NOS News•Tuesday, 09:59
On a map, the front in eastern Ukraine appears to be frozen: neither Ukraine nor Russia have been able to make major territorial gains over a line of about 200 kilometers between Donetsk and Severodonetsk for months. But that doesn’t mean the battle has stopped. Particularly around the town of Bachmoet, a heavy battle takes place, which takes a heavy toll on both sides.
Since the summer, the Russians have been trying to take the city, but without success. In recent days, Russia seems to be gaining some small pieces of ground, but there are no signs yet that the city is about to fall, says George Dimitriu, researcher at the Clingendael Institute. Both Russia and Ukraine seem to be sending extra troops to the front at Bachmut.
The result is a heavy devastation, as can be seen on images. The surroundings of Bachmoet have turned into a lunar landscape:
Bachmoet, town in the crossfire of the war in eastern Ukraine
“It surprises all analysts that Russia is so eager to take this city,” says Frans Osinga, professor of war studies at Leiden University. The strategic value of this city, especially famous for its sparkling wines and salt mines, is small. Initially, Bachmut was important for the encirclement of the larger cities of Kramatorsk and Slovyansk, but since the Ukrainian liberation of the Kharkov region, that encirclement is no longer feasible.
‘Bachmoth’ has mainly become a prestige issue for the Russians, Dimitriu adds. “It is the only place where Russia is on the offensive. The paramilitary Wagner Group also plays there an important roleand Wagner boss Prigozjin wants to show that he can achieve military success.”
Ukraine also does not hesitate to give the city to the Russians, Osinga thinks. “You can’t sell that politically, because Kiev knows what happens to civilians in occupied territory.”
As a result, the battle for Bachmut turns into a battle of wear and tear, which is mainly in the interest of Russia, because that country has more men to ‘wear out’. “Russia is out to exhaust Ukraine, so that ammunition runs out and support from the West crumbles,” Osinga explains. As soon as the front comes to a standstill, the call for negotiations swells in the West. Ukraine wants to prevent that.
This war of attrition is taking place on two fronts, Osinga continues. “In addition to the battle on the ground, you have to think of the air strikes on civilian targets, such as power grids. That forces Ukraine to choose where to deploy their air defenses: at the front or around cities. Once those air defenses are exhausted, Russia can regain air superiority again and launch a coordinated attack.”
Of Americans expect a slower fighting pace in Ukraine in the coming winter months, but that is disputed by analysts. The Ukrainian army also says it is determined to continue the recent liberation campaign. “They want to maintain momentum and not give Russia a chance to gain strength,” said defense expert Dimitriu.
The Russian focus on Bachmut offers opportunities for Ukraine in that respect, because logistical hubs and parts of the 800-kilometer-long front line are less defended. Dimitriu: “Due to the frost, opportunities for offensive actions will arise as soon as the ground freezes and becomes more passable.”
It is speculation where such a new offensive could take place. North of Bachmut, Ukraine continues to put pressure on the Lugansk region, but there are also options in the south. For example, a counter-offensive south of Zaporizhia, in the direction of Crimea, is taken into account. At Kherson a breakthrough could be forced by crossing the Dnepr river.
This weekend, a Ukrainian unit managed to reach the east bank and fly a single flag:
However, the question is whether Ukraine has enough people and resources for a new offensive, in addition to the battle around Bachmut, says Dimitriu. For the time being Bachmoet requires the most effort, President Zelensky also sees. “Bachmoth is the toughest and most painful battle of the moment. We are doing everything we can to support our boys there.”