Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Analyzing the news and views released by Ukrainian and Russian sources about the status and importance of Bakhmut

    Wednesday, May 17, 2023   No comments

Parsing the news and analysis released by Ukrainian and Russian sources about the status of Bakhmut, the year-long battle in the city appears to have limited strategic value, but became important to Ukrainian politicians as a prop to secure more military support.

Here are some facts that might help us understand the narratives about the battle of Bakhmut.

Bakhmut is an industrial city, part of the Donetsk region but also just 20 miles away from Luhansk, both regions are inhabited by majority ethnic Russians and were annexed by the Russian federation as autonomous republics. 

These regions have been at war with the government in Kiev since 2014. When the Russian troops entered Ukraine in 2022, Bakhmut became the frontline. Ukrainian troops used the underground structures and the hills overlooking the region establish durable defensive lines. Those defensive lines became challenged since Russian troops rotated out of the south (west of the river in Kherson region, and concentrated on the Bakhmut-Avdiivka line of contact. In a way, Bakhmut became important for both sides for different reasons:

The Ukrainians want to preserve Bakhmut because they wanted to show that they can not only hold the line, but also take back territory, including Crimea. If Ukrainian government loses Bakhmut right after claiming victory in Kherson, that would raise doubt about its ability to achieve its stated goals—liberate all territories including Crimea.

Russian need to not only take Bakhmut, but move past Bakhmut to justify the redeployment of troops this active line of contact stretching from Dvorichne in the north to Velyka Novosilka in the south. 

Bakhmut is also important in terms of optics. Since it is seen as a year long battle, it enforces the narratives that Ukrainian troops can hold their ground and retake territories. This would explain why the head of the government made his tour of Europe now and not earlier or later: he can use the “success” Bakhmut to secure more military aid. Many analysists believe that if his troops do not take back new territories this year, Western aid will stop. So this cannot be a lost opportunity in that context.

The big picture, however is this: regardless of ends up holding Bakhmut, can these images of a liberated city apply to Kiev too? In other words, are Ukrainians willing to fight in every major city the same way they are fighter in Bakhmut?

Here are some samples of reporting from Ukrainian sources.

From a Ukrainian blogger by the handlename: Resident

First post:

The situation in Bakhmut is critical, the Armed Forces of Ukraine were forced to leave most of the high-rise buildings at night, so as not to be surrounded, after the enemy cut our defense along Levanevskogo Street. We hold the Domino area and two blocks of private buildings, the defense of the city will be declared successful in the near future, and the Ukrainian army has completed all the assigned tasks.

Second post on May 17:

In Bakhmut, the situation is critical and the Armed Forces of Ukraine are forced to withdraw from their positions, there are less than 10 high-rise buildings left under the control of the Ukrainian army. The counterattack on Kleshcheevka failed and now the Armed Forces of Ukraine have a few days left to launch a new counteroffensive and try to flank the city, if this is not done, Syrsky's plan will fail, and the operation will bog down.

Longer analysis:

For Syrsky, it is important to continue the counteroffensive near Bakhmut, if the operation fails and the city falls, then all the merits of the commander of the ground forces will be a thing of the past, and the Armed Forces of Ukraine will not be able to demonstrate the ability to attack well-prepared positions. Western media also write about this: successes near Bakhmut strengthen Ukraine's hopes for a turning point, writes the New York Times.

Ukrainian forces were able to regain positions on the flanks, pushing the Russians away from the highways and into the city.

But fierce fighting continues in Bakhmut itself. The Russians are coming.

General Syrsky and other Ukrainian commanders have warned that the fighting is still fierce, and a desperate battle continues in Bakhmut, where Russian troops are trying to dislodge the last Ukrainian defenders from the ruins of the city.

The military says Russia has already sent reinforcements to the Bakhmut area, including tank units and fresh militant forces, to try to stop the advance of Ukrainian troops.

According to Ukrainian soldiers, the situation inside the city has become so dire that commanders are sending only volunteers there.

"If you enter Bakhmut, you should know that you may not get out," the military man told the publication.

His comrade said: "It's crazy to be in Bakhmut now. The shelling never stops."

Meanwhile, the representative of the Eastern Group of Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Serhiy Cherevaty, said that Ukrainian troops advanced 500 meters in the Bakhmut direction.

"We are conducting a successful defensive operation and from time to time we attack on the flanks. This day was no exception - the defense forces advanced up to 500 meters in different sectors," Cherevaty said.


Drone-shot video released by Russian sources:

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