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Bakhmut has limited strategic value – but the battle is about maximising enemy casualties

The heroic Ukrainian resistance has resisted Russia’s full frontal attack on Bakhmut, but at a huge cost in both human lives and destruction of an once thriving city.

Why have both sides fought over it if it only has a limited strategic value? Why have both sides continued to fight over it?

Edward Abbey: “The tragedy of the modern war is that it causes young men to die fighting one another instead of facing their real enemies in the capitals.”

In the West politicians determine the end-state – what is required – while professional military minds create priorities, develop strategies, and assign troops to tasks.


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In Russia, however, President Vladimir Putin has omnipotence; military strategy is subjected to political meddling and battlefield tactics are based on “doing what we’ve always done”, despite threats, and if this does not work then double-down.

Urban warfare is difficult because it’s hard to move quickly across the open terrain.

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The Russian army, which was inexperienced and lacked motivation, made little progress in Bakhmut at first, suffering seven times more casualties than the Ukrainian defenders. Putin became worried about the impact of such losses on Russian confidence.

The Wagner Group presented Putin with an alternative: use “disposable”, convicts in the most intense battles and save his newly mobilised army for future battles.

Yevgeny Prgozin, the Wagner Group boss, made slow but steady progress in the Bakhmut attack.

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Why Bakhmut is so important?
Image: Ukrainian soldiers riding a tank along a road leading to Bakhmut

He was not part the army’s chain of command, and frictions grew between General Valery Grasimov, (head of Russian Army), Prigozin, and Putin who had non-aligned goals. It escalated into a war of egos.

Gerasimov, in order to protect the Russian regular army from the mercenaries, prioritized the supply of Russian ammunition. This left the mercenaries more vulnerable, and weakened Prigozin’s combat power.

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Read More:

What makes Bakhmut such an important figure in Russia, and why is he a “thorn on the side of Putin”?

What is Ukraine’s latest counter-offensive strategy?

Analysis: Ukraine remains America’s top priority, but for how much longer?

Ukrainehad a duty to prevent being dragged into an attrition war in which the bigger side (Russia) will – inevitably win.

Recent documents have shown that US Intelligence has been advising Ukraine to withdraw from Bakhmut and save their forces for an upcoming offensive.

Photo: A Ukrainian Army sniper watches on near Bakhmut. Pic:AP

According to President Volodymyrzelenskyy, Ukraine has no choice but kill as many Russians as possible at any given opportunity – if it’s not in Bakhmut then where else?

Bakhmut’s tragedy is that it is not about capturing vital terrain, but about maximising enemy deaths.

The fall of Bakhmut won’t bring the war to a close, nor will it move the front line much.

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Bakhmut’s casualty rate is horrendous

Over 100,000 Russians, and over 20,000 Ukrainians, have been killed or wounded in this war of attrition.

France’s vast military cemeteries are a sobering sight. The First and Second World Wars saw unimaginable losses with little movement on the frontlines. We hoped that these horrors were now a thing of the past.

In less than a hundred years, Europe is once again ravaged by war.

Harry Patch, one of the few survivors of the First World War, said: “War is organized murder and nothing else.”


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