Saturday, June 10, 2023

Latest Posts

Russia Blew It

The strategic significance of Bakhmut may be questioned but Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky’s visit to the front line there on Wednesday showed how much the Donetsk city matters.

Zelensky’s appearance followed his insistence that Kyiv would continue the fight there against Moscow’s forces spearheaded by the Wagner mercenaries of Yevgeny Prigozhin. It was thought to only be a matter of time before Bakhmut would fall as Prigozhin claimed his troops had surrounded it on three sides but Kyiv’s forces continue to hold.

On the same day Zelensky pinned medals on his troops near the front and held a moment of silence to honor the fallen, UK defense officials said that Russia’s campaign in Bakhmut is probably losing momentum. It means after starting a much-anticipated offensive in late January, Russian forces are leaving the winter months with minimal gains and huge losses of men and equipment.

“The so-called Russian offensive was really just more of the same—pushing unlucky conscripts into the meat grinder and continuing to launch missiles against civilian targets,” said Ben Hodges, former commanding general of the United States Army Europe.

“They did none of the things you would have expected from a major offensive,” he told Newsweek. “There were no deep strikes by the Russian Air Force against the line of communication that brings equipment and ammunition from Poland into Ukraine.”

“The Navy did nothing except to sail out and launch missiles against apartment buildings. I think that the Russians really just don’t have anything left right now with which they could launch any kind of an offensive,” added Hodges, a senior advisor for Human Rights First. “They are probably now in the phase of solidifying what they have and hope that it gets to a negotiated settlement. I don’t get the sense there is much else they can do.”

While he said that Wagner units had added depth to Russian forces and did have capable units at the start of the war, Hodges did not think they have helped Moscow’s war effort, describing them as “divisive and disruptive.”

Prigozhin, a businessman with close ties to Vladimir Putin, has repeatedly criticized the Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu and war commander Valery Gerasimov, lamenting that he was not being given enough ammunition.

“Prigozhin’s constant criticism of Shoigu and Gerasimov has demonstrated the really significant lack of cohesion inside the Russian General Staff and the joint command structure,” said Hodges.

Ukraine’s daily assessment of Russian losses in the war has indicated a trend of increasing casualties, even if the figures are far higher than Western estimates and have not been independently verified.

The bloody battle for Bakhmut looks to be driving that spike, with British diplomat Ian Stubbs saying on March 15 that up to 30,000 Wagner and regular Russian troops have been killed or injured—around 800 casualties for every kilometer gained during the offensive.

“On the Russian side of the equation, it’s also a bit puzzling why so much has been poured into this fight,” said Andrew Weiss, vice president on the Russia and Eurasia program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“I’m persuaded by indications that Yevgeny Prigozhin saw Bakhmut as a potential easy win that would allow him to feather his nest with senior leaders in Moscow who are eager to show that Russia is making progress,” he told Newsweek.

“While the Russian military leadership are no fans of Prigozhin or Wagner, they are smart enough to recognize that using this unconventional force to grind down the Ukrainian side plays to Russia’s overall advantage.”

However, Ukraine’s forces have also suffered high losses, even if Kyiv says for every one of its soldiers killed, Russia loses seven.

“Russia doesn’t have the skills to do a big ugly offensive,” said Glen Grant, a military analyst from the Baltic Security Foundation. “What they are going to do is push hard somewhere and force Ukraine to move its reserves.”

“So they are going to use mass to move around the battlefield and it may not always be somewhere where we want it to be,” he told Newsweeknoting that Russian forces have “killed a lot of Ukrainians.”

Ukrainian infantrymen told the Kyiv Independent this week that poorly trained battalions are being thrown into the front line with little support from armored vehicles, mortars, artillery, drones and tactical information.

“Who is now in the stronger position depends on how severely the Russian attacks have eroded Ukraine’s ability to launch a counteroffensive later this year,” said Paul D’Anieri, author of Ukraine and Russia: From Civilized Divorce to Uncivil War. “We do not know exactly what Ukraine’s losses have been or how that will impact Ukraine’s ability to go on the offensive.”

“If the result of these attacks is that Ukraine cannot sustain a major offensive, and if Russia is satisfied with holding the territory it has, rather than seizing more, these battles might be seen as a strategic victory for Russia,” added D’Anieri , political science professor at the University of California, Riverside.

Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that instead of continuing to attack the Bakhmut area where it had achieved such little success in previous months, and where Ukrainians were strongest, “the Russians might have aimed at a point that was weaker.”

The strategic significance of Bakhmut may be questioned but Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky’s visit to the front line there on Wednesday showed how much the Donetsk city matters.

Latest Posts


Don't Miss

Stay in touch

To be updated with all the latest news, offers and special announcements.