I'm not going to play the "I told you so" card. Just kidding.
For over a month, I've been trumpeting that Russia has effectively won what they're after. By won, I mean they hold the land they want (Donbas) and, more importantly, the energy and valuable minerals there (Lithium baby). Plus the Donbas is a valuable buffer zone.
The Ukraine military has been decimated, with almost 150,000 of 200,000 troops killed or seriously injured. 40% of the country has been driven from its housing and the major cities have been bombed to death. Russia routinely knocks out their electrical grid.
No amount of western supplied weapons will change this calculous, especially given the fact that these systems take months of training to use and don't easily plug into the military architecture used by Ukraine's military.
Game, set, match. All the while, Zelensky has refused to negotiate, dooming the nation to long-term economic ruin. Sad.
PS. The sanctions used by the EU and US have had zero impact on Russia's actions.
Ukraine Faces Painful Choice as Russia Tightens Chokehold on Bakhmut
Russia is focused on taking the eastern city to reinvigorate its nearly year-old invasion
Ukrainian soldiers have been engaged in a monthslong battle with Russian forces for Bakhmut.
By Isabel Coles and Ievgeniia Sivorka, WSJ
Feb. 13, 2023 7:48 am ET
CHASIV YAR, Ukraine—Ukrainian soldiers have dug trenches and reinforced them with logs in the snow-covered hills here as part of a freshly strengthened defensive line west of the country’s deadliest battlefield.
About 5 miles away, Russian forces are pressing ahead with a grinding advance on the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in a monthslong battle that has chewed up hundreds of soldiers.
By holding out in the city, Ukraine is seeking to degrade Russian forces advancing in costly house-by-house assaults and buy time until more and better Western weaponry arrives.
The dilemma for Ukraine is how long to hang on before withdrawing to preserve lives. While Ukrainian commanders say Bakhmut is of little strategic significance, its fall would give fresh impetus to Russia’s nearly year-old invasion after a string of reversals.
The costly battle of attrition could presage the shape of the war to come. Lacking the trained personnel and equipment needed to effectively deploy different elements of its military in concert, Russia is using a newfound manpower advantage to claw territory in Ukraine’s east at a heavy price.
But the battle for Bakhmut is costly for Ukraine, too. And if the soldiers there get cut off and suffer heavy losses, it could erode domestic and international confidence in President Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the regional military administration for the Donetsk region, where Bakhmut is located, said Kyiv was striking a balance between standing firm and not sacrificing soldiers in vain. “We will not cover the land with heaps of our soldiers’ bodies,” Mr. Kyrylenko, Mr. Zelensky’s top appointee in the region, said in an interview.
The dilemma comes at a critical moment in the war. Russia plugged its lines with draftees and criminals late last year after Ukraine reclaimed swaths of territory, and Moscow is now starting to inch forward.
Ukrainian forces are hoping to buy time until more and better Western weaponry arrives.
Ukraine has warned that Russia is building up to a renewed onslaught to coincide with the one-year mark of its invasion this month. In recent weeks, Russia has redoubled efforts to break through Ukrainian defenses in the east—not only in Bakhmut but also further north around Lyman and south in Vuhledar.
An adviser to Ukraine’s president said last week that Russia’s offensive was already under way. “This is it,” Mykhailo Podolyak told a Ukrainian television channel. “It has already started.” Soldiers along a southern stretch of the front line in the Donetsk region said Russian forces were probing their lines, but doubted their capability to mount a broader assault.
The West has pledged to supply Ukraine with new weaponry, including main battle tanks, but that equipment is some way off. Ukrainian troops training in Germany are expected to complete their training and return to Ukraine with their machines at the end of March.
Ukraine has faced a situation like this before. In Severodonetsk, Ukrainian forces retreated to avoid encirclement last June, crossing a river in boats after heavy street fighting took a heavy toll. Russia’s offensive soon lost momentum and Ukrainian forces counterattacked.
