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The defense of Bakhmut: explaining its necessity

The defense of Bakhmut: explaining its necessity

For more than 8 months, the city of  Bakhmut in the Donetsk region remains the key hotspot on the map of the fighting. Russia continues to invest enormous resources in order to try to capture the city.

Despite the superior Russian forces and heavy casualties, Ukrainian servicemen courageously continue to defend Bakhmut and push back against Russian attacks.

In the past day alone,  the Ukrainian military repelled 72 Russian attacks in four eastern directions on April 12, 2023.  “Despite numerous losses in equipment and manpower, the enemy does not give up waging a war of aggression. It continues to focus its main efforts on conducting offensive operations in the Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiiv and Marin directions. Last day, our defenders repelled 72 enemy attacks in the indicated directions,” a statement by the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces reads. 

The brutal reality of the fighting in Bakhmut has fixated the international community’s attention, with support for Ukraine’s courageous defense of the town widely praised. 

While debunking the claims made by Wagner Group head Valerii Prigozhyn that Bakhmut has been captured by Russia, the Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the U.S. National Security Council John Kirby has stressed that “the battle for Bakhmut is not over and the Ukrainians have not been pushed back.” Kirby reiterated that regardless of the battle’s outcome, the “dynamics of the battle from a strategic point of view” would not be subject to change. 

“Bakhmut is of great importance to Ukrainians, and, of course, we respect and understand that,” Kirby said in a press briefing on April 3, 2023.

While heavy fighting continues, it is only the military that is capable of providing an accurate assessment of the situation on the ground. Nonetheless, with much of the media attention currently being given to Bakhmut, we have sought to compile a short explainer on the necessity for the town’s defense using accessible information, analytics, and official government sources. 

Why does Ukraine continue its defense of the city?  

An explanation of Bakhmut’s significance in several points.

Tactical decisions 

In February 2023, Russia launched a new major offensive. In contrast to its full-scale invasion in 2022, the offensive is centered around capturing the eastern parts of Ukraine. 

The decision of the Ukrainian leadership to keep forces in Bakhmut and continue to defend it is a part of the Ukrainian tactic. It aims to restrain further Russian offensives in the region and slows down the pace of the offensive.

“This is tactical for us. We understand that after Bakhmut they could go further. It would be an open road for the Russians after Bakhmut to other towns in Ukraine, in the Donetsk direction,” stated President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy in an interview with CNN.

Strategy of territory 

Today, the Donetsk region is one of the war’s key hotspots and the defense of Bakhmut plays a vital role in protecting the entire region. 

Bakhmut is a strategic city in military terms. The road that leads from Bakhmut into the town of Chasiv Yar is a vital exit route for units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces who are in danger of being encircled. 

Capturing Bakhmut may make it easier for Russia to strike towards Kostiantynivka and Druzhkivka or Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

Exhaustion of forces

In order to capture Bakhmut, Russia threw thousands of its soldiers onto the battlefield. As a result, Moscow has lost a considerable amount of manpower.

According to senior military adviser of the UK delegation to the OSCE Ian Stubbs, between 20,000-30,000 Wagnerites and regular Russian forces have been killed and wounded in battles for the city of Bakhmut since May 2022.

As the battle rages on, the Ukrainian Armed Forces are destroying the most combat-ready units of the Russian forces, which will help Ukraine in future battles.

According to the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksii Danilov, Russian forces are losing seven times more soldiers than the Ukrainian forces on the Bakhmut front.

“The situation there is difficult, but keep in mind that our men and women dispatch hundreds [of Russian soldiers] where they belong, given that they came here to kill us. Now we are killing them,” Danilov stated.

A path to the counteroffensive

By depleting Russia’s resources and power, Ukraine creates the conditions necessary to make a Ukrainian counteroffensive possible. Meanwhile, the supply of military support from the West to Ukraine continues. Supplying the equipment, ammunition and setting up the logistics chains takes time – Ukraine is fighting to win some, in order to prepare a successful counteroffensive.

“Without sparing anything, Russians are losing significant force and energy. Very soon we will take advantage of this opportunity, as we once did near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balakliya and Kupiansk,” stated the commander of the Ground Forces of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Oleksandr Syrskiy.

Defying Russian plans 

The Russian political leadership has openly stated that one of its aims of the aggression is the occupation of the whole territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

One year after the launch of its full-scale invasion, Russia has had no major achievements on the battlefield, which primarily undermines its credibility in the eyes of its own citizens.

In February 2023, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered to capture the territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions by March – a plan which has now failed. 

Despite managing to occupy 95% of the territory of the Luhansk region in 2022, the situation in Donetsk region is more complicated for the Russian army. As a result, the deadline of the capturing of Bakhmut has been postponed.

Prepared by: Diana Matviiv, Inga Vyshnevska

Edited by: Kvitka Perehinets

Designed by: Vladyslav Rybalko

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