Bakhmut has become a small key city. Once considered strategically irrelevant, it has become the epicenter of the war in Ukraine, as well as the Russian president Vladimir Putin like the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky they have bet the immediate future of their country on the outcome of the battle for Bakhmut. As one Pentagon intelligence official stated, “It’s a war in which the loser will be the first to withdraw his troops.”
Bakhmut is what seems like an “eternal war”. Wave after wave of human Russian attacks, with Russian mercenaries in the form of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group accounting for most of the killings. Newly mobilized Russian reservists and conscripts are also filling body bags; more than 60,000 Russians have died since January 1. Ukrainian defenders absorb the blows and launch local counter-attacks to regain lost ground. It’s a virtual confrontation, like in the movie Groundhog Day, repeated daily with the same results.
The small city that could have acquired a tactical, strategic and symbolic significance. Determined Ukrainian resistance has seriously tarnished relations between Prigozhin and Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Russian Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov. Prigozhin has publicly complained about the lack of artillery to support his ground assaults, and that his forces are being used to “take the brunt of the intensive urban attrition war to take Bakhmut to keep conventional Russian forces”.
Before the release of the video showing the assassination of Oleksandr Matsievsky on March 6, the Institute for the Study of War concluded that “Ukrainian forces are likely to conduct a limited tactical withdrawal”. Many were willing to vouch for their loss. Even Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin commented that “if the Ukrainians decide to reposition themselves in part of the terrain that is west of Bakhmut, I wouldn’t see that as an operational or strategic retreat.”
But that was then. After meeting yesterday with Ukraine’s Supreme Commander-in-Chief, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, and with the Commander of Ukrainian Ground Forces, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, Zelensky announced that he had ordered reinforcements to Bakhmut and that “no part of Ukraine from the be said that it can be abandoned”.
Zelensky bestowed on Matsievsky the honor of “hero of Ukraine” on March 12, stating that “Russian forces will have an ‘open road’ to take other critical settlements in eastern Ukraine if they capture Bakhmut…they could go further They could go to Kramatorsk, they could go to Sloviansk.” Zelensky just planted the Ukrainian flag on Bakhmut, echoing the US military’s motto, “This we will defend.”
In addition, according to Ukrainian military officials, Russian troops suffer a seven to one casualty rate compared to Ukrainian troops. As Putin continues to reinforce the failure in Donbas, he accepts the risk in Crimea, a “red line” that he is sure the US and NATO will not let Zelensky cross. Without the precise deep attack capabilities that the ATACMS and the F-16 provide, you may be right.
All roads seem to lead back to Bakhmut, where many thousands more soldiers on both sides will no doubt lose their lives.. As German Leopard 2 main battle tanks, US Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and other military equipment, along with their trained crews, begin to arrive in Ukraine, military analysts wonder where the decisive and decisive battles will take place.
A bloodied, demoralized and misguided Russian army in Bakhmut could be ripe for the harvest.