By Olena Harmash
KIEV (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Ukraine has decided to continue fighting in the ruined city of Bakhmut because the battle is stalling Russia’s best units and degrading them ahead of a planned Ukrainian spring counter-offensive, an aide to President Volodymyr said Zelenskiy.
Mykhailo Podolyak’s comments were the latest sign of a turn from Kiev this week to continue the defense of the small eastern city, scene of the bloodiest battle of the war, as Moscow looks to score its first major victory in more than six months.
“Russia has changed tactics,” Podolyak said in an interview published by the Italian newspaper La Stampa. “He’s converged on Bakhmut with much of his trained military personnel, the remnants of his professional army, as well as private companies.”
“We have, therefore, two objectives: to reduce their capable personnel as much as possible and fix them in a few key and strenuous battles, to interrupt their offensive and to concentrate our resources elsewhere, for the spring counter-offensive. So, today Bakhmut is fully effective, even surpassing its key tasks.”
Russia has made Bakhmut the prime target of a winter push involving hundreds of thousands of reservists and mercenaries.
It captured the eastern part of the city and the suburbs to the north and south, but has so far failed to close a circle around the Ukrainian defenders.
Kiev, which in early March seemed intent on retreating westward, announced this week that its generals had decided to reinforce Bakhmut and fight on.
Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said that as Russia pushed its offensive, “our soldiers are doing everything they can to prevent the enemy from implementing their plans.”
Russia’s progress appeared to be slowing due to very public complaints from Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the private Wagner militia spearheading Russia’s assault, that the military command was not supplying its men with sufficient ammunition.
Prigozhin on Friday publicly thanked the government for a “heroic” increase in production – but in the same audio message he said he was “concerned about shortages of ammunition and shells not only for Wagner … but for all units of the Russian army “.
Moscow says Bakhmut’s capture would breach Ukraine’s defenses and be a step towards conquering all of Ukraine’s industrial Donbass region, an important goal.
Trench warfare, described by both sides as a meat grinder, has taken a huge toll. But Kiev’s decision to stay and fight suggests he believes Russia’s losses far outweigh his own.
MOSCOW SHORT MISSILES?
After making gains throughout the second half of 2022, Ukrainian forces have been mostly on the defensive since mid-November as Russia has gone on the attack with troops recalled in its first mobilization since World War II.
But apart from around Bakhmut, the Russian winter offensive has largely failed. Meanwhile, Kiev is awaiting a wave of Western military aid expected in the coming months for an offensive once the muddy ground dries up in late spring.
Kiev and the West have also seen signs of exhaustion in Russia’s latest massive salvo of missile strikes on Ukrainian targets.
Russia launched hundreds of millions of dollars worth of missiles across Ukraine on Thursday, including an unprecedented six Kinzhal (“Dagger”) hypersonic missiles touted as a superweapon to which NATO has no answer. He is believed to own only a few dozen Kinzhal.
The barrage killed civilians, including a family buried under rubble as they slept in their homes near Lviv, 700km from the battlefield. But otherwise she appeared to have achieved little, with the damaged fuel systems mostly quickly recovered.
The worst damage appears to have been in the eastern city of Kharkiv, where the regional governor said on Friday evening some 450,000 people were still without electricity.
It had been three weeks since the last such Russian attack, the longest lull since such attacks began in October. Previously, Moscow had unleashed such attacks roughly every week, challenging Ukraine’s ability to repair infrastructure before the next assault.
The British defense ministry said on Friday the reason for the longer pause was likely that Moscow was running out of missiles.
“The lag between strike waves is likely growing because Russia now needs to stockpile a critical mass of newly manufactured missiles direct from industry before it can finance an attack large enough to credibly overwhelm Ukraine’s air defenses.” , he has declared.
Ukrainian resistance could also have a broader effect on the Russian economy.
Gas traders said tankers loaded with Russian liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) were unable to exit into the Black Sea because it was not considered safe for them to pass under the Crimean Bridge, a road link across the mouth of the Sea of Azov badly damaged in October by an explosion that Russia blamed on Ukraine.
GRAPH: The Battle for Bakhmut – https://www.ceiving.com/graphics/UKRAINE-CRISIS/gkplwlywwvb/chart.png
(Reporting by the RockedBuzz via Reuters offices; Writing by Peter Graff and Kevin Liffey; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Raissa Kasolowsky)