Aletho News


The End of Bakhmut

The Ukrainians are organizing to pull out

By Stephan Bryen | Weapons and Strategy | May 16, 2023

Ukraine is close to retreating from Bakhmut. This could happen anytime now, but it has to happen fast enough before exit routes are closed down. Predictions on a timetable vary, but the Ukrainians should evacuate Bakhmut no later than the weekend, provided they can.

There are still a couple of roads open to exit the city, secured in part by Ukrainian army attacks on the flanks of the city. But these roadways and fields will not stay available if the Wagner forces pour in fast.

In the last night the Wagner forces stormed and took the two most fortified and defensible parts of the Citadel area of the city, pushing the Ukrainians back into the last part of the Citadel which is mainly low rise buildings. These will be hard to hold. There is also fighting around a portion of the city’s northwestern sector where the Ukrainians are holding out at the Children’s Hospital (long since evacuated of patients). The purpose of the Ukrainian force is to hold this area to keep the road open out of the city in that direction and to divert Wagner forces from taking over the entire Citadel too quickly.


Commander in Chief Valery Zaluzhny with Colonel General Aleksandr Syrskyi (left)

The Ukrainians could negotiate a safe withdrawal with the Russians, but it is unlikely that Zelensky will allow that to happen. Furthermore, the so-called leaks about Prigozhin’s communications with Ukrainian intelligence, which he has heatedly denied, makes it almost impossible for the Wagner’s to make any deals with their Ukrainian enemies.

The battle for Bakhmut is Zelensky’s battle, because he demanded that his army stay there and fight, even after his commanders told him it was too costly and not worth taking needless losses. The battle has raged for eight or nine months and, to a degree, has caused big losses on both sides. Recently his top commanders have put out statements that the fight was worth it. It is likely Zelensky demanded these statements of support.

The big question is, what is next.  The Russians could use their forces to move toward Chasiv Yar and push the Ukrainian army back toward the Dnieper river. The Dnieper is absolutely strategic for Ukraine, and if the Russians can reach its banks, Ukraine will be cut in half. The Ukrainians have to be careful in mounting their planned but not yet executed great offensive, because if they leave their back door open, the Russians have sufficient forces to handle an offensive and to move on toward Chasiv Yar and beyond. There is a danger the Ukrainian army could be trapped from the north and the south and be unable to gain a breakthrough that could justify trying an offensive aimed at the Kherson region, or the Zaporizhzhia region, or even Crimea.

The US and NATO response is to stuff Ukraine with tons of modern weapons, some of which the Russians are blowing up before they ever get near a battlefield. But manpower remains Ukraine’s Achilles’s heel. It is becoming more and more difficult for Ukraine to recruit soldiers, or dragoon young men into service. This will only multiply when the full impact of the Bakhmut defeat is known to the Ukrainian public.

The Ukrainian army leadership also is in doubt. Its top leader. General Valery Zaluzhny seemingly has disappeared, and so too has General Alexander Syrskyi, Commander of the Ukrainian ground forces. There are plenty of rumors and no answers. One of them is that Zelensky went on his European tour while the military opposition was eliminated.  Another is that these two generals were involved in corruption and were caught. A third rumor is that both were killed in a missile strike. If the planned offensive is delayed because the army’s leaders have been killed, for whatever reason, then Zelensky will face overbearing problems.

A key problem understanding the war in Ukraine is the reliability of sources of information and the fact that both sides specialize in disinformation and fake news. Having said that, the information coming from Bakhmut so far is confirmed. The rumors about the fate of Ukraine’s generals are not confirmed.

May 17, 2023 - Posted by | Militarism | , ,

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