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The center of Bakhmut is now a “killing zone,” but Ukranian strategists are hoping the high body count will work in its favor in the long run.
Russian mercenary forces have taken control of the eastern part of the Ukrainian city they’ve been fighting to capture since May 2022, pushing the front line to the Bakhmutka River that cuts through its middle, the UK Ministry of Defense said in an intelligence update Saturday.
Ukrainian forces are hunkered down in buildings to the west of the river, creating a small 200- to 800-meter area of open ground between the two sides that is now the deadly epicenter of the fighting, the report said.
An aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that the decision to stay and fight for war-ravaged Bakhmut is a part of a strategy to wear down Russia’s best fighting forces before launching a counter attack.
“Russia has changed tactics,” Zelensky aide Mykhailo Podolyak said in an interview with Italy’s La Stampa newspaper. “It has converged on Bakhmut with a large part of its trained military personnel, the remnants of its professional army, as well as the private companies.”
“We, therefore, have two objectives: to reduce their capable personnel as much as possible, and to fix them in a few key wearisome battles, to disrupt their offensive and concentrate our resources elsewhere, for the spring counter-offensive,” Podolyak continued. “So, today Bakhmut is completely effective, even exceeding its key tasks.”
Another official echoed Podolyak, telling BBC that Bakhmut has been “a unique opportunity to kill a lot of Russians.”
The unnamed Western official said that up to 30,000 Russian troops have already died in the grinding battle for Bakhmut, a city key to the Ukrainian supply chain that also has symbolic importance to Russia, which has not scored a victory on the battlefield in months.
Ukraine’s authorities estimate their troops are suffering 100 to 200 casualties each day. About 4,000 civilians have been killed in the assault on the city, officials said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Wagner mercenary group spearheading Moscow’s push to take Bakhmut signaled it’s running low on ammo.
The private fighting force’s leader, oligarch and long-time Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, recently complained that he had been cut off from official government channels for repeatedly demanding more ammunition.
Prigozhin said on Friday that he was “worried about ammunition and shell shortages not only for Wagner… but for all units of the Russian army.”
Prigozhin said that his forces need 10,000 tons of ammunition each month for the battle.
“I’m knocking on all doors and sounding the alarm about ammunition and reinforcements, as well as the need to cover our flanks,” he said last week in a statement released by his press service.
“If everyone is coordinated, without ambition, screw-ups and tantrums, and carries out this work, then we will block the armed forces of Ukraine,” Prigozhin said. “If not, then everyone will be screwed.”
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