Battle for Bakhmut: Why the City is Key to Russia's Liberation of Donbass
15:00 GMT 10.01.2023 (Updated: 12:29 GMT 26.01.2023)
All eyes are on Bakhmut (Artyomovsk), a Donbass city-turned-meat grinder for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which are sustaining heavy losses there. Mark Sleboda, a US military veteran and international affairs and security analyst, has explained to Sputnik why the city is so important for both sides of the conflict.
“First of all
, from a level of its significance, one of the Russian military priorities was to secure all the Donbass, to secure the liberation of the entirety there,” Mark Sleboda told Sputnik.
“And that being kind of right in the center of the Donetsk region, Bakhmut has often been called the key to Donetsk. So, of course, all of that area has to be liberated (…) Bakhmut is also a major transport and logistical hub because it's got two highways that intersected and railroads that run north all the way to Moscow and then they go through south and then bend around down into Donetsk city.”
Second, Bakhmut is the linchpin of the entire second line of defense of the Kiev regime, the US military veteran continued.
“After that, there's only one last defensive line in Donetsk of any major node between Slavyansk and Kramatorsk, further to the west,” Sleboda noted.
Third, taking Bakhmut threatens further advances and flanks in other directions due to its geographical location. Finally, it would allow greater control of the Donetsk-Seversky Canal, which provides water to Donetsk city, according to the analyst. Sleboda pointed out that the Kiev regime cut off the water supply to Donetsk five years ago. “They did it in Crimea as well,” the analyst added. “Cutting off water is what they do.”
5 September 2022, 09:53 GMT
Following the February 2014 regime change in Kiev, the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) established control over Bakhmut (known as Artyomovsk at that time). However, the Kiev military junta captured the town in July 2014.
The city is of utmost importance to both sides, and the entire conflict now is centered on what happens there. The Kiev regime
has sent tens of thousands of reinforcements into Bakhmut, which are being methodically eliminated by the Russian forces, according to the analyst. Presently, the standoff over the city has escalated dramatically, he stressed.
Entire Front Around Bakhmut is Activated
“The entire front line, particularly to the area north and south of Bakhmut and Donetsk, is fully activated,” Sleboda said. “And everywhere along there, Russian units, particularly led by the private military company (PMC) Wagner [Group], are on the assault.”
The US military veteran explained that the Russian military forces are also advancing in Soledar, a small town which lies 18 km northeast of Bakhmut. On Monday, the Defense Staff of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) announced that Russian forces had taken control of the village of Bakhmutskoe near the town of Soledar. The developments could pave the way for the liberation of Donbass.
“Both Bakhmut and Soledar are both at the same time penetrated [by the Russian forces] and there is fighting within the city districts (...) Russia is making now quicker progress, I would say. There is fierce defense, there's no question about that, but it’s penetrating and enveloping at an increasingly faster rate,” Sleboda pointed out.
According to the analyst, there appears to be some general breakdown in the Kiev regime's ability to rotate forces and supply reinforcements at the rate they have been doing for the last few months.
“Also, their artillery has to a much higher degree been silenced,” the military veteran continued. “Russian counter-battery artillery fire has been extremely offensive. What was already a 9-to-1 advantage in terms of artillery is probably at this point greater.”
To cap it off, the Ukrainian forces have been sustaining heavy losses which are between 300 and 1,000 people a day as per western reports. Roughly 90% of Kiev regime casualties continue to be by Russian artillery strikes, according to Sleboda.
Bakhmut Defense: City Beneath City
The particularity of the fight over Bakhmut and adjusted areas is that they're very easy to defend and very hard to attack because of the height advantage. Those who control this height can see everything and fire down on approaching troops, explained the US military veteran.
“To get a scale, the Kiev regime just in the Bakhmut area has some 60,000 troops,” Sleboda said. “Now, a lot of them are conscripts in territorial defense, but they also have some of their best troops there. According to the head of Wagner [Yevgeny Prigozhin], they have erected some 500 defensive lines of trenches within the city.”
In addition, Bakhmut has an “unusual geography where it is split by a river and has bodies of water in it, which makes it more easily defendable,” according to the analyst.
“Then, there are extensive underground tunnels in Bakhmut that converge, it seems, at some point with the large salt mines of Soledar just to the north of it,” the veteran continued. “These were built as very extensive WW2-era bunker systems and fortifications by the Soviet Union. Some of these tunnels are reportedly big enough to drive tanks into and out of. So, there is a city beneath the city that is being fought in which makes the defense of it even better from a defensive position, and much harder to attack.”
However, despite all of the above, Russian forces are now advancing, Sleboda stressed, adding that just in the last two days, there was a breakthrough in Soledar, which will help threaten the Ukrainian military's entire defensive line there.
9 November 2022, 19:26 GMT
This is also important because in the north there is also a large Kiev offensive grouping in the direction of the small cities of Kremennaya and Svatovo, the analyst emphasized.
“The Kiev regime has been on an offensive there very quietly,” said Sleboda. “No one's talking a lot about that front to the north of this area in Bakhmut, and they have some 40,000 troops there, and they have been throwing them at Kremennaya. [They are] making some marginal gains and settlements, but suffering very high casualties and appears to have petered out there. If Soledar collapses the way it looks like it's going, then Seversk will essentially be undefendable to the north of it. And if Seversk is undefendable, that is the launching pad for much of the attack on Svatovo and Kremennaya. So, that means that the entire northern offensive grouping of the Kiev regime will be unsustainable.”
One could see that the whole Ukrainian military offensive is stalled there and may have to be pulled back to save them from being enveloped by a quick Russian surge if there is a greater breakthrough in the Kiev regime lines, according to the US military veteran.
Sleboda has also drawn attention to what appear to be active mobilizations in south Donetsk, in Ugledar, in Zaporozhye, and also further to the north and the west on the Belorussian-Ukrainian border. These activities have become possible because the ground is all getting frozen now and everyone is preparing for that "winter fighting weather," as per the analyst.
Russia-NATO Standoff is Escalating
Meanwhile, the overall conflict against Russia in Ukraine is escalating, with NATO member states stepping up their military supplies to Kiev. A new US military aid package
for Kiev contains a long list of military equipment and ammunition, including 50 Bradley fighting vehicles
with 500 TOW anti-tank missiles and 250,000 rounds of 25mm ammunition, 100 M113 Armored Personnel Carriers, Sea Sparrow RIM-7 missiles for air defense, additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), and 100 M113 Armored Personnel Carriers.
French President Emmanuel Macron pledged an unspecified number of AMX-10 RC light tanks to Kiev, while Germany vowed to provide 40 Marder infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) to the Ukrainian military. For their part, Polish and Finnish ministers are considering supplying some of their German-made Leopard 2
or US M1 Abrams tanks
if the major western powers take the lead.
6 January 2023, 13:34 GMT
“The Western European countries are providing outdated infantry fighting vehicles,” said Sleboda. “They are not quite vintage. These are models that were just being phased out of use. So, they have them in stock and they're still fairly effective.”
Sleboda does not rule out that soon one may also see NATO member states sending main battle tanks to Kiev, even though previously it was largely seen as a “red line.” In addition to that, all the signs are that there's another Patriot battery now being promised by Germany, he remarked.
However, western supplies won’t become a dramatic game changer, given that Russia has been surging huge amounts of new state-of-the-art equipment to the front, either, according to him. Make no mistake, “this is all escalating,”
the US military veteran said.
“If you thought the fighting in 2022 and the political divisions were significant, 2023 is right now they're just handing off their beer. Hold my beer, because 2023 is going to make 2022 look like a skirmish,” he concluded.