Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin was not able to present much to the Russians in his state of the nation address. A year after the start of the Russian invasion, Moscow is a long way from its ambitious war goals: Shortly before the invasion, the boss of the propaganda station RT, Margarita Simonian, boasted that she could take the capital Kiev within two days, but Russian troops have been struggling for the past half a day year around the capture of the eastern Ukrainian industrial town of Bakhmut.
In recent months, Bakhmut has become a symbol of the brutality and senselessness of Russia's war of aggression. The once pretty little town, which had 70,000 inhabitants before the war, has now been completely destroyed. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused the Russian army of having "turned Bakhmut into a burnt ruin". His advisor Mykhailo Podoljak described the place as "hell on earth".
Hundreds of soldiers die every day in the inferno on both sides, mostly mercenaries from the Wagner unit on the Russian side. Their greatest success was the capture of the small town of Soledar north of Bakhmut in January after the offensive intensified. This did not lead to the collapse of the front.
Bachmut also has a purely tactical meaning
German Brigadier General Christian Freuding says that if Bakhmut and important road connections are lost, Ukrainian troops would have to give up land at a depth of up to 30 kilometers. That's why Bakhmut also has a purely tactical meaning, says the officer who heads the special staff for Ukraine in the German Defense Ministry and who recently accompanied Minister Boris Pistorius on the trip to Kiev.
Freuding coordinates German arms aid to Ukraine. He now sees the defensive struggle in a difficult phase. "We also know that the Ukrainians are no longer able to refresh their units with only volunteers, but that they are now deliberately recruiting reservists of different ranks. This indicates that they are currently under pressure," Freuding said German press agency.
Fight as David against Goliath
Reinforcement with western main battle tanks and armored personnel carriers put the Ukrainians in a position to establish local superiority. Freuding: "You will then be able to achieve success both in defense and in attack." The Ukrainians have proven that they can be tactically very skilful.
At the Munich Security Conference (MSC), President Selenskyj, who was connected via video, described the fight as David versus Goliath. The smaller one skilfully and accurately uses the slingshot against the half-blind giant - and wins. It is also a call to continue sending more and more modern weapons from the West.
The Ukraine can probably hope for around 200 western armored personnel carriers and main battle tanks in a first phase. The training courses are currently running in several countries, including Germany. The weapons then enable Ukraine to launch targeted attacks against Russian targets. This could also be the land bridge conquered by Russia to the annexed peninsula of Crimea.
"One western tank is worth four Russian tanks. That means if I have a company of 14 German Leopard 2A6s and hit a Russian tank battalion with them, I'll end up with 33 Russian tanks destroyed and one Leopard damaged. You could see this in observe the two Gulf Wars," military expert Thomas C. Theiner told Die Welt. And: "Iraq's Russian tanks didn't destroy an American Abrams. Russian tanks are good against Russian tanks, against houses and against civilians demonstrating in the streets."
Wagner troops are increasingly complaining about a lack of ammunition
It will be interesting to see how this affects the Russian approach and the relationship between Russian actors. The attacking Wagner troops around Bachmut are already complaining about a lack of ammunition. The Kremlin oligarch and Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin accused the Russian Defense Ministry of a "munitions blockade".
The statement once again illustrates the ongoing dispute over competences between mercenary troops and regular units, which are becoming more and more of a burden for the Russian campaign. Especially since Prigozhin also complains about being excluded from recruiting prisoners. According to various reports, 30,000 to 40,000 of the probably 50,000 Russian prisoners in the Wagner units have already failed.
soldiers as cannon fodder
Losses are also so high because the prisoners are often used as cannon fodder to uncover Ukrainian positions. All in all, Russian casualties from dead and wounded on the Russian front are now estimated at around 200,000 soldiers. According to many military experts, Russia does not currently have the strength to start further major offensive actions, despite the partial mobilization announced by Putin in the fall with 300,000 reservists.
According to Ukrainian military intelligence, Russia is now concentrating its air force in the area near the border. 450 planes and 300 helicopters are stationed at bases in western Russia but beyond the range of Ukraine's Himar rocket launchers, sources say. Rocket attacks are constantly falling on Ukraine's civilian infrastructure. To a certain extent, the West is countering this with more anti-aircraft systems.
However, it is unclear how realistic the Kremlin chief Putin, who is said to be traveling in an armored train, still has. He does offer negotiations. Officially, he has not moved away from his maximum demands. That includes Ukraine's massive cessions of territory, non-aligned status and demilitarization - the country would be effectively dependent on Putin's whims and interests in power.