Battle for Bakhmut takes peak stage in the conflict in Ukraine


The six-month battle for the Ukrainian The city of Bakhmut has been the longest and bloodiest battle 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 again pledged this week to continue defending the city, but some observers have warned it could be too dangerous and expensive to stick to. Here’s a look at Bakhmut, the battle and its possible consequences.


Bakhmut, with a pre-war population of over 70,000, was an important salt and gypsum mining center 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 wide, tree-lined avenues, lush parks and stately downtown with imposing late 19th-century buildings made it a popular tourist attraction.

When a separatist insurgency swept Donbas in April 2014, weeks after Moscow’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, Russian-backed separatists gained control of the city but lost it a few months later.


Russian forces first attempted to recapture Bakhmut in early August, but were pushed back.

Fighting eased in the following months as the Russian army faced Ukrainian counter-offensives in the east and south, but resumed in full swing late last year. In January, the Russians captured the salt mining town of Soledar, just a few miles north of Bakhmut, and advanced to the city’s outskirts.

The relentless Russian bombardment has reduced Bakhmut to a smoldering wasteland with few buildings still standing. Russian and Ukrainian soldiers fought fierce house-to-house fighting in the ruins.

Soldiers from Russia’s private Wagner Group contractor have led the offensive, marching on “the corpses of their own troops,” as Ukrainian officials put it. In late February, the Russians approached the only highway leading out of the city and shelled it with artillery, forcing the Ukrainian defenders to rely increasingly on country roads, which are difficult to use before the ground dries up.


Ukrainian authorities have hailed the city as the invincible “Bakhmut Fortress” that has destroyed waves of Russian attackers.

As Russian mobs approached the city, a presidential aide last week warned that the military could “strategic retreat” if necessary. But on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his top generals decided that the army will continue to defend Bakhmut and reinforce its troops there.

For the Kremlin, the capture of Bakhmut is essential to achieving its stated goal of taking full control of Donetsk, one of four Ukrainian regions that Moscow illegally annexed in September.

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Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that capturing Bakhmut would allow Russia to push its offensive deeper into the region. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the rogue millionaire who owns the Wagner Group, accused his troops of destroying the best Ukrainian units in Bakhmut to prevent them from launching attacks elsewhere.

At the same time, he sharply criticized the Russian Defense Ministry for failing to supply Wagner with ammunition in remarks that reflected his longstanding tensions with the military’s top ranks and highlighted problems that could delay the Russian offensive.


Military experts note that Ukraine has turned Bakhmut into a meat grinder for the most capable Russian armed forces.

“It has served its purpose by basically 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, told Sky News.

Phillips P. O`Brien, a professor of strategic studies at the University of St Andrews, said the battle of Bakhmut “confirms that the Russian military is still struggling with basic operations.”

He noted that the Kremlin’s continued emphasis on land-grabbing, regardless of losses, means that “Russian strategic targets are bleeding the Russian military immensely”. While Ukrainian and Western officials pointed out that Russian combat losses far exceeded Ukrainian, some observers argued that the defense of Bakhmut diverted Ukrainian resources that could be used in a planned counter-offensive later in the spring.

Michael Kofman, director of Russia studies at CAN, a Washington-based think tank, noted that Ukraine’s defenders “achieved a lot by spending Russian manpower and ammunition,” but added that it might be wise for Ukraine to deploy its troops to save for the future. offensive operations. “Strategies may reach points of diminishing returns,” and given that Ukraine is “trying to divert resources on an offensive, this could hinder the success of a more important operation,” he said.


Ukrainian and Western officials insist that a Ukrainian withdrawal from Bakhmut will have no strategic significance or change the course of the conflict. The Ukrainian army has already reinforced the defense lines west of Bakhmut to block the Russian advance if Ukrainian troops finally withdraw from the city. The nearby town of Chasiv Yar, on a hill just a few miles to the west, could become the next stronghold against the Russians. Further west are Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, the heavily fortified Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk.

And even if the Russian army tries to continue its offensive in Donetsk, it must keep large contingents in other parts of the Donbas and in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, where Ukrainian forces are expected to launch their next counter-offensive.

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