The battle for Bakhmut has now lasted seven months, thousands and thousands of soldiers have died there, half the city has been destroyed and the question keeps popping up: What is so important about the place where 75,000 people once lived? The answer to that depends on who you ask.
The Ukrainians had reached three lines of defense in the east of their occupied country. The first in the Popasna region fell last May. Bachmut and Soledar are in overtime, they belong to the second front. Should Bachmut fall, only the line at Kramatorsk would remain. After that, the Russians would be free to conquer the entire Donbass. The Ukrainian President Volodymjr Zelenskyj and the Russian Defense Minister Sergej Shoigu also assess the situation in this way.
So Bachmut is strategically important, even if only as a necessary milestone. However, some military experts doubt that the Kremlin troops will even be able to take advantage of an "open door to the Donbass" (Shoigu): "Russian logistics are pretty bad. So if they make a breakthrough, they will get through their logistical problems that existed beforehand," believes military expert Patrick Bury from the University of Bath in the UK.
The Ukrainians also use the battle as a "meat grinder" to inflict maximum casualties on opponents, tying them down and preventing them from other offensives. NATO estimates that casualties are currently 1:5 - for every Ukrainian killed, five Russians die. The latter are mainly mercenaries from the Wagner group, which according to British intelligence could slowly run out of fighters. Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin recruited prisoners for his army for a long time. But the Kremlin banned him from doing so, so Wagner has difficulty making up for the losses.
Half of the prisoners used fell victim to the heavy fighting. "If the recruitment ban continues, Prigozhin will likely be forced to reduce the scope or intensity of Wagner's operations in Ukraine," the London assessment said. The fact that Moscow is weakening the mercenary force by forbidding it from recruiting prisoners is probably also due to the power struggle between Prigozhin and the Defense Ministry. Only recently did the Wagner boss complain about the lack of ammunition supplies and threatened to withdraw his soldiers from Bachmut.
The city has therefore also become a political symbol for both sides. Yevgeny Prigozhin needs the capture of Bakhmut to confirm his claim to power, and the Kremlin is thirsty for any military success it can get. Especially because the death toll is now so high that Russia is doomed to victory - and Ukraine, on the other hand, can celebrate every additional day that the city does not fall as heroic resistance. "The defense of the fortress continues," said the commander of the Ukrainian land forces, Olexandr Syrskyj. According to him, his troops inflicted "noticeable losses" on the enemy with artillery and tanks.
But just defending the fortress will not be enough. Therefore, the Russian side expects a Ukrainian counterattack. It is again the public-seeking Prigozchin who points out the threat scenario via video message. Although several Ukrainian brigades are massing, according to Russian reports, it is so far the thaw and the resulting pervasive mud that has prevented rapid advances off paved roads. But the "Rasputiza", as the mud season is called, will soon end. Then the first Ukrainians trained by the Bundeswehr on the Leopard II will be ready for action - presumably together with the main battle tanks.
Sources: DPA, AFP, Euronews, RTL