Ukraine says Bakhmut battle pins down Russia’s best units
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KIEV, March 10 (Reuters) – Ukraine has decided to keep fighting in the devastated city of Bakhmut because fighting there is pinning down Russia’s best units and demoting them ahead of a planned Ukrainian counter-offensive in the spring, an aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
Mykhailo Podolyak’s comments were the latest signal of a postponement by Kiev this week to continue defending the small eastern town, scene of the war’s bloodiest battle as Moscow seeks to claim its first victory in more than half a year.
“Russia has changed its tactics,” Podolyak said in an interview with Italian newspaper La Stampa. “It has focused on Bakhmut with much of its trained military personnel, the remnants of its professional army, as well as its private companies.”
“We therefore have two goals: to reduce their capable personnel as much as possible and to pin them down in some tiring key fights, to disrupt their offensive and to concentrate our resources elsewhere for the spring counter-offensive.” So today Bakhmut is absolutely effective and even exceeds its core tasks.”
Russia has made Bakhmut the main target of a winter offensive involving hundreds of thousands of reservists and mercenaries. It managed to capture the eastern part of the city and the outskirts to the north and south, but so far it has not managed to close a ring around the Ukrainian defenders there.
Kiev, which appeared to be planning to withdraw to positions west of the city in early March, announced earlier this week that its generals had decided to reinforce their troops at Bakhmut and fight on.
In a morning update, Ukraine’s General Staff reported a large number of attacks along the front lines and said “the enemy is not stopping its attacks on Bakhmut”.
Moscow says capturing Bakhmut would be a step toward conquering Ukraine’s entire industrial Donbass region, a key goal. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday the capture of the city would punch a hole in Ukraine’s defenses and allow Moscow to push deeper.
The intense trench warfare, dubbed the Meat Grinder by both sides, resulted in huge casualties. But Kiev’s decision to stay and fight rather than retreat was a sign that Russia’s losses are far greater than its own.
MOSCOW SHORT OF MISSILES?
After making gains in the second half of 2022, Ukraine’s armed forces have found themselves mostly on the defensive since mid-November, while Russia attacks with troops called up in its first mobilization since World War II.
But apart from Bakhmut, the Russian winter offensive has largely failed. Meanwhile, Kiev is awaiting a surge in Western military aid, which is expected to launch an offensive in the coming months once the muddy ground has dried in late spring.
Kyiv and the West also saw signs of exhaustion in Russia’s recent mass salvo of rocket attacks on Ukrainian targets.
Russia on Thursday launched hundreds of millions of dollars worth of missiles over Ukraine, including six of its hypersonic Kinzhal missiles, touted as a superweapon for which NATO has no answer. It is believed to own only a few dozen Kinzhals.
The barrage killed civilians, including a family buried under rubble as they slept in their homes near Lviv, 700 km from the battlefield. But otherwise it seemed to have achieved little, damaged power systems were mostly restored quickly.
The worst damage appears to have occurred in the eastern city of Kharkiv, where around 500,000 people were still without power as of Friday morning, according to the regional governor.
It had been three weeks since the last similar Russian attack, the longest pause since such strikes began in October. Previously, Moscow had unleashed such attacks roughly every week, challenging Ukraine’s ability to repair infrastructure before the next attack.
Britain’s Defense Ministry on Friday said the reason for the prolonged lull was likely because Moscow was running out of missiles and was now having to wait between barrages of fire for its factories to produce them.
“The interval between attack waves is likely to be longer because Russia must now stockpile a critical mass of newly produced missiles direct from the industry before it can muster an attack large enough to credibly overwhelm Ukraine’s air defenses,” it said.
Reporting by Reuters bureaus; writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Angus MacSwan
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