Frontline shifts in Russia and Ukraine’s Battle of Bakhmut, analysts say
Ukraine on Saturday insisted its forces held off relentless Russian attacks in Bakhmut, although analysts said Moscow’s forces had captured most of the east of the embattled city and established a new front line cutting through its centre.
Gradual Russian advances and heavy Ukrainian casualties have fueled talk of a retreat from Bakhmut, a town in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region decimated by months of fighting. But Ukrainian officials say Russian losses at Bakhmut are worse than their own and have signaled they will pursue a strategy to bleed the Russian army dry ahead of a planned Ukrainian counterattack.
Despite claims by the Ukrainian military that they were holding Bakhmut, it was becoming increasingly clear that his hold on the city was weak and that Russian forces were making new gains. Although Bakhmut’s strategic value is disputed, Moscow is striving for victory after a series of setbacks and sees the city as a key step in its bid to conquer all of Donbass.
Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, said last week that his fighters had taken the eastern half of Bakhmut — a claim the Ukrainian military dismissed at the time, saying its soldiers were still fighting there.
But Britain’s Defense Intelligence Service said on Saturday that Wagner militants had “taken control of” most of the east of the city over the past four days. The Bakhmutka River, which flows through the city center, now marks the front line and could hamper further westward Russian advances, he added.
Recent satellite images showed that bridges over the Bakhmutka were destroyed. Ukraine had previously blown up pontoon crossings to prevent Russian advances across the river – and now appears to be using them as a new line of defence, the British agency said.
“Because Ukrainian units can fire from fortified buildings to the west, this area has become a kill zone, likely making it a major challenge for Wagner forces attempting to continue their frontal attack to the west,” it said notes that Ukrainian forces are still vulnerable to continued Russian efforts to encircle them.
That assessment was largely confirmed by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research group, which in its latest update said Russian forces “made gains” at Bakhmut and cleared the eastern part of the city.
Ukraine’s military continued to strike a defiant tone on Saturday, saying in an opinion insisted that his troops “give a decent rebuff” to Russian forces and “continue to hold the city.” The commander of the Ukrainian ground forces, Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrski, is in the “most important area” of the front line and is taking the “necessary measures to keep Bakhmut under Ukrainian control”.
Instead of withdrawing from the city, as rumored, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has announced that Ukraine will send reinforcements. That message was underscored late Friday when Mr Zelensky again discussed Bakhmut “and our opportunities to strengthen there” with his military leadership. according to statement from the Bureau.
Natalia Yermak contributed reporting.
https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/11/world/europe/russia-ukraine-war-bakhmut.html Frontline shifts in Russia and Ukraine’s Battle of Bakhmut, analysts say