Without Hesitation, Ukraine Goes Toe to Toe With Russia in Bakhmut – The New York Times - 09.01.23
Earlier in the war, Ukraine’s leadership was more equivocal about pitched battles with high casualties. There’s no second-guessing this time. Some analysts say it makes sense strategically says Andrew E. Kramer.
Ukrainian military analysts on Friday near Bakhmut, in the country’s east, reviewing videos obtained by drone operators. Photographs by Nicole Tung
BAKHMUT, Ukraine — It was midmorning last Friday when the camera of a Ukrainian drone zoomed in on a Russian soldier moving furtively among trees on the edge of town. Another enemy assault was underway in the eastern city of Bakhmut.
The drone pilot marked coordinates as he watched, then sent them by satellite link to artillery commanders.
Within a few minutes, Ukrainian artillery units struck the houses where they had seen the Russians taking cover. Smoke from the hits could be seen rising silently on the drone operator’s screen.
Later that day, however, an armored vehicle rumbled out of an eastern neighborhood carrying wounded Ukrainian soldiers toward a stabilization point in the city’s west. Ukraine’s army was taking its hits, too.
It’s a grim stalemate that has taken on the rhythms of a heavyweight title bout, with each side going toe to toe in one of the longest-running battles of the war. That stands in contrast to Ukraine’s strategy elsewhere along the front line, where it succeeded by avoiding direct confrontations, relying instead on nimble maneuvers, deception and Western-provided long-range weapons to force Russian retreats.
In an earlier phase of the war, Ukraine’s leadership had been more equivocal about pitched battles like Bakhmut. President Volodymyr Zelensky, in a rare moment of public self-doubt, mulled then whether the deaths of about 100 Ukrainian soldiers per day in Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk were worth the fight for two already ruined cities.
But this time, there has been no second-guessing. And new research suggests the lethal urban combat last summer was not as senseless as it might have seemed at the time.
An analysis by two leading military analystspublished last month by the Foreign Policy Research Institute vindicated the attritional fighting.
The pitched battle weakened the Russian Army enough for two Ukrainian counterattacks in the fall to succeed, wrote the analysts, Rob Lee and Michael Kofman. Those offensives, in the Kharkiv region in the north and Kherson in the south, delivered two of the most embarrassing defeats of the war to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
The State of the War
Battling for Bakhmut: Ukraine and Russia are going toe to toe in the key eastern city. That stands in contrast to Ukraine’s strategy elsewhere along the front line, where it succeeded by avoiding direct confrontations.
New Equipment: The Western allies’ provision to Ukraine of infantry fighting vehicles signals their support for new offensives in coming months.
Sexual Crimes: After months of bureaucratic and political delays, Ukrainian officials are gathering pace in documenting sexual crimes committed by Russian forces during the war.
Adapting to Survive: The war has taken a severe toll on Ukraine’s economy. But it has also pushed Ukrainians to restructure parts of the economy at lightning speed.
“The amount of ammunition Russia expended and the casualties they took set up the Russian Army for failure,” Mr. Lee said in an interview.
Whether Bakhmut winds up playing a similar role ahead of expected spring offensives by Ukraine depends on many variables, he said, including how many soldiers Russia can field after a mobilization this past fall.
Fierce fighting continued to rage on Monday along the front line that extends from Bakhmut northeast toward the city of Soledar, with the Russians claiming to have taken a nearby village and Ukraine saying that it had repelled Russian attempts to storm Soledar itself.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hanna Maliar, said in a post on Telegram that after an unsuccessful attempt to capture Soledar and subsequent retreat, the enemy regrouped “and launched a powerful assault.” Ukrainian forces were “bravely defending every inch,” she wrote.
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Andrew E. Kramer is a reporter covering the countries of the former Soviet Union. He was part of a team that won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting for a series on Russia’s covert projection of power. @AndrewKramerNYT
A version of this article appears in print on Jan. 10, 2023, Section A, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline: Kyiv Commits To Tough Fight Over Bakhmut. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe