Russia is stepping up efforts to capture the elusive prize of the Ukrainian city

Kyiv – The Fate of Bakhmut appeared on the brink on Monday as Russian forces pushed further into the devastated eastern Ukrainian city, but its defenders still denied the Kremlin the price it had sought for six months at the cost of thousands of lives.

Intense Russian shelling targeted the city of Donetsk and nearby villages as Moscow deployed more resources there to end Bakhmut’s resistance, local officials said.

“Civilians are fleeing the region to avoid round-the-clock Russian shelling while additional Russian troops and weapons are stationed there,” Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

Russian enforces that invaded Ukraine just over a year ago have been pushing Bakhmut for months, putting Kiev’s troops on the defensive but failing to deliver a knockout blow.

More broadly, Russia continues to struggle to generate momentum on the battlefield. Moscow’s full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022 soon faltered and was then pushed back by a Ukrainian counteroffensive. In the bitterly cold winter months, the fighting has largely deadlocked.

Bakhmut doesn’t hold much strategic value, and analysts say his eventual fall is unlikely to bring a turning point in the conflict.

Its significance has become psychological – for Russian President Vladimir Putin, a victory there will finally bring some good news from the battlefield, while for Kiev, the display of determination and defiance reinforces the message that Ukraine was holding on to it after a year of brutal attacks cement support from its western allies.

Still, some analysts questioned the wisdom of the Ukrainian defenders, who held out much longer, while others suggested a tactical retreat could already be underway.

Michael Kofman, director of Russia studies at the CAN think tank in Arlington, Virginia, said that Ukraine’s defense of Bakhmut has been effective because it exhausted the Russian war effort, but that Kiev should now look ahead.

“I think Bakhmut’s stubborn defense accomplished a lot using Russian manpower and ammunition,” Kofman tweeted late Sunday. “But strategies can hit points of diminishing return, and as Ukraine seeks to conserve resources for an offensive, it could hamper the success of a more important operation.”

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, found that urban warfare favors the defender, but felt that the wisest option for Kiev now might be to retreat to positions that are easier to defend are.

In recent days, Ukrainian units destroyed two key bridges outside of Bakhmut, including one linking them to the nearby mountain town of Chasiv Yar along the last remaining Ukrainian supply route, according to British military intelligence officials and other Western analysts. The demolition of the bridges could be part of an effort to slow the Russian offensive if Ukrainian forces withdraw from the city.

“It is unlikely that Ukrainian forces will withdraw from Bakhmut all at once and seek a gradual withdrawal from fighting in order to exhaust Russian forces with continued house-to-house fighting,” the ISW said in an assessment published late Sunday.

Putin’s stated goal is to take full control of the four provinces, including Donetsk, that Moscow illegally annexed last fall. Russia controls about half of Donetsk Province, and in order to capture the remaining half of that province, its forces must pass through Bakhmut.

The city is the only approach to larger Ukrainian-held cities since Ukrainian troops returned isium in Kharkiv province during a counter-offensive last September.

But taking at least six months to capture Bakhmut, which had a pre-war population of 80,000 and was once a popular holiday destination, bodes ill for the Russian military’s offensive capabilities and may not bode well for the rest of its campaign.

“Russian forces currently lack the manpower and equipment to sustain large-scale offensive operations for a renewed offensive against (the nearby cities) Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, let alone a year-long campaign to capture the entire Donetsk Oblast.” , so the said ISW.

Bakhmut has taken on an almost mythical significance for his defenders. It’s become like Mariupol — the port city in the same province that Russia conquered after an 82-day siege that eventually resulted in a massive steel mill where determined Ukrainian fighters held out alongside civilians.

Moscow tried to consolidate its rule in the areas it occupied and annexed. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu traveled to Mariupol and toured some of the city’s rebuilt infrastructure, the Defense Ministry reported on Monday.

Shoigu was shown a newly built hospital, a rescue center run by the Emergencies Ministry and residential buildings, the ministry said. Meanwhile, Russian forces overnight attacked central and eastern regions of Ukraine using Iranian-made Shahed drones, Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yurii Ihnat told Ukrainian media on Monday. Of 15 drones launched by Russia, 13 were shot down, Ihnat said. It wasn’t immediately clear if the attack caused any damage.

Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, also claimed Monday it foiled an attempt to assassinate nationalist businessman Konstantin Malofeev. It claimed the effort was a conspiracy by Ukraine’s security services and the Russian Volunteer Corpsa group claiming to be part of the Ukrainian armed forces.

According to the FSB, the leader of the Russian Volunteer Corps, Denis Kapustin, was the mastermind behind the alleged assassination and the plan was to plant an explosive device under Malofeev’s car.

No details were given as to exactly how or at what stage the FSB intervened. Footage released by the service showed a man interfering with a car believed to be Malofeyev’s and then a robot removing an object from under a car in a parking lot.

Malofeyev is a media baron and owner of the ultra-conservative Tsargrad TV, which has backed Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine and has called the invasion of Moscow a “holy war.” He was sanctioned by the US


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Sarah Y. Kim

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