The Battle For Bakhmut
It's been 6 months since Russian forces embarked on their offensive for Bakhmut. 6 months and they are yet to take the city. 6 months and they have resorted to replacing the dead with more Wagner mercenaries, more mass-mobilized conscripts, and more prisoners. Is this poorly managed offensive really worth it? Or do the Russian seniors continue to throw men towards this apparent 'strategic' location in order to maintain some form of face after their embarrassing retreats from Kharkiv and Kherson?
What Has Happened So Far?
A key Russian goal of the illegal 'Special Military Operation' was to capture the Donbas region, firmly controlling Luhansk and Donetsk. The early battles for Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk were successful for the Russian forces, resulting in the full control of Luhansk Oblast. The focus then shifted towards the cities of Sloviansk, Soledar, and Bakhmut - all located on strategic supply lines between Donetsk and Luhansk. In mid-August, Ukrainian Brigadier General Tarnavskiy assessed that Russia had a 5-to-1 manpower advantage over the Ukrainian Armed Forces on the Eastern Axis. NOTE - As of January 12, the Ukrainian Armed Forces are still here.
The Russian Armed Forces launched their main ground attack on the settlements to the south and southeast of Bakhmut. Airstrikes and shelling of the largely civilian occupied city significantly increased until August 4 when Wagner mercenaries pushed through Ukrainian defenses only to reach Patrice Lumumba street on the eastern outskirts of Bakhmut.
Russian forces continued their kinetic shelling of Bakhmut resulting in the deaths of 7 civilians and injuring 6 more. Infrastructure was flattened and the Russian forces pushed towards Bakhmut from the south. The Ukrainian general staff assessed that as of August 14 Russian forces had achieved 'partial success' near Bakhmut. NOTE - This was 6 months ago and Ukrainian forces are still here.
Wagner forces were heavily bolstered by prisoners recruited from multiple Russian penal facilities. https://twitter.com/WhereisRussia/status/1592172255081013250
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October 7, Russian forces furthered their advancement into the settlements of Zaitseve and Opytne to the south and southeast of Bakhmut although these villages and some factories were fiercely contested by Ukrainian Armed Forces.
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On November 10, Ukrainian Armed Forces reported that the Russian Wagner Group suffered almost 140 casualties in just 24 hours and that the fighting in and around Bakhmut had descended into trench warfare in which both sides continue to attack, counter, and dig in until one prevails.
November 28, Russian forces finally broke through the Ukrainian defensive lines south of Bakhmut where they advanced through Optyne, but still made minimal and slow gains, only capturing settlements of Andriivka, Ozarianivka, and Zelenopillia.
Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesperson for Ukraine's Eastern Command stated on December 3 that the Bakhmut front was "the most bloody, cruel and brutal sector in the Russian-Ukrainian war so far". He claimed that the Russian Armed Forces had "conducted 261 attacks with artillery of various calibers in the past 24 hours alone". NOTE - Ukrainian forces are still there, and still defending against this brutality.
December 9, Russian forces continued to probe at peripheral settlements to Bakhmut. Ukrainian forces successfully repelled attacks near Klishchiivka and Druzhba as Russian shelling continued. One Ukrainian serviceman stated that remaining civilians, likely just surviving in basements, are not anti-Russian. Russian narratives continue to claim the Special Military Operation is to 'liberate', why then does Russia continue its war of attrition on people it considers its 'own'?
December 13, Russian sources claimed that urban street fighting had begun in the eastern and southeastern areas of Bakhmut. The Ukrainian forces successfully countered the Russian advances and pushed Wagner forces back to the eastern outskirts of the Fyodor Maksimenko area on 18 December. At this time, the Ukrainian Joint Forces Task Force were reportedly repelling 5-7 advancing Russian units around Bakhmut per day and claimed to have an abundance of drones for surveillance allowing rapid responses to these Russian patrols on the outskirts and in the eastern industrial zone in particular.
Zelenskyy visited the Bakhmut front on 20/21 December while the shelling and bombardment continued on the outskirts. Wagner mercenaries continued to probe at Bakhmutske, Pidhorodne and Klishciivka on the northeastern and southwestern flanks of Bakhmut while the Ukrainian Armed Forces valiantly held the area to the north of Optyne, halting any southern Russian advances. On 26 December, the governor of Donetsk, Pavlo Kyrylenko, assessed that over 60% of Bakhmut's infrastructure was destroyed.
The Institute for the Study of War determined that Russia's advance on Bakhmut had 'culminated' by 28 December, assessing that Russian Armed Forces, and Wagner mercenaries, were unable to continue their assaults/shelling of Bakhmut at the scale they had been operating at over the last number of months.
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In early January, the Kyiv Independent stated that "The Battle of Bakhmut is likely culminating" with Ukraine successfully defending against illegal annexation. #BakhmutHolds.
Why Continue in Bakhmut?
"It's about the money" said retired Ukrainian colonel, Serhiy Grabskiy, now a military analyst in Kyiv. The Wagner Group were assigned the task of capturing Bakhmut for the Kremlin, and in doing so will likely receive a substantial financial reward, perhaps a share of profits from the salt and gypsum mines if they ever succeed in taking them? Something that Yevgeniy Prigozhin would not be able to overlook, regardless of the significant number of Russian lives lost in doing so. Is financial gain worth that many Russian lives?
Grabskiy concludes that "the only part of the long front where Russia appears to have the capacity to go on the offensive is around Bakhmut, and it's important for the military to provide a battlefield success for Putin". The mass surrender of territory in Kharkiv and the complete withdrawal from Kherson has meant that Bakhmut is the only potential target the Kremlin would deem successful if ever it became occupied by Russian forces. Bakhmut's strategic importance is exaggerated by failures elsewhere in Ukraine.
Countless Russian lives lost in pursuit of a target that has become more strategic as the war develops. Time will tell to see if the Russian seniors, 'safe' in the Kremlin, 800km away, will continue to send their men to their slaughter for this city.
Meanwhile. Bakhmut Holds.