Bakhmut a Russian failure: Ukrainian officials, int’l analysts, Russians themselves

A member of Ukraine's Armed Forces 80th Independent Air Assault Brigade at an undisclosed location near the frontline city of Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, March 17, 2023. Photo: PAP/EPA/MARIA SENOVILLA

Andriy Yermak, the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, announced on Sunday that Ukrainian defenders are holding up and that the enemy’s attempts to take the city of Bakhmut have been a failure so far.

“The defenders are halting the enemy back in the east. The [enemy’s] plans regarding occupying Bakhmut are a failure,” Yermak wrote in a message published on Telegram.

The Russians have been trying to seize Bakhmut in the eastern Ukrainian Donetsk Region since August 2022. The battle of Bakhmut is one of the toughest and bloodiest struggles of the conflict. In spite of some voices saying that the town should be given up, the Ukrainian units steadfastly defend the city that has become a meat grinder for the Russian forces.

Ukrainian and Western media and think tanks have confirmed that the invaders have successfully occupied the sections of the city located on the eastern bank of the Bakhmutka river, as well as establishing positions in the city’s suburbs to the north and the south of the city center. In spite of the threat of encirclement, however, the Ukrainian forces have remained in the ruined city and the front line has stabilized.

Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukrainian land forces, said last week that assault groups belonging to Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mercenary Wagner Group have continued to make failed attempts to penetrate Ukrainian defensive positions by simultaneously attacking from several directions in order to break through into the center of the city.

However, it appears that for as long as the Ukrainians are able to prevent the salient that Bakhmut has become from being cut off from resupplies, the city’s defenders will hold on.

“We manage to deliver the necessary ammunition, food, equipment, and medicine to Bakhmut. We also managed to evacuate our wounded from the city,” Serhii Cherevaty, the spokesperson for the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ Eastern Group said on Monday on television.

According to Cherevaty, the efforts of Ukrainian scouts enabled precision artillery strikes that have kept the lifeline linking the city to the rest of Ukrainian-controlled territory open. He stressed that apart from inflicting heavy casualties on the Russians, Ukrainian forces downed two Russian drones and destroyed five enemy ammo depots.

According to Cherevaty, on Friday alone, the Ukrainians estimated to have managed to kill 193 Russians and wounded another 199 in the Bakhmut area alone.

According to the estimates published on Saturday morning, the number of Russian regulars and proxies killed over the preceding 24-hour period was 880, meaning that the short section of the frontline around Bakhmut claimed the lives of more than 20 percent of the Russian KIAs that day.

We will strike an exhausted Russian army in Bakhmut: Ukrainian expert

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According to experts, the dogged resistance of Ukrainians in Bakhmut is achieving its goal of attrition of the Russian forces. The massive losses around Bakhmut caused by the pigheaded fixation on capturing Bakhmut have forced the Russians to divert troops from other areas where they could perhaps enjoy better luck.

This has resulted in critical manpower and materiel shortages in the southern sections of the front line, specifically in the occupied sections of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia Regions. According to Ukrainian military expert Oleksandr Kovalenko, desperately needed resupplies and reinforcement had to be diverted to Bakhmut and other hotspots. Little to none have been sent to the Kherson-Zaporizhzhia front since the onset of 2023, and already back then the units were at 70 percent of their peacetime numbers and between 30 and 50 percent of their war footing.

“As the intensity of the fighting around Bakhmut, as well as Vuhledar [some 30 kilometers to the southwest], Mariinka, Avdiivka increases, as does the saturation of the Luhansk Region with forces and means to use in the offensive on Lyman and Kupyansk, the security of the south has degraded [...] and currently lost the minimum of their combat capabilities,” Kovalenko told the UNIAN press agency.

According to the expert, Russian units in the south are not compensated for lost equipment and oftentimes even ammo. Many of the units in that section are armed mainly with infantry weapons, and the problem of lack of heavy equipment grows worse day by day. He expects the situation of the Russians to grow even more dire as the fighting intensifies.

The other side

Meanwhile, Wagner Group founder and a perennial headache for the Russian Ministry of Defense he constantly takes jabs at, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said that the Ukrainians are preparing to launch a multi-directional counteroffensive, reported the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War.

“Prigozhin stated that Ukrainian forces will launch these operations starting in mid-April and urged Russian forces to prepare for these counteroffensives by preserving ammunition and equipment,” wrote ISW in their March 18 report.

ISW appears skeptical of the ability to launch several large-scale counteroffensives. Prigozhin reportedly said that some of the directions of the Ukrainian strikes would be into Russian Federation’s territory, further casting doubt on the accuracy of his predictions.

“Prigozhin’s forecast about five separate Ukrainian counteroffensives is mirror-imaging—Russian forces have specialized in conducting multiple simultaneous advances along diverging axes that are not mutually supporting, which is one of the reasons for Russian failures in the war so far,” ISW wrote in their report.

As ISW assesses, the statements made by “Putin’s cook” are likely meant to “justify the Wagner Group’s inability to complete an envelopment or encirclement of Bakhmut.”

ISW assesses that “Wagner fighters are likely conducting opportunistic attacks on easier-to-seize settlements further north and northwest of Bakhmut as their ability to make tactical gains in Bakhmut itself diminishes.”

However, Prigozhin, who has for several weeks now complained about not receiving resupplies of ammo and materiel from the Russian MoD, as well as being cut off from the access to fresh bodies to be thrown into the meatgrinder after he was no longer allowed to recruit prison inmates, does speak in unison with the Ukrainians on one thing: that the Russian offensive is nearing its culmination.