The Ukrainians have the sounder strategic approach to Bakhmut.
Kyiv acknowledges that the town serves little military significance, and that defense would be easier just to the west of Bakhmut.
But the Ukrainian leadership also understands that Moscow is ready to throw immense resources into the battle in order to achieve a political goal Russian President Vladimir Putin can then sell as a great victory to the Russian people.
As the Institute for the Study of War assesses recently, the Ukrainian defense of Bakhmut is strategically sound because of the Russian forces tied up in the fighting and the attrition they are receiving.
“The Battle of Bakhmut may, in fact, severely degrade the Wagner Group’s best forces, depriving Russia of some of its most effective and most difficult-to-replace shock troops,” the Institute for the Study of War assessed in a recent operational update.
So, the Ukrainians are using Bakhmut as a meat grinder to attrite the manpower and resources of the Russian military and create the conditions for success for their own upcoming counteroffensive later in the year.
The thinking goes that even if the Russian forces manage to capture Bakhmut—Ukraine won’t defend it to the last man—they would be so seriously depleted that they won’t be able to take advantage of any momentum created by their victory.
Kyiv, however, has to be careful not to lose or tire too much of its own force in the battle and thus risk its future counteroffensive.
The Russian Casualties
Both sides are claiming heavy casualties in the battle for Bakhmut. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense is claiming that Wagner Group has lost about 30,000 men in the fighting in and around the town.
Previous U.S. intelligence assessments have stated that Wagner Group has deployed as many as 50,000 mercenaries in Ukraine, 40,000 of which are convicts recruited from prisons and the rest contractors.
The leadership of the Wagner Group private military company has been using the convicts as cannon fodder to exhaust and attrite the Ukrainian defenders and allow more elite troops to take advantage of any tactical vulnerabilities on the Ukrainian lines.
Overall, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claimed that as of Wednesday, Ukrainian forces have killed approximately 155,530 Russian troops (and wounded approximately twice to thrice that number)
Destroyed equipment includes: 303 fighter, attack, bomber, and transport jets, 289 attack and transport helicopters, 3,436 tanks, 2,463 artillery pieces, 6,723 armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, 489 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), 18 boats and cutters, 5,330 vehicles and fuel tanks, 253 anti-aircraft batteries, 2,098 tactical unmanned aerial systems, 236 special equipment platforms, such as bridging vehicles, and four mobile Iskander ballistic missile systems, and 873 cruise missiles shot down by the Ukrainian air defenses.
The Russians are claiming that Ukraine lost around 11,000 men in Bakhmut just in February.
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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. He is currently working towards a Master’s Degree in Strategy and Cybersecurity at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.