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Why Putin Is Sacrificing the Russian Military to Take Bakhmut in Ukraine

Ukrainian Army Tank Firing. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

As the war in Ukraine has entered its 13th month, both sides continue to send troops to the meat grinder of Bakhmut

For the better part of seven months, the Russian forces have been trying to breach the Ukrainian defenses and capture the town.

Bakhmut, the Meat Grinder of Ukraine

By itself, Bakhmut has little military significance.

Indeed, the Ukrainian forces can better defend further to the West.

For the Russian side, Bakhmut has come to define success.

It is a political goal more than a military one.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is desperately looking for some success in Ukraine.

And the capture of Bakhmut would give him a much-needed political victory. 

Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that the Ukrainian military would continue to hold on to Bakhmut but also indicated that if the conditions become impossible, the Ukrainian forces will pull back.

Zelensky and his advisers are looking to avoid another Mariupol, which held a large number of Russian troops but at a high cost in Ukrainian lives.  

Bakhmut continues to buy Ukraine time. And as the spring and summer approach, the Ukrainian military will be ready to launch its own large-scale counteroffensive with new Western weapon systems, including the Challenger 2, Leopard 2, and M1 Abrams main battle tanks

The Russian military continues to expend large numbers of ammunition to support its offensive in and around Bakhmut. 

Rising Temperatures and a Sea of Mud 

Temperatures in Ukraine have been rising, and that is complicating operations in and around the Ukrainian town of the Donbas. 

Rasputitsa, or Bezdorizhzhia, as the Ukrainians call the sea of mud that covers the country at the start of every spring, has arrived, and no vehicle can move freely cross country.

Although the two main highways that lead into the town are still under Ukrainian control, the Russian forces are very close and have the routes under fire. The Ukrainian military can still use the highways to transfer men and ammunition, but any resupply runs are precarious. 

There are smaller dirt roads that lead to the town too, but they are almost inoperable because of the mud.

Indeed, even tracked vehicles are having trouble on these roads.

Cross-country movement around Bakhmut is severely impaired right now.

“Forecast warmer than average conditions for the remainder of winter and spring will further reduce [cross country movement], the British Military Intelligence assessed in a recent estimate of the war.

“It is almost certain that by late-March, CCM will be at its worst following the final thaw. This will add further friction to ground operations and hamper the off-road movement of heavier armoured vehicles, especially over churned-up ground in the Bakhmut sector,” the British Military Intelligence added. 

Normally, these weather conditions offer some advantage to the defender. The Russian forces will also have a difficulty moving forces and ammunition closer to the frontline. And because the Ukrainian military has been devastatingly effective with how it uses its long-range fires, especially the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), the Russian military is now forced to use large numbers of trucks to transport troops and ammunition to the frontline as opposed to establishing big ammo depots and barracks close to the contact line. 

For now, Bakhmut remains in Ukrainian hands. But that might change soon. 

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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.

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.