(CNN) Russian troops are getting closer and closer to capturing Bakhmut cityHowever, after weeks of bloody fighting, the determined Ukrainian resistance was gradually weakened.
Bakhmut is not the kind of city Moscow was hoping to fight for in The second year of his invasion – It is a relatively small outpost in eastern Donetsk, which has been out of reach of Russia’s sluggish ground campaign for several months.
But capturing it would mark some military advances for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and give his forces the opportunity to launch air strikes on more urban areas in the West.
Here’s what you need to know about the Battle of Bakhmut.
Why is the focus on Bakhmut?
President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening video message on Tuesday that the biggest challenge facing Ukraine at this moment is to defend Bakhmut.
Russian forces have made increasing gains across the city, but Ukrainian forces have not yet retreated, leading to a standoff reminiscent of protracted battles for other eastern cities such as Severodontsk over the past year.
On Saturday, the Ukrainian Ground Forces said on its Telegram channel that “the enemy continues to try to break through the defenses and capture Bakhmut” and that the commander of the Eastern Ukrainian Military Group, Colonel Oleksandr Sersky, visited the units defending the area. The city and its approach.
“The situation is difficult. There is no secret in it,” Alexander Rudnyansky, Zelensky’s economic advisor, told CNN on Tuesday.
The adviser added, “Russia is trying to encircle it at the moment and they are using the best Wagner forces, and they seem to be the most trained and experienced.” “It is clear that our army will weigh all the options. So far, as you know, they have taken the city, but, if necessary, they will withdraw strategically because we will not second guess all our people just for nothing.”
The Ukrainian military has also confirmed that Russian forces are employing more experienced fighters from the ranks of the Russian private military company Wagner as they attempt to capture the city.
What is happening on the ground?
There are still about 4,500 civilians in Bakhmut, including 48 children, as Russian forces continue to advance towards the city, spokeswoman for Donetsk’s regional military administration, Tetiana Ignachenko, told CNN on Wednesday.
She called on people to evacuate the city because of the danger, but said they had enough supplies.
“There is food, water and medicine in the city. People were provided with everything in advance,” Ignachenko said. However, everyone has to leave. The situation is very dangerous for civilians.
A soldier from the 93rd Brigade in Ukraine said that his country’s forces are still stationed in Bakhmut, and there are no plans to retreat.
“We stand at Bakhmut. No one will back down yet,” the soldier said in a video released by the Ukrainian military on Wednesday. “We stand. Bakhmut is Ukraine.”
The soldier also claimed that the situation in Bakhmut was a little calmer than it had been in the previous days.
“We’ve put down the enemy a little bit,” he said. “It’s a little quieter, but there are still gunfights in the suburbs.” There are sporadic explosions and bombs flying.”
But the Ukrainian forces acknowledged that it had become difficult to hold on to the city because the roads leading from the west were being pressed by the Russian forces, who had advanced to the north and south of Bakhmut.
“The situation in Bakhmut is very difficult now. It is much worse than what is officially announced,” a soldier who did not wish to be named told CNN on Tuesday. “In all directions. Especially in the northern direction, where (the Russians) made the greatest advance between Berkhivka and Yahidny.”
What does Bakhmut mean for war?
The city is located northeast of the Donetsk region, about 13 miles from the Luhansk region, and has been a target for Russian forces for months. Since last summer, the city has been a stone’s throw from the front lines, so its capture would be a long-awaited success for Moscow’s forces – and would bring some limited strategic value.
The city has important road connections to other parts of the Donetsk region; east to the border with Luhansk, northwest to Sloviansk and southwest to Kostiantynivka.
For several weeks now, the roads to Bakhmut have gradually come under the control of Russian troops. Instead of driving directly towards the city center, Wagner’s groups sought to encircle the city in a wide arc from the north. In January they laid claim to the neighboring town of Solidar, and have since captured a string of villages and hamlets north of Bakhmut.
If the Russians could capture the high ground to the west of the city, the nearby industrial cities of Kostiantynivka and Kramatorsk would be at the mercy of their longer-range artillery and mortars. It is not clear where exactly Ukrainian forces will return if they withdraw from the city.
but Experts say The capture of Bakhmut is unlikely to fundamentally change the overall picture of the war in eastern Ukraine, as few territories have changed in 2023. In some ways, it may point to the overwhelming failures of the Russian invasion which, as early as its second year, led To capture a relatively small city required such a long and costly offensive.
Why does Putin want it?
While Bakhmut’s strategic importance should not be overstated, his capture still holds a very welcome symbolic effect for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When Russian forces captured the town of Soledar in mid-January, it marked the first gain in Donbass in months. After six weeks, the capture of Bakhmut would mark the completion of the next step.
Also important is the oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, who runs the Wagner Group, and who is frequently critical of the Russian Defense Ministry’s management of the “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Wagner’s fighters, many of them former prison mates, have taken a heavy toll on what has become a battlefield of trenches and mud, reminiscent of World War I. To prove that his men can reproduce with the capture of Solidar and now Bakhmut.
However, urgent questions will remain for Putin even if his forces carry out a successful attack on Bakhmut.
“The specter of limitless Russian manpower is a myth. Putin has already had to make difficult and suboptimal choices to offset the heavy toll his war has taken on the Russian military, and he will face similarly difficult choices in 2023 if he persists,” the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) wrote in An update on the state of Russian forces and firepower on Sunday expressed his determination to use military force to impose his will on Ukraine and the West.”
“Russia can mobilize more manpower, and Putin will likely do so rather than capitulate. But the costs to Putin and Russia of the actions he is likely to take at this point will begin to mount rapidly,” the ISW wrote.
CNN’s Tim Lister, Vasko Kotoviu, Olga Wojtović, Jesse Grettner, Eleanor Bixton and Laura Ford contributed to reporting.
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