The battle for Bakhmut is coming to a head with intense fighting that has made Ukrainian troops vulnerable to Russian attacks, British defense officials have said.
The assessment comes as one military expert told Newsweek that Ukraine is probably preparing a withdrawal from the city in the Donetsk region after tying Russian troops down in the area which is of little strategic value.
On Saturday, the U.K. Ministry of Defense (MoD) said that the Ukrainian defense of the city, which has been fiercely fought over since August, is “under increasingly severe pressure.”
Ukrainian servicemen stand in a shelter in the town of Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region on March 3, 2023. The following day, the U.K. Ministry of Defense said that Ukrainian troops were vulnerable to attacks on three sides as the battle for the city rages.
ANATOLII STEPANOV/Getty Images
Regular Russian army troops and fighters from the Wagner Group of mercenaries have advanced further into the northern suburbs of the Bakhmut which is now a Ukrainian-held salient “vulnerable to Russian attacks on three sides,” the MoD said.
The update said that Ukraine is reinforcing the area with elite units, and over the previous 36 hours had destroyed two key bridges. One of them was a vital conduit that connected Bakhmut to the last main supply route to the city of Chasiv Yar.
“Ukrainian-held resupply routes out of the town are increasingly limited,” added the defense update, which followed a separate assessment by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) that the bridges’ destruction could be a prelude to a Ukrainian withdrawal,
“Ukrainian forces appear to be setting conditions for a controlled fighting withdrawal from parts of Bakhmut,” said the ISW on Friday. The D.C. think tank said the destruction of bridges probably suggested Ukrainian troops want to restrict Russian movement in eastern Bakhmut and limit westward Russian egress routes.
“It is clear that the Ukrainians are setting the conditions to potentially withdraw from what I see as a hugely successful ‘fixing’ operation over the last seven months,” Philip Ingram, a former British military intelligence officer, told Newsweek. This fixing operation had caused the massive attrition of Russian forces and kept them focused on an area with little strategic value.
“The Ukrainians have been slowly trading space for time,” Ingram said, of the move which has allowed the further attrition of Russian troops while experienced Ukrainian personnel can be trained on Western equipment to prepare for counter attacks.
“The Ukrainian military will hold whilst they finish new defensive lines and only withdraw when there is a danger they will lose too many troops,” he added.
Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin, said in a message on Telegram that Russian troops have encircled the city and appealed to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to allow residents to leave.
However, Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces Commander, Viktor Khorenko, inspected his troops in the city, and said Ukrainian troops are “clearly fulfilling their assigned tasks” despite the “extremely difficult conditions.”