For more than seven months, the city of Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region, has been fighting fiercely and persistently between Russians and Ukrainians. Kill the enemy on both sides of the ramparts. According to local authorities, the city was 60 percent destroyed.
In February, Western observers began to say that the Ukrainian army might abandon Bakhmut. In the media, meanwhile, it is often said that the great battles of the city are important. But is this true? And why?
Does Bakhmut have strategic importance?
According to Western analysts, the initial attack in the direction of Bakhmut could have been part of a Russian plan to encircle Ukrainian army units near Kramatorsk and Slovyansk.
The massive bombing of Bakhmut began in mid-May 2022, following a series of road battles in the control area. On the first day of September, the attack on the city began, but three weeks later the Russian counteroffensive petered out, and in September and October, Ukraine achieved a successful counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region, reaching the borders of Russia.
After these battles in Bakhmut for Russia they lost their former meaning. But already then both sides were pressed by hard battles towards the city.
Patrick Bury is an Associate Professor at the University of Bath. Euronews spoke with him about this matter.
“Unfortunately, what happened in Verdun,” explains Bury. “Once a lot of people start dying for a place, it doesn’t really matter. Already the blood of the head has been consumed. And then, because the blood spent becomes politically significant, when the people begin to attack and need to win, it takes on a whole small world.
What does Bakhmut mean for Moscow?
For Russia, Bakhmut is an opportunity to declare a speculative victory, to “make up” for the military setbacks of the past year. As early as December, Ukrainian and Western observers reported that Bakhmut had become Moscow’s main target and that significant forces had been deployed to capture him.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu described Bakhmut as “the key” for the new offensive in the Donbas. But Western experts doubt that Russia will have the ability to build on the prosperity if, despite all the difficulties, it manages to capture the city.
As Bury explains, “The Ruthenians have not yet shown that they are good at advancing the way Ukraine has. Russian logistics are quite poor, so if they manage to break through, they can be slowed down anyway by their logistical problems.”, which already existed before this.
What does Bakhmut mean for Kyiv?
For Ukraine, Bakhmut became a symbol of heroic resistance. Kiev notes that the prolonged battle near the city immobilized many Russian forces, preventing Moscow from carrying out offensive operations elsewhere, and that the defenders of the city had inflicted colossal losses in Russian men and equipment. NATO estimates the casualty ratio to be 1:5, which means that for every Ukrainian killed, five Russians die.
“What really happened was that the Ukrainians were using it for defensive combat,” says Professor Bury. “In a detailed battle to inflict the most carnage on Russian attackers costing them as little as possible, before launching an attack or two against Russia at a time and place of their choosing in Ukraine.”
Prigozhin and the Ministry of Defense
For Russia, the events surrounding Bakhmut also have another dimension, not entirely military. Wagner’s mercenaries, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, play a very important role in the battles for the city. In fact, Prigozhin was in open conflict with the leader of the Russian armed forces, even exchanging insults with the Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov.
According to Bury, the attack on Bakhmut continues, among other things, because of Prigozhin’s ambitions. “The reputation rose when Wagner really came to power,” the soccer player points out, “and on the road his position “teaches you to win. The Russian army is incompetent and we will do it.
Success or failure in Bakhmut may therefore also determine the subsequent fate of the famous paramilitary group and Prigozhin himself.