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Russian Defense Chief Says Capturing Bakhmut Important for Wider Donbas Offensive 


A Ukrainian serviceman stands in front of an anti-aircraft machine gun, in Siversk, Donbas region, March 7, 2023.
A Ukrainian serviceman stands in front of an anti-aircraft machine gun, in Siversk, Donbas region, March 7, 2023.

Russia’s defense minister said Tuesday that capturing the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut was important to launching offensive operations deeper in the region, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pledged to keep fighting for Bakhmut.

Russian defense chief Sergei Shoigu called Bakhmut an important defensive hub for Ukrainian forces as he spoke to military officials and said capturing it would allow Russian troops to push “deep into Ukraine’s defensive lines.”

In his nightly address Monday, Zelenskyy said his military commanders unanimously supported not withdrawing from Bakhmut, which has been the site of months of fierce fighting.

“I told the commander in chief to find the appropriate forces to help the guys in Bakhmut,” Zelenskyy said. “There is no part of Ukraine about which one can say that it can be abandoned. There is no Ukrainian trench in which the resilience and heroism of our warriors would be disregarded.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Monday if Russian troops manage to seize control of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, it would not represent a decisive shift in the conflict.

"I think it is more of a symbolic value than it is [of] strategic and operational value," Austin told reporters during a visit to Jordan.

Austin said Monday he would not view a Ukrainian decision to reposition its troops to the west of the city as a strategic setback for Ukraine.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington research organization, said, “Ukrainian forces are likely conducting a limited tactical withdrawal in Bakhmut, although it is still too early to assess Ukrainian intentions concerning a complete withdrawal from the city.”

The analysts said Ukraine’s defense of Bakhmut “remains strategically sound as it continues to consume Russian manpower and equipment as long as Ukrainian forces do not suffer excessive casualties.”

“Ukrainian forces are unlikely to withdraw from Bakhmut all at once and may pursue a gradual fighting withdrawal to exhaust Russian forces through continued urban warfare,” the analysts added.

They said, “Russian forces are unlikely to quickly secure significant territorial gains when conducting urban warfare, which usually favors the defender and can allow Ukrainian forces to inflict high casualties on advancing Russian units — even as Ukrainian forces are actively withdrawing.”

The institute concluded that “endemic personnel and equipment constraints will likely prevent Russian forces from launching another prolonged offensive operation like the battle for Bakhmut in the coming months.”

While the war rages on, the United Nations said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is headed to Kviv for a Wednesday meeting with Zelenskyy to discuss continuation of Ukrainian grain shipments to impoverished nations. Russia, even while attacking Ukraine, agreed last year to safe passage for the shipments through the Black Sea although the current agreement expires March 18.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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