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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Ukraine’s weak grip on Bakhmut is loosened by the destruction of the key bridge

Russian forces continue their military advance at Bakhmut after destroying a vital bridge.

A suspected Iskander missile reportedly blew up overnight a bridge connecting Bakhmut to the nearby village of Khromove, part of a larger supply route to the town of Chasiv Yar. A large crater meant that supply and evacuation routes were now relegated to dirt roads, a soldier and a local official told CNN.

Bakhmut is the scene of one of the bloodiest battles between Russian and Ukrainian forces. Alexander Rodnyansky, an economic adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told CNN that Kiev’s military is “obviously weighing all options” on how to proceed.

“So far they have held the city, but if necessary they will withdraw strategically,” he said.

Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a video posted online on Friday that Bakhmut was “virtually surrounded” by Russian forces. The video showed several suspected Ukrainian soldiers being captured, with Prigozhin ordering Zelenskyy to surrender territory.

“If the professional Ukrainian army fought [Bakhmut] earlier, today it is mainly elderly people and children,” said Prigozhin. “They are fighting, but their life expectancy in Bakhmut is very short now, a day or two… give them a chance to get out of town.”

He has made previous videos promoting Russian rise in the city.

Friday’s video was refuted by the National Resistance Center, an online publication created and run by the special forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Prigozhin allegedly shot the footage in the village of Paraskoviivka, which was captured by Russia on February 20.

“Terrorist Yevgeny Prigozhin recorded a video which he allegedly claims concerns Bakhmut’s entourage, but the video itself was not even recorded on the outskirts of the city as his security forces did not allow him to go there,” the center said calling it “provocative” and “disinformation”.

Russia expert Dmitry Gorenburg from the Center for Naval Analysis news week that Russia’s bridge destruction and ground advances are part of the ongoing incremental gains in the Donetsk region city.

His guess is that Ukraine will withdraw its forces and concentrate on positions outside of Bakhmut in the next few weeks.

“That said, the battle accomplished Ukraine’s purpose: destroying the bulk of Wagner’s forces, tying down a large contingent of Russia’s more combat-ready troops, and thereby preventing a major offensive elsewhere,” Gorenburg said. “I’m not sure there’s any major impact other than that Russia can still win grueling offensives, but at a very, very slow rate and at a very high cost in terms of personnel and equipment.”

That’s a position shared by Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims II, director of operations for the United States Joint Staff.

He said during a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing that the current fighting “reproduced the state of World War I.”

“The Russian Army, with the support of the Wagner Group, fought bitterly to defeat Ukraine’s defenses, using extreme amounts of artillery and waves of thousands of partially trained mobilized soldiers and prison personnel contracts,” Sims said.

Gorenburg said it was questionable whether Bakhmut could ultimately be described as a strategic defeat for Ukraine.

said Arkady Moshes, program director for the EU-Russia Eastern Neighborhood Research Program at the Finnish Institute for International Affairs news week that a Ukrainian withdrawal would result in Russian forces attempting to continue their offensive in adjacent areas.

“However, strategically little will change,” said Moshes. “Losses on the Russian side were heavy and taking this rather small piece of territory will have taken too long.”

Moscow is still “very far” from gaining control of the areas it annexed in September, he added.

news week has asked the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense for an opinion.

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