What awaits Russia after shedding so much blood for Bakhmut?

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The battle for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut is over, for now.

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After 10 months of brutal artillery duels, frantic troop advances and thousands of Russian and Ukrainian casualties, Moscow’s formations hold the industrial center while Kiev’s troops try to press on the city’s flanks.

But it is unclear what awaits Russia, which has said its goal is to capture the entire eastern Donbass region.

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A Ukrainian tanker displays a victory sign at its position near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Tuesday, May 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

A Ukrainian tanker displays a victory sign at its position near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Tuesday, May 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

As the battle began, Moscow hoped to use Bakhmut’s capture as a weapon trampoline continue advancing westward, with aspirations of reaching the larger cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

For now, that goal seems unattainable.

Russian troops appear exhausted, military analysts say, after taking heavy losses in Bakhmut’s safety.

And, in general, the forces of the president Vladimir V Putin they showed little ability to take more territory elsewhere, having been relegated mainly to attacks minor scale in a handful of cities in the east of the country.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has trained new formations, armed and equipped by the West, and is expected to launch a counteroffensive wider at some point in the approximately 1000 kilometers of front line.

Secret place (Ukraine), 05/23/2023.- Members of the 10th brigade d

Undisclosed location (Ukraine), 05/23/2023.- Members of the 10th Separate Mountain Assault Brigade “Edelweiss”, a unit of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, rest at an undisclosed location in the direction of Bakhmut. EFE EPA – OLEG PETRASYUK

This has Russia in something of a defensive squat, with its forces stretched out, as they build fortifications and prepare for the next phase of the war.

“We will likely see more localized tactical strikes,” said Rob Lee, a military analyst at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, referring to the Russian forces.

“But Russia is likely to focus primarily on defense and prepare for Ukraine’s counter-offensive.”

Russian forces spent much of the winter and spring mining and preparing to attack Ukraine, although some units continued to attack in areas such as Kreminna north of Bakhmut and Avdiivka to the south.

These assaults gained little ground for the Russians, who instead decimated population centers in their path by thinning their ranks.

In the south, which some military analysts predict will be the center of the Ukrainian offensive, Russian forces have dug an intricate network of primary and secondary trenches and minefields to frust any Ukrainian advanceaccording to satellite photos and analysts.

If Ukraine manages to recapture the territory, analysts say, the much larger Russian air force could gain the upper hand as Ukrainian troops push forward. out of range of their air defences.

Further southwest, Ukraine now has the southern port city of Kherson, retaken in November.

However, with the Dnipro River as a natural border, Russian artillery units can bombard the city from the eastern side with little risk of being overrun by Ukrainian ground forces, given the difficulty of crossing a wide and exposed waterway.

to the north, proxy unit Ukrainian-backed forces have penetrated the Russian border in recent days, capturing a small swath of territory in what is seen as a propaganda ploy to stall Russian forces and embarrass the Kremlin after Bakhmut’s capture.


But the battle for Bakhmut has come at a significant cost to Russia and Ukraine and will weigh heavily on what comes next.

Both sides invested large amounts of men and material in taking and holding a relatively small and now devastated city, which had a pre-war population of over 70,000.

Such is the nature of this war of Duration 15 months:

Both armies, still entrenched in Soviet-style tactics, continue to rely heavily on artillery, tanks, and limited troop advances to seize and control terrain.

“The battle for Bakhmut is less about territory and more about its impact on both forces and what it reveals about them,” said Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies at CNA, a research institute in Arlington. in Virginia.

Russian forces were defeated on three fronts last year:

around Kiev, in the north-eastern region of Kharkiv and in Kherson. Moscow is nursing its exhausted, casualty-heavy formations after Bakhmut’s brutal urban fighting.

Ukraine is also full of casualties, but is entrenching itself on far more favorable ground and high above Bakhmut.

In recent days the Ukrainian forces have succeeded little progress north and south of Bakhmut, which puts his forces in a better position to prevent Russian troops from advancing further.

The head of the paramilitary forces Wagner, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, whose fighters were primarily responsible for Bakhmut’s capture, he promised to withdraw them from the city and hand over their defense to the uniformed Russian rank and file, risking a disorganized troop relief.

Wagner “isn’t really designed for defensive operations,” Lee said.

Prigozhin’s Wagner group has proven to be one of Ukraine’s most formidable enemies and it is unclear how its exit from the battlefield will affect Ukraine’s ability to pressure Bakhmut and beyond.

Military analysts, Western intelligence agencies and Ukrainian officials have been discussing the strategic importance of Bakhmut’s campaign for months.

Moscow could have invested the resources another part of the front instead of wasting lives and ammunition on a few miles of ground, they said.

Kiev could have withdrawn earlier, saving battalions, brigades and supplies for future offensives.

Both sides’ decisions to stand and fight will have lasting effects on their future maneuvers.

The Battle of Bakhmut was unique in that the Wagner Group relied on formations of prisoners to attack Ukrainian trenches, both to overwhelm their defenses and to expose Ukrainian firing positions.

Russia’s ability to replenish its ranks, often with poorly trained forces, had at one point been one of its advantages, forcing Ukraine to risk its best-trained units to stop the raw troops the Russians were dealing with. do as expendable.

But Ukraine fought back, despite losing ground in the city and suffering a disproportionate number of casualties.

They took advantage of the open fields and groves on the outskirts and put them to use precision artillery providedTO from the West, such as HIMARS rocket launchers and 155mm howitzers, to injure and kill Russian troops from a distance.

Now Moscow must decide whether to try to push west of Bakhmut.

A few kilometers away is the city of Chasiv Yar, but Ukraine can retreat to the central heights, where it could fire on the advancing Russian troops.

Most likely, the Russians will focus on defending Bakhmut and his approaches.

The aftermath of the battle for Bakhmut is not yet fully known, both in terms of the total number of casualties on both sides and the amount of material or ammunition lost or destroyed.

Western estimates earlier in the year put Russian casualties at around 200,000 wounded and dead since its invasion, and those in Ukraine are believed to be similar.

Since then, the fight for Bakhmut has claimed thousands more lives.

“This chapter will be closed, even if fighting continues in fields outside the city, but it speaks volumes about the Ukrainian willingness to fight, even as soldiers question whether the fight for Bakhmut was due to political rather than military considerations,” he said. declared Koffmann.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff is a Ukrainian correspondent and former Marine. @tmgneff

c.2023 The New York Times Society

Source: Clarin

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