Battles for Bakhmut have been going on for months. Philip Wasielewski, a military analyst and former Marine and CIA officer, assessed that Russia was concentrating its attacks there because it could have adopted a similar strategy as Germany in World War I and the Battle of Verdun to bleed the Ukrainians. He added, however, that in the end this strategy may end up similar to that for the Germans then.
After months of fighting and thousands of casualties, Russian forces advancing at a snail’s pace are about to encircle and capture Bakhmut. What could this mean? According to Philip Wasielewski, a former Marine Corps officer USA and military analyst: not much.
– Ukrainians defending Bakhmut are indeed in a difficult situation, but we have seen many times in this war that what seemed inevitable was not so at all – he noted in an interview with the Polish Press Agency. However, he added that if the Russians succeed in what they have been trying to do since last autumn, Moscow’s main gain will be the possibility of trumpeting a short-term propaganda success.
– As a crossroads city, Bakhmut could theoretically be an excellent point from which to attack the rear of Ukrainian positions in Donbass. But there is no indication that the Russians have amassed enough mobile forces and reserves to make any use of this victory, if it comes at all. As he noted, although the loss of the city – the first larger town since the fall of Severodonetsk in the summer of last year – would be painful for the Ