Amid the sporadic gunfire, residents lined up on the wasteland to receive “fuel” made from the residue of sunflower harvest, and took it home to burn the stove. The old man with white beard and hair said to the media camera that all public services have been stopped, and only soldiers and volunteers are distributing fuel and food. “We live like animals.” This is the eastern part of Donetsk Oblast,
Ukraine The live situation of the important town of Bachmut at the end of January 2023. There were nearly 100,000 residents in this city and its surrounding villages and towns before the Russian army launched a “special military operation” in February 2022. Today, less than 10% of them are stranded on the devastated land. Since mid-January, the Russian army has occupied the small town of Soledar, about 18 kilometers northeast of Bakhmut, and is rapidly completing the encirclement of Bakhmut.
According to the American think tank Institute of War (ISW), the Russia-Uzbekistan war has entered the third stage: from February to July 2022, the Russian army will actively attack and the Ukrainian army will defend; Turned to the defensive; from November to January 2023, the Ukrainian army’s counterattack stagnated, and the Russian army looked for opportunities to regain the initiative. Now, the Russian army has aggressively broken through the Bakhmut front, which means that the offensive and defensive momentum may be reversed again. Some analysts believe that if the Russian army wins the Battle of Bakhmut, this will be the biggest change in the Russian-Ukrainian war after the “Kherson Counter-Offensive” in November 2022.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on January 31 that Western allies “have no time to continue thinking” and should quickly make “strong decisions” on strengthening military assistance to Ukraine. Prior to this, the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom have all confirmed that they will assist Ukraine with main battle tanks, and senior officials of the Ukrainian government have requested further assistance for more equipment such as F-16 fighter jets. However, when US President Biden answered the question about aiding the F-16 that day, he gave a short and clear response: “No.”
In the last week of January 2023, the passage in and out of Bakhmut controlled by the Ukrainian army was heavily shelled by the Russian army. On the 29th, the commander of the Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group declared that it had controlled the roads and residential areas north of the town, cutting off the connection between the Ukrainian army and Bakhmut from three sides. The Ukrainian army commander denied this, but also admitted that “it is too dangerous to enter the city now.” “Everyone who wanted to leave here has already left.” A Ukrainian military officer named Yaroslavsky told a CNN reporter. “There will be no building in Bakhmut.”
There are different opinions within the Ukrainian army on how to solve the crisis. There are commanders who support a decisive battle here, and Yaroslavsky believes that they should retreat to preserve their strength. The TASS news agency quoted the Russian army commander as saying that the Ukrainian army is still transporting ammunition and strengthening personnel in the direction of Bakhmut, and seems to have the determination to stick to it.
”The value of Bakhmut lies not in the town, but in its transportation location.” A Ukrainian scholar who once served in the Donetsk state government told China News Weekly that after the civil war in 2014, Bakhmut was not the Ukrainian government. The military defense city set up is the “big rear” of the Ukrainian army’s military operations in Donbass.
Before the “special military operation” in 2022, Bakhmut guarded the only traffic artery from Donetsk Oblast to the largest cities of Ukrainian-controlled Luhansk Oblast, North Donetsk and Lisichansk in the north; The city of Donetsk, the capital of Tsk region, is less than 100 kilometers away. In the “special military operation”, the Russian army occupied Severodonetsk, Lisichansk and the entire Ukrainian-controlled Lugansk region, which made Bakhmut a front line. If the Ukrainian army controls Bakhmut and its surrounding lines of communication, it can threaten the Russian troops in Severodonetsk and Lisichansk at any time; Advance to the hinterland of Kezhou.
In May 2022, after the Russian army took control of the entire territory of Luhansk Oblast, they approached Bahmut from the east, south, and north along the highway. The stalemate lasted for more than half a year without any progress. This is of course related to some partial victories. A classic case is that the Ukrainian army discovered through aerial reconnaissance a Russian armored detachment trying to cross the river and penetrate the rear of Bahmut, and gave it a devastating long-range blow. But the fundamental reason is that the Ukrainian army began a large-scale counterattack in July, and successively recovered large areas of territory in the northern Kharkov state and the southern Kherson state. Military analysts often pointed out that the Ukrainian army occupied the initiative on the battlefield at that time, which made the Russian army exhausted and unable to gather troops for a decisive battle in the direction of Donbass.
According to the Ukrainian intelligence agency, until the recent mobilization of airborne troops into the Bakhmut front, the main force of the Russian army to attack Bakhmut has been the light infantry of the mercenary organization Wagner Group. Some foreign media reported that in the positions of the 28th Mechanized Brigade of the Ukrainian Army, the Ukrainian tanks that lacked supplementary Soviet-made ammunition rarely fired. Wagner infantry.
The tug-of-war of “hell on earth”
However, as the momentum of the Ukrainian counteroffensive faded after November 2022, the Russian army was able to redeploy its forces. There are different opinions on the reasons for the stagnation of the Ukrainian army’s counter-offensive. High-level Ukrainian government officials blame it on the fact that Europe and the United States did not provide more military assistance in a timely manner.
According to Russian sources, while responding to the counterattack of the Ukrainian army, the Russian army spent a lot of resources to establish solid field fortifications on the border of Luhansk Oblast. Since October 2022, the Ukrainian army, which lacks heavy weapons, has repeatedly tried to counterattack in the direction of Severodonetsk and Lisichansk, but only occupied a few residential areas and failed to break through the Russian military fortifications.
In addition, in October 2022, Russian general Surovkin, who is good at planning air strikes, was appointed as the commander-in-chief of “special military operations”, and since then large-scale air strikes on Ukraine’s energy and urban infrastructure have begun. According to Ukrainian statistics, as of the end of January 2023, at least 13 rounds of such large-scale air strikes have been carried out. Ukrainian power, heating, and water supply facilities have been severely damaged, and the energy gap is “extremely large”, which has also affected the combat effectiveness and support capabilities of the Ukrainian army.
The War Research Institute pointed out that a reasonable counter-offensive design must first counterattack quickly after the enemy’s attack reaches its peak, and give a head-on blow when the enemy’s organization is loose and insufficiently prepared. After that, it is necessary to continue the counter-offensive posture to reduce the stagnation time between large-scale counter-offensives, so as to prevent the opponent from reorganizing its troops and regaining the initiative. The agency believes that, for whatever reason, the Ukrainian military failed to achieve the second-tier objectives.
The Russian army tried to seize this fleeting opportunity. On January 11, 2023, the Orthodox New Year holiday just ended. The Chief of Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Gerasimov, was appointed as the new commander-in-chief of the “special military operation”. , Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Army Alexei Kim served as Gerasimov’s deputy. After Gerasimov took office, he quickly set Bakhmut as the main direction of the Russian army’s attack.
The Ukrainian military intelligence agency stated that in the recent attack on villages and towns around Bakhmut, Russian paratroopers replaced the infantry of the Wagner Group. This means that the airborne troops, regarded as the elite of the Russian army, have once again become the main force, only one step away from the rear of the Russian army in Lugansk. In the operation a year ago, they once seized several key positions leading to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, but failed to achieve a campaign-level victory due to insufficient logistical supplies.