No respite in Bakhmut as Ukraine and Russia prepare for battles elsewhere
Despite the high cost in life, Ukrainian and Russian leaders have said the battle for Bakhmut will rage on, even as they prepare for a war they expect to expand and intensify as time goes on. warms up.
Officials in Kiev and Moscow predicted that Ukraine, taking delivery of Western tanks, missiles and other weapons, would soon launch a new campaign to reclaim lost territories in the east and south.
The Ukrainians are “preparing for various offensive operations – everyone knows that,” said Dmitry A. Medvedev, former president of Russia and deputy chairman of President Vladimir V. Putin’s Security Council, in comments published Friday. “Our staff takes this into account and prepares its solutions.” President Biden’s National Security Council spokesman said this week that Russia is also planning new attacks.
But even with this looming prospect, no one is predicting a pause in the long and brutal fight for Bakhmut, the town in eastern Ukraine that has seen the bloodiest fighting in recent months. Oleksandr Syrsky, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, said Thursday that Russian forces were “not giving up hope of taking Bakhmut at any cost”, but he said they appeared to be “losing significant forces and wearing themselves out. “.
But he added that the Kremlin needed to be clear about its overall goals in Ukraine, and despite expectations of escalating offensives, he outlined how to end a war that has taken a heavy toll on both nations.
“First of all, we have to decide where we are going or where we are stopping,” Prigozhin said in an interview published on the Telegram messaging network on Thursday. “As soon as it is determined absolutely clearly, then it will be clear when the SVO will end,” he said, using the Russian initials for the Kremlin term for the invasion he launched there. at 13 months, which he calls a “special military operation”. .”
He is not the first proponent of Russia’s war effort to suggest unclear goals and weariness of a much tougher-than-expected fight.
Russian forces hold most of the eastern Donbass region that includes Bakhmut, and Mr Putin has suggested that, at a minimum, Russia must complete the conquest of the two provinces that make up Donbass and retain Crimea, which it owns. was seized in 2014. But his government has also claimed to annex two other provinces where it holds some territory, and Mr Putin has sometimes hinted that he is obliterating Ukraine as a separate state. He also said, wrongly, that Ukraine is controlled by Nazis whom Russia must eliminate.
Mr Prigozhin – the once-secret tycoon whose close personal ties to Mr Putin helped him amass a fortune – has frequently criticized Russian military officials as incompetent and jealous, complaining that they are withholding Wagner’s resources. And his boastful social media presence increasingly has elements of pessimism; he suggested recently that Wagner might soon be a depleted force and that a Ukrainian offensive might cut off his fighters at Bakhmut.
He also came close to public disagreement with Mr Putin in particular, as in the suggestion that the aims of the war are unclear, despite not quoting the Russian leader by name. In his Thursday post, he said, “I am not aware of the denazification of Ukraine. Are there Nazis there, or are there not? I didn’t crawl in there.
Western analysts wonder if the battered Russian military, after suffering immense casualties and depleting its reserves of weapons, is capable of mounting a much wider campaign than it is currently waging.
Mr Putin has asked for help from China, which has provided surveillance drones but no weapons so far, according to Western governments, and he hosted Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Moscow this week. China has aligned itself with Russia, without overtly taking sides in the war, and they share a common antagonist in the United States.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is very keen to keep China out. He has tried to maintain ties with Beijing and been careful not to criticize Mr. Xi publicly, and a senior Ukrainian official said on Friday that Kiev was trying to arrange a phone call between the two leaders.
China is a vital diplomatic ally, trading partner and potential source of weapons for Russia as the Kremlin faces growing international isolation and condemnation.
Last week, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Mr Putin for shipping thousands of Ukrainian children from captured territory to Russia, where they are placed with families or in centers for indoctrination in pro-Russian opinions. Ukraine and human rights groups have called the effort an outright kidnapping and a step towards erasing Ukrainian cultural identity. The European Union said it would organize an effort to find the missing children.
In Washington, a bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to President Biden on Friday, asking him to share with the ICC any evidence of war crimes collected by US intelligence agencies. Although the United States has long refused to get involved with the tribunal, Congress last year authorized intelligence sharing with it specifically for the war in Ukraine.
The international court will open a field office in Ukraine to investigate violations of international law during the war, the court and the Ukrainian government announced on Thursday.
Legal experts say the Russian invasion itself could be a violation of international law, along with the thousands of airstrikes on Ukrainian civilian targets, and there have been well-documented mass atrocities by Russian ground forces.
But there is also evidence that the criminal conduct went both ways. The UN said on Friday it had documented summary executions of dozens of soldiers captured by Ukrainians and Russians.
On the battle lines, both sides invested huge resources in Bakhmut, which Russia failed to seize despite eight months of fighting. Thousands – perhaps tens of thousands – of troops were killed or wounded there, and Russian casualties were particularly heavy, with Wagner often using fighters recruited from the prisons in near-suicidal attacks.
The victims gave Bakhmut a symbolic meaning beyond the strategic importance of a small town that straddles a few highways and railroads. Although the Russian forces closed in from three directions, they were unable to rout the Ukrainian defenders or take control of the last roads leading west of the city, which the Kyiv forces are using. to move people and supplies.
After months of bombardments, the buildings of the city are almost all in ruins. There is street-to-street, building-to-building fighting, with opposing forces locked in destroyed shells from abandoned factories, according to Russian and Ukrainian accounts of the fighting.
And yet there are still civilians. Out of a pre-war population of 70,000, less than 3,500 residents still live in Bakhmut, including 32 children, according to Pavlo Kyrylenko, the Ukrainian governor of the surrounding province of Donetsk.
Ukrainian authorities stepped up calls last month for all residents to leave the town and ordered the last aid groups to leave, in what was then seen as a possible prelude to a withdrawal as troops Russians were approaching.
“These are the ones who categorically refuse to leave the city,” Kyrylenko told reporters. “A huge job has been done to evacuate them.”
Some Bakhmut residents are “even hiding” from police and rescue workers visiting their homes, he said.
But the dangers persist, even for those fleeing the city. On Friday morning, Russian missiles hit the town of Kostiantynivka, about 21 km southwest of Bakhmut, according to a statement from Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office. A missile hit a “center of invincibility”, one of thousands of makeshift shelters Ukraine has set up across the country to provide basic services during Russian attacks.
Three women who had fled to Kostiantynivka from nearby areas, including one from Bakhmut, died in the strike, the prosecutor’s office said.
The report was provided by charlie savage, Matthew Mpoke Bigg, victoria kim And Monika Pronczuk.