A Ukrainian soldier patrolling a street in Bakhmut, February 14, 2023.
Washington – The West is concerned about Ukraine's determination to keep the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, which has been under attack by Russian forces for several months and is beginning to be threatened with encirclement. This was stated by the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in a regular briefing on the situation on the Ukrainian battlefield. In his analysis, he refers to information from the Western media, according to which the Ukrainian army is unable to defend Bakhmut and simultaneously carry out the expected spring offensive.
Ukraine has been spending considerable resources and troops to defend Bakhmut for several months. At the same time, its representatives make it clear that Ukraine will defend the city with a pre-war population of 70,000 people as long as possible. In his Tuesday video message, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy admitted that the situation on the front remains extremely complex and that every square meter of land is being fought for. According to him, a large part of the Russian artillery fire is concentrated on Bakhmut.
The Washington Post reported earlier this week that US military planners assessed that Ukrainian forces were unable to simultaneously defend Bakhmut and launch a spring counteroffensive. According to the paper, they therefore called on Ukraine to prioritize the spring counter-offensive over the defense of Bakhmut and try to liberate other occupied territories.
ISW is inclined to believe that Ukraine's decision to defend Bakhmut is probably strategically sound, despite the cost to Ukraine. Ukraine's defense of Bakhmut has forced the Kremlin to deploy a large part of the mercenary Wagner group (translated from Russian Vagnerov) as well as elite airborne forces to hold the advance, which is being bought by heavy casualties. According to American analysts, this fact will probably create favorable conditions for a future Ukrainian counter-offensive. They also claim that Russian forces would not stop after capturing Bakhmut and would continue their advance further west.
Over the past day, Russian forces have continued to attack Bakhmut and its suburbs north and south of the city. The Ukrainian General Staff announced that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks on Bakhmut itself. Fighting is taking place in Paraskovijivka, north of the city, from where Russian forces are trying to break through to the west. Russian sources also speak of Russian attacks towards settlements southwest of the city along the T0504 road. ISW also recalls the statement of the head of the Wagner group Yevgeny Prigozhin on Tuesday, according to which the encirclement of Bakhmut is far from complete due to the ongoing Ukrainian defense.