In Bakhmut, once more, Ukraine is facing the delicate balance between holding ground and preserving military lives to fight another day. Mr. Zelensky has vowed not to surrender “Fortress Bakhmut.” Mykhailo Koval, a senior commander on the section of the front that includes Bakhmut, said in an interview that Ukrainian forces were prepared to fight street by street if necessary.
After months of failed head-on attacks on Bakhmut, Russian forces began moving to encircle it last month. Wagner Group, a paramilitary force, has spearheaded an advance toward the highway running into the town from the northeast. To the south, there is fierce fighting over the village of Ivanivske, which sits astride the other main route into Bakhmut for Ukrainian forces.
With both those roads within range of Russian artillery, the hilltop village of Chasiv Yar is now the last remaining gateway to Bakhmut. In the snow-covered hills to the west, trenches have been dug for Ukrainian forces to establish new lines.
On the road leading toward the town, a group of soldiers heading into battle remained confident: “Our mission is not to let Bakhmut be taken,” said a soldier. “It’s ours.”
Two women from Bakhmut said Ukrainian forces inside the town were vowing to hold out. After collecting their pensions in Chasiv Yar, where Ukraine has moved much of its administrative services for Bakhmut, they said they planned to return to their battered hometown, barely flinching at the sound of incoming rockets.
Fighting in Bakhmut has endured freezing winter temperatures.
Ukraine is facing a delicate balance between holding ground and preserving military lives to fight another day in Bakhmut.
As long as Ukraine’s logistics remain intact, Mr. Kyrylenko said it made sense to continue fighting, estimating that several hundred Russian forces were being killed a day. “The aim is to exhaust and kill as many of them as possible,” he said.
The scale of the losses on the Ukrainian side is closely guarded, but Moscow’s decision to mobilize some 300,000 men last fall has given Russia a manpower advantage. Exhausted Ukrainian troops are being overwhelmed by fresh Russian recruits in some places, soldiers say.
Heavy losses on both sides have only increased Bakhmut’s symbolic value, raising the costs of a retreat. A popular Ukrainian rock group has composed a song called “Fortress Bakhmut.”
After six days on the front line, a group of soldiers from Ukraine’s 51st Guards Mechanized Brigade said they had been pulled back after taking heavy casualties in Ivanivske. “It’s not worth it,” said one of the men, before the whistle of an incoming round scattered the group.
A Ukrainian armored vehicle is hidden among the trees in Bakhmut.
Gen. Koval acknowledged some personnel issues. One battalion of draftees withdrew without warning in December, he said, leaving a dangerous gap in the lines. The general and his commander, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskiy, rushed to their command center in Bakhmut and sent reinforcements there to plug the hole just in time.
The aim is to prevent a Russian breakthrough or a cascading withdrawal that could damage morale, Gen. Koval said. “If you let people relax and start giving up their positions, it will go in a wave.”
At a base west of Bakhmut, the commander of an artillery unit with Ukraine’s territorial defense forces said Russia’s overwhelming firepower had forced them to pull back just over half a mile. “Sadly we are at a disadvantage,” said the commander.
On his phone, he showed drone footage of two shattered streets on the northeastern edge of Bakhmut where Russian forces gained a foothold two weeks ago. His unit had prevented Russian forces from advancing any further into the town, he said, even as they gained ground on the outskirts. Fending them off has given other Ukrainian forces more time to prepare for the next phase of the war. “Every day counts,” he said.
Like many cities in the flat eastern Donbas area, Bakhmut is situated in a depression surrounded by higher land for shelter from winds, making the terrain unfavorable for defense.
“It is difficult to keep, of course,” said Oleksandr Kruglyk, a soldier in the 3rd Assault Brigade. If lost, however, it would be even costlier to recapture, he said.
The Russian military is playing a long game, Gen. Koval said, but for Ukrainians it is a question of life or death—one familiar from centuries under violent Russian imperial rule. “We understand clearly that if the Russians take over then all patriots will be strung up,” he said. “In the best case we’ll be sent to Siberia and in the worst buried in the woods and our remains exhumed years later.”
Ukrainian soldiers in the basement of a building used as a base in Bakhmut.
Write to Isabel Coles at firstname.lastname@example.org
Russia’s Invasion of U