Battle for Bakhmut
Ukrainian soldiers march towards the front line in Bakhmut, Ukraine on December 16, 2022. Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency
With little to show for Putin’s war efforts before the first anniversary, Russian forces focused their efforts on trying to capture the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut.
This war-torn city, which had a pre-war population of over 73,000, has been the epicenter of intense fighting for months now. US officials have previously described the fighting there as “really fierce and savage”, with constant artillery barrages.
In addition to troops freshly mobilized from the Russian conventional army, Kremlin-linked mercenaries from the notorious Wagner Group threw recruited prisoners onto the front lines to absorb heavy Ukrainian fire. Meanwhile, some experts have argued that the city probably doesn’t have much strategic utility.
“It’s probably one of the bloodiest battles in terms of casualties on both sides,” Miron said.
The Ukrainian forces defending Bakhmut are exhausted, she added, and Russian troops appear to be surrounding these forces, with the intention of completely destroying Kiev’s military capabilities by killing as many soldiers as possible.
Bakhmut highlights a dilemma facing Ukraine, namely its ability to pick its battles and understand when to step aside to save valuable manpower, Townsend said.
“Ukraine does not have the forces to spend them unnecessarily,” he added. “They cannot afford to be saddened, to defend something that is not very strategic.”
Russia has the manpower, but not necessarily the capacity. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier this month that Putin had sent dozens of troops to pressure Ukraine while accepting a high casualty rate.
“What Russia lacks in quality, they try to make up for in quantity,” he said, explaining “that the leadership, logistics, equipment, training, don’t have the same level as the forces Ukrainians, but they have more strength.”
The outcome of the fight at Bakhmut has yet to be decided, but front line troops have said the battle was a “meat grinder”.