Bakhmut: Ukraine eyes an offensive, as Russian momentum stalls

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Russian forces are depleted in Bakhmut and a Ukrainian counter-offensive could soon be launched, one of Kyiv’s top generals has said, raising the prospect of an unlikely turnaround in the besieged city.

Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s land forces, said on his Telegram channel Thursday that “[Russians] are losing significant forces [in Bakhmut] and are running out of energy.”

“Very soon, we will take advantage of this opportunity, as we did in the past near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balakliya and Kupyansk,” he said.

His comments come days after Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprise trip to the front lines of the Donetsk region, and will raise hopes in the West that Kyiv’s contentious decision to keep troops in Bakhmut will pay dividends.

Russian troops have launched more than 200 strikes on the area in the past 24 hours alone but are losing hundreds of men each day in their efforts, the spokesman for the Eastern Grouping of the armed forces said later on Thursday. CNN is unable to verify those figures.

“In the Bakhmut direction, there is only Wagner, when there is lack of forces, they are being reinforced by Russian airborne troops, sometimes by infantry,” Serhii Cherevatyi said. “We knock them out. In fact, there will be no more Wagner fighters in a little while if they continue the same dynamics.”

Cherevatyi said another area that was seeing intense fire was to the northeast of Bakhmut, on the front line running north from the town of Kreminna. He claimed that Russia “makes several hundred attacks per day, usually more than 300, sometimes more than 400. There were 344 attacks and 17 combat engagements over the last day.”

A counter-offensive has seemed an unlikely prospect for several weeks, as troops from Russia’s Wagner mercenary group bombarded Bakhmut and edged closer toward seizing control of the city.

But that effort has come at a considerable cost to manpower and resources, and now appears to have slowed.

Ukrainian troops fire a D-30 howitzer at Russian positions near Bakhmut, where heavy fighting has taken place for weeks.

Syrskyi said Russian forces continue to try and take the city “at any cost, despite losses in both manpower and equipment.”

“Under continuous fire from enemy artillery and aircraft, our soldiers at the front demonstrate superhuman resilience, courage and bravery,” he said. “In particular, the units of the 93rd, 10th, 57th and 5th Brigades who are now defending our homeland in the east of the country.”

His optimism reflected a Wednesday update from the the Ukrainian military’s General Staff, which said in a statement that while Bakhmut is still expected to see heavy fighting, Russia’s “offensive potential is decreasing” there.

“The enemy keeps trying to take the city, losing a significant amount of manpower, weapons and military equipment,” it said on Wednesday.

Western intelligence strikes a similar tone. “The tempo of Russian operations around Bakhmut appears to be slowing,” the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think tank wrote in its Wednesday update on the conflict.

But that shift may also indicate a change in Russia’s priorities. “There is a realistic possibility that the Russian assault on the town is losing the limited momentum it had obtained, partially because some Russian MoD units have been reallocated to other sectors,” the British Ministry of Defence said Wednesday.

Zelensky handed out awards to troops defending Bakhmut during a morale-boosting trip on Wednesday. “It is an honor for me to support our warriors who are defending the country in the toughest frontline conditions,” he later said in his nightly address.

The lengthy resistance of Ukrainian troops could yet vindicate his decision to ignore some Western calls to tactically retreat from Bakhmut as the Russian offensive closed in.

“This is tactical for us,” Zelensky told CNN earlier this month, laying out his decision-making and insisting that Kyiv’s military brass was united in prolonging its defense of the city.

“We understand that after Bakhmut they could go further. They could go to Kramatorsk, they could go to Sloviansk, it would be open road for the Russians after Bakhmut to other towns in Ukraine, in the Donetsk direction,” he said.

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