Russia concentrated on capturing Bakhmut before Ukraine received Western tanks

Russia increased pressure to attack Bakhmut to capture this city before Ukraine received dozens of modern Western tanks to strengthen the line.

Russian forces in recent days have advanced deeper into the city of Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, gradually occupying every house and street corner, with the determination to control this goal as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian army is retreating to the higher ground to the west of the city, determined to defend Bakhmut and wait for more impetus from Western aid and heavy weapons.

Ukrainian military commanders say that Bakhmut has little strategic value, but holds great symbolic significance, as Russia seeks to expand its control in the Donbass region.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky once called the city “Bakhmut fortress”, vowing to defeat the Russian army there. “The more Russia loses in the war in Donbass, the less likely it is to win the whole campaign,” Zelensky said on January 26. “We know what the Russians are planning. We will fight it.”

Tanks of Ukrainian forces opened fire on Russian positions near Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine.  Photo: AFP.

Tanks of Ukrainian forces opened fire on Russian positions near Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine. Photo: AFP.

Bakhmut is becoming Russia’s biggest target after nearly a year of hostilities. Moscow has deployed Wagner “mercenaries” on the Bakhmut battlefield and has recently deployed additional reserves mobilized from last year’s mobilization.

According to observers, Russia is working hard to achieve a breakthrough in Bakhmut, before the main battle tanks of the West are delivered to Ukraine and help Kiev strengthen its defensive and counter-offensive capabilities.

The US and Germany this week announced the delivery of Abrams and Leopard tanks to Ukraine. Many other countries such as Canada, Poland or Norway also have similar moves.

A Ukrainian soldier from the Soviet-era T-72 tank operation unit in Bakhmut said they desperately need those heavy tanks. “Russian forces already control a lot of positions, so the fight is getting harder. We can hold the city, but only with help,” he said.

Lieutenant Oleksandr Matviyenko, commander of Ukraine’s reconnaissance drone unit in Bakhmut, said that since Russia mobilized about 300,000 reservists, they have a seemingly endless amount of manpower to put into battle. school.

“We repelled a group of attackers, but then wave after wave came,” Matviyenko said.

Lieutenant Matviyenko said Ukrainian forces could hold the line in Bakhmut, as long as their supply line from the west was secured. He said bridges and supply roads from Chasiv Yar to Bakhmut had not been bombarded by Russian fire so far.

Russia captured the cities of Klishchiivka to the south and Soledar to the north, aiming to encircle Bakhmut from three directions. Fighting is increasingly taking place near the city center, where Russian rockets and artillery are constantly bombarded daily.

The center of Bakhmut is now a ghost town. Field vehicles carrying troops were the only vehicles that appeared on the roads. A children’s hospital in the west of the city has been turned into a place to treat soldiers, from those concussions from the shock waves of shells, to the seriously wounded.

A hospital worker said earlier this week that he was only allowed to sleep two hours a day and was about to become unbearable. Two days later, Russia shelled the hospital, forcing doctors and patients to evacuate for the second time in a month.

Russian forces launch rockets in Ukraine in an image released by the Russian Defense Ministry on January 27.  Photo: Zuma Press.

Russian forces launch rockets in Ukraine in an image released by the Russian Defense Ministry on January 27. Photo: Zuma Press.

To the south, the Ukrainian military said it repelled Russian attacks on Vuhledar and several other villages. Serhiy Cherevatiy, spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern military district, said that fierce fighting broke out in Vuhledar, but the Russians were unable to penetrate Ukraine’s defenses.

On January 25 alone, Russia launched 148 attacks along the Zaporizhzhia front line in the south with tanks, rockets and artillery, according to the regional military government. The Russian Defense Ministry also said that it carried out multiple attacks in both Zaporizhzhia and Vuhledar.

“The situation on the front lines, especially in the Donetsk region, is very tense,” Zelensky said on January 27. “The adversary not only attacked our positions, they also deliberately destroyed the surrounding cities and villages with artillery and rockets. The Russians did not lack means of destruction. They could only stop them. by violence”.

In response, Kiev’s allies are rushing to gather Leopard 2 tanks from a number of European countries, after Germany and the United States pledged to send tanks to Ukraine. The first deliveries are expected to arrive in Ukraine within the next three months.

President Zelensky has urged Western countries to speed up the sending of tanks and training Ukrainian soldiers to use them as Russia is regaining the initiative on the battlefield. Meanwhile, Russian officials stated that these tanks will “not change the situation of the battlefield” and will only escalate the war.

Location of Soledar and Bakhmut.  Graphics: RYV.

Location of the city of Bakhmut in the Donbass region. Graphics: RYV.

Stefano Sannino, secretary general of the EU’s European External Action Service, stated that the decision to move the US and German tanks was only intended to help Ukraine defend itself against Russian pressure, rather than turning them into an attacker.

Ed Arnold, a researcher at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute, thinks that Russia is concentrating both human and material resources to make a big advance in Bakhmut, before encountering a barrier from the aircraft. Modern Western tanks. However, this calculation also carries many risks.

“If this offensive attempt fails, it will make the defense of Russia much more difficult and they will be vulnerable if Ukraine counterattacks,” Arnold said.

Thanh Tam (Theo WSJ, WP)

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