Russia’s claimed capture of the city of Bakhmut delivered a symbolic victory for Moscow and raises the pressure for Ukraine’s coming counteroffensive to succeed.
Kyiv is contesting the claim of a complete Russian takeover of Bakhmut and has stressed that its troops remain in strategic positions on the outskirts of the city and are poised to retake it.
But Russian forces are sweeping through most of the city, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has already hailed the capture of Bakhmut as a victory.
Putin said he would decorate the soldiers who fought in the eight-month battle and personally congratulated both his troops and those serving with the private Russian military company Wagner Group.
Russian state-run media outlets have also praised the capture of Bakhmut as a historic victory since the Ministry of Defense claimed full control of the city on Saturday.
Federico Borsari, a transatlantic defense and security fellow with the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), said Bakhmut holds limited strategic value because of heavily fortified Ukrainian positions further west in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.
“I don’t think Russia has enough manpower, strength and capabilities to push to reach these areas because it’s already difficult for them to keep what they have now,” Borsari said.
Still, with Russia gaining its first significant victory in months, all eyes will now be on how Ukraine reacts on the battlefield to the claimed victory and whether it will retake Bakhmut or befuddle Russian troops elsewhere.
Ukraine is likely in a strong position for its long-anticipated counteroffensive after defending Bakhmut, which allowed its forces to grind down Russian power, military analysts have said for months.
Russia suffered 20,000 deaths alone since December, according to U.S. estimates, and Wagner Group bore many of those fatalities.
Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin heralded the capture of Bakhmut over the weekend but said his fighters would be withdrawing for now to regroup and resupply, which if true could limit future Russian offensive operations, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
Bakhmut carried huge symbolic weight — it stood for freedom and resistance for Ukraine and served as a major war prize for Russia after more than a year of humiliating setbacks on the battlefield.
But some Russian military bloggers were hesitant to declare the capture of Bakhmut as operationally significant.
Igor Girkin, a former Russian military officer, said in a Telegram post he considered Bakhmut “initially unnecessary,” a distraction for Russian forces in the wider war and a “pyrrhic” victory.
“It was not worth the effort and money spent on it, even approximately,” Girkin wrote.
And ISW assessed that Russia will need additional reinforcements to hold Bakhmut, which would come “at the expense of operations in other directions.”
Similarly, the U.K. Defence Ministry estimated that Russia has already redeployed several battalions to reinforce Bakhmut.
Ahead of its counteroffensive, Ukraine is rejecting claims that Russian forces fully captured the city and has said it still controls a small part of Bakhmut, confusing the narrative about the victory.
Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, said his troops have made recent advances on the outskirts of the city and suggested they could encircle the city and retake it when afforded the opportunity.
“Despite the fact that we now control the outskirts of the city, the importance of its defense does not lose its meaning,” Syrskyi said on Telegram.
Colonelcassad, a popular Russian military blogger, said he visited Bakhmut and the city was much quieter now after Russian advances. He added that the city was “well controlled” and defenses would soon be strengthened, casting doubt on any Ukrainian attempt to recapture the city.
“I probably believed less in Santa Claus than they now hope that they will be able to knock out the orchestra from there,” the blogger wrote on Telegram, referring to Russian defensive troops.
Borsari, from CEPA, said he believed that for Ukrainian leaders planning the counteroffensive, Bakhmut is not a priority since it is now a “completely destroyed city” after months and months of shelling.
“The thing Ukraine needs to do is draw Russian forces in Bakhmut as much as it can,” he said. “And at the same time, trying to concentrate elsewhere.”
Analysts have predicted that Ukraine could strike in the southeastern region of Zaporizhzhia and cut off a land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula, but Kyiv faces dug-in Russian defenses.
Military analysts have also said Ukraine is already probing for weaknesses along the 600-mile front in eastern Ukraine and its operations around Bakhmut have been strategic.
Richard Barrons, a retired British army officer, told Sky News that Russia had “to move precious reserves of people and ammunition to stop the Ukraine movement to the north and south” of Bakhmut.
“That will have handicapped their preparations for the offensive,” he said. “The next big thing, whenever it comes, will be the Ukraine offensive.”
Source : The Hill