Ukraine: Bakhmut, Strategic or Not, is Falling

Moon of AlabamaWagner PMC chief Yevgeny Prigozhin © Concord Press Service. The Wagner Private Military Company has de-facto completely surrounded the key city of Artyomovsk, referred to as Bakhmut in Ukraine, the group’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin announced on Friday.

‘Western’ media can not decide if Bakhmut is a strategic city or has little strategic value. They claim both is the case.

Bakhmut is of course of strategic value. It is covering the crossing of three major train lines and four major roads (M-03, M-32, T-13-02, T-05-13). As such it is the linchpin of the whole Donbas region. Besides that it also has some valuable mineral mines.

That is why the Ukrainian government has send ten thousands of its troops to fight and die for that city.

People who claim otherwise are simply coping.

Some examples:

This DW piece, originally written in Russian, is probably the best on the issue:

Bakhmut: What will be the outcome of the battle? – DW – Mar 3, 2023

Bakhmut is of great strategic importance to both the Ukrainian and the Russian forces, says Marina Miron, a research fellow at the Centre for Military Ethics at King’s College London. Miron believes that, if Russian troops capture the city, they will advance further, perhaps toward Kramatorsk.“They would control important roads, cutting off the Ukrainian armed forces and making the defense much harder for them,” says Miron. She warns that this would also undermine the morale of the Ukrainian troops, and could lead to Western partners losing confidence in the capabilities of the Ukrainian army.

Ralph Thiele, a retired German colonel who has served on the personal staff of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, agrees. “The Ukrainian side is basically compelled — also by its Western partners — to deliver successes. There has to be some sort of constant public justification for the huge amount of support being given to Ukraine,” says Thiele.

Mike Martin, a researcher at King’s College London, says Russia is persisting in its efforts to capture Bakhmut because it corresponds to Putin’s stated war aim of, in his words, “liberating the Donbas.” Martin explains: “If you look at the way the roads and the rail networks are arranged, there are two bigger settlements to the west of Bakhmut, but still in the Donbas: Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. And in order to take those bigger cities, which he needs to do to complete his strategic goal, he needs to take Bakhmut first.”

The Ukrainians in Bakhmut and elsewhere are outgunned 10 to 1:

The Ukraine war has become a ferocious battle dominated by artillery and Ukrainian forces are operating at a huge disadvantage: Russia has numerical superiority of 10 heavy guns to every one at the disposal of Kyiv. Furthermore, Ukraine is running low on ammunition and requires urgent supplies of shells, Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government has warned.

According to data from the European Commission to which EL PAÍS has had access, Russia fires between 40,000 and 50,000 artillery shells per day, compared to 5,000-6,000 Ukrainian forces expend. The Estonian government, which has been one of largest contributors to Kyiv’s war effort, puts the average use of artillery at between 20,000 and 60,000 Russian shells per day, and 2,000 to 7,000 Ukrainian rounds, according to a document sent to EU Member States by Tallinn, to which this newspaper has had access. These numbers equate to between 600,000 and 1.8 million Russian shells fired per month, compared to between 60,000 and 210,000 by Ukrainian artillery.

Over the last six weeks the Russian counter-battery campaign destroyed some additional 500 Ukrainian howitzers and multiple rocket launchers. The Russian Lancet suicide drones (videos) have done a lot of that work. Russia has thereby increased its own artillery advantage even more.

As artillery is the major killer in any modern war this also means that casualties on both sides will follow a similar ratio as the number of guns and rounds fired by each side.

For the last several weeks the daily ‘clobber report’ by the Russian Defense Ministry reported some 350-400 Ukrainian soldiers killed per day along the whole frontline. On Thursday that number increased to 640, stayed at 640 in Friday’s report and increased to 880 in today’s report. 490 of those were reported in the Bakhmut area.

BBC cooperates with other organization to count every announcement of a dead soldier in the Russian local media. Since the start of the war it has identified a total of 16,000:

Throughout 2022, Russian sources typically reported about 250–300 deaths each week, doubling in January and continuing to grow again in February.

Russian source report death per week at a lower rate than Ukrainian death per day. The ratio is again about 10 Ukrainians for 1 Russian. That number of Russian dead has doubled in January and further increased in February says the BBC. But the 10 to 1 ratio between Ukrainian and Russian dead will still have been the same.

I have said for a while that Bakhmut was in operational encirclement. Russian artillery could reach its last roads in and out. Since three days ago Bakhmut is in tactical encirclement. Russian direct fire, i.e. tank guns and hand held anti-tank missiles, can now cover all of Bakhmut’s supply routes. They will shot at any car that attempts to drive there. Its one reason why the reported deaths have harshly increased.

Should the Ukraine decide to order its soldiers to stay in Bakhmut the city will be physically encircled. All roads will be blocked not only by fire but by heavily armed Russian checkpoints. The Ukrainian soldiers in Bakhmut, several thousands still seem to be there, will then be left with only two options: surrender or die.