The Ukrainian city of Bakhmut is currently a “killing zone,” with Russian mercenary forces taking control of its eastern part after months of fighting. The front line has been pushed to the Bakhmutka River that runs through the middle of the city, leaving Ukrainian forces hunkered down in buildings to the west of the river.
This has created a small 200- to 800-meter area of open ground between the two sides that has become the deadly epicenter of the fighting.
According to an intelligence update from the UK Ministry of Defense, Ukrainian strategists are hoping the high body count in Bakhmut will work in their favor in the long run.
An aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that the decision to stay and fight for Bakhmut is part of a strategy to wear down Russia’s best fighting forces before launching a counter-attack. The aim is to reduce their capable personnel as much as possible and to fix them in key wearisome battles, disrupting their offensive and concentrating resources elsewhere for the spring counter-offensive.
Bakhmut has been a unique opportunity to kill a lot of Russians, according to another official who spoke to the BBC. The unnamed Western official estimates that up to 30,000 Russian troops have already died in the grinding battle for the city. Ukraine’s authorities estimate their troops are suffering 100 to 200 casualties each day, and about 4,000 civilians have been killed in the assault on the city.
The Wagner mercenary group, which is spearheading Moscow’s push to take Bakhmut, has signaled that it’s running low on ammo. The private fighting force’s leader, oligarch and long-time Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, has complained that he has been cut off from official government channels for repeatedly demanding more ammunition. Prigozhin recently stated 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,” Prigozhin said 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,” he added. “If not, then everyone will be screwed.”