut takes center stage in war in Ukraine – Associated Press”
Keep in mind this war could have been prevented. At the end of President Trumps term, there was talk from Russia that if the US and NATO
would agree not to annex Ukraine; a peace agreement could be reached. However, our State Department allegedly quashed the possibility.
Hopefully the new Republican house will uncover this data and unwind us from the war we don’t want and offers no benefit to America. Only those who gain from our military -industrial manufactures in our congress and the Biden-Obama administration gain at the losses to the American people.
Tom, you keep saying over and over that if some mysterious agreement was reached regarding Ukraine not becoming part of NATO that Putin would not invade Ukraine. The NATO Ukraine myth is just part of Putin’s propaganda. That is not Putin’s only contrived justification for invading Ukraine.
Take your pick:
1. Remove the Fascists, Nazis and Banderites from Ukraine
2. Demilitarize Ukraine
3. Protect the “repressed” people in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions
4. Ukraine has “historically” been part of Russia and that Russia is bringing Ukraine back into the motherland
5. The Ukrainians are suppressing the speaking of the Russian language in Ukraine
6. There are biological weapons labs in Ukraine that are developing pathogens to unleash on Russia
7. NATO and something called “The Collective West” want to control Ukraine and destroy Russia
As a result of Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine both Sweden and Finland have stopped straddling the fence and have decided that it is in their best interests to join NATO. Finland, which is currently in the process of joining NATO, has a 1,340 kilometer long border with Russia and it is only about 160 kilometers from Finland to Russia’s second largest city, Saint Petersburg. If the bunker midget really feels that NATO is such a threat, he should pull what is left of his army out of Ukraine and invade Finland.
The real reason that Tsar Putin invaded Ukraine is that he wants to create USSR 2.0. The bunker midget stated in 2005 that, “collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the 20th century.” His invasion of Ukraine is a land grab. Tsar Putin “annexed” by force the Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Donetsk, Lunhansk oblasts of Ukraine into Mother Russia in September 2022. The megalomaniacal Tsar Putin and his bootlicking cronies in the Kremlin want to expand the borders of Russia by absorbing neighboring countries. Fortunately, the inept and corrupt Russian army has not been up to the task.