Up to 30,000 Russian casualties claimed in Bakhmut

time:2023-05-29 13:03:33 source:Al Jazeera

Between 20,000 and 30,000 Russian troops have been killed and wounded in the battle for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut since it began last summer, Western officials say.

The epic nature of the battle is out of all proportion to Bakhmut's strategic significance, they add.

But after more than six months of grinding, horrific fighting, the future of Bakhmut still hangs in the balance.

Since the fighting began, some 90% of its pre-invasion population has fled.

This small administrative city in the Donbas is a wasteland of shattered buildings and trees.

Even if it falls to Russia - something that could still take time and is not guaranteed - Moscow will, Western officials say, have gained little and lost much.

For Ukraine, one official said, the battle for Bakhmut has been "a unique opportunity to kill a lot of Russians".

Ukraine's military has also paid a heavy price, although Western officials reject figures cited on Tuesday by Russia's defence minister.

In a statement to a defence meeting, posted on Telegram, Sergei Shoigu said Ukraine had lost 11,000 troops in February alone.

"The Kyiv regime's indifference towards its own people is astonishing," Mr Shoigu claimed, perhaps deliberately flipping Ukraine's criticism of Moscow's own human-wave tactics on its head.

Western officials say they "don't recognise" Mr Shoigu's figures.

By contrast, they believe the Wagner mercenary group, which has led Russia's attempt to capture Bakhmut, is running short of manpower and equipment.

In the latest in a series of broadsides against the Russian military, Wagner's boss Yevgeny Prigozhin accused the Russian military of failing to supply the ammunition Wagner needs to take the city.

This, Prigozhin argued, was the result of "ordinary bureaucracy or a betrayal".

Whatever happens to Bakhmut - one official said he thought the Russian effort was "stalling" - there's a clear hope among Ukraine's allies that the battle has wrecked Moscow's chances of making any further meaningful headway in the near future.

One Western official dismissed the battle for Bakhmut as "quite a small tactical event" which held no strategic significance "for either side".

In his remarks posted on Telegram, Sergei Shoigu said the "liberation of Artyomovsk [the Russian name for Bakhmut] continues," and he suggested that it would represent a breakthrough.

"The city is an important defensive hub for Ukrainian forces in the Donbas," he said. "Taking control of it will allow… further offensive actions into the Ukrainian military's defensive lines."

But Western officials said there was currently no sign of any wider Russian offensive.

The general in charge of Moscow's war effort, Valery Gerasimov, they said, was "under pressure".

"It's hard to see how he's going… to regain the initiative,"

This isn't the first time Kyiv's Western backers have suggested that Moscow's campaign has come unstuck. Similar claims were made following Ukraine's lightning counter-offensives last autumn.

But Russia's territorial gains over the winter have been extremely modest.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has been receiving fresh batches of Western military equipment, including tanks and other armoured vehicles, and laying plans for its own offensive, which could come as early as May.

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