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Will the Battle for Bakhmut Decide the Ukraine War?

A U.S. Army M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) launches ordnance during RED FLAG-Alaska 21-1 at Fort Greely, Alaska, Oct. 22, 2020. This exercise focuses on rapid infiltration and exfiltration to minimize the chance of a counterattack. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Beaux Hebert)

Ukraine War Update: Almost ten months into the conflict, the world’s eyes are fixed on the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut

For the past six months, the Ukrainian forces have been keeping the Russians from capturing the town, inflicting thousands of casualties on the invaders. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky even visited the town hours before his trip to the U.S. on Wednesday. 

Wanger Group in Ukraine

The Russian private military company Wagner Group has been taking the lead on the attack against Bakhmut, with the Russian military relegated to a secondary role. 

But the Wagner Group mercenaries are suffering heavy losses.

According to the U.S. Intelligence Community, more than 1,000 former convicts recruited by the Wagner Group have been killed around Bakhmut only in the past few days.

The U.S. assesses that there are between 40,000 and 50,000 Wagner Group mercenaries fighting in Ukraine right now, the majority of whom are former convicts who enlisted to the private military company after the Kremlin introduced a law that allowed inmates to serve in Ukraine in exchange for their freedom. 

The Ukrainians are using all the tricks in the playbook to stop the Russian forces from taking the town. Ukrainian snipers are turning the town into an urban nightmare for the Russian forces. Beyond the obvious physical danger to ground troops, snipers have a big psychological effect on an infantry unit, as it never knows if it is safe or not. 

The Russian forces are also suffering from the elements on the outskirts of Bakhmut. Moscow has sent thousands of mobilized reservists, underequipped and ill-supported, to the frontlines. The result is troves of Russian troops freezing to death

Urban Combat in Bakhmut 

In the last few days, the Russian forces have made some advances on the eastern outskirts of Bakhmut. An intense battle for the town has been taking place since June, but the fighting had mostly taken place in the open country that surrounds the town. However, now combat has been entering urban areas, presenting a whole different problem set for the two sides. 

“Russian infantry likely now has a foothold in the eastern industrial areas of the town, and at times has advanced into the residential district of the city. Street fighting is ongoing. . .The war has seen little protracted, large-scale fighting in built up areas (FIBUA) since the Russian advances into Lysychansk and Siverodonetsk in July 2022,” the British Military Intelligence assessed in its latest estimate of the war.

Urban combat is notoriously difficult and costly for both sides. The defenders have an advantage because they are barricaded, and they own the city. Back before the summer, the Russian forces lost thousands of troops trying to capture Mariupol. They also paid a heavy price for the capture of Severodonetsk in the summer. The situation in Bakhmut doesn’t look like it is heading that way right now, as the Ukrainians have their lines of communication and supply to the town open. 

Moreover, the Russian forces aren’t that capable, though they do have the numbers, and that can be enough sometimes. 

“With FIBUA demanding highly trained infantry with excellent junior level leadership, this type of combat is unlikely to favour poorly trained Wagner fighters and the Russian army’s mobilised reservists,” the British Military Intelligence added. 

Expert Biography: A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business InsiderSandboxx, and SOFREP.

1945’s Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist with specialized expertise in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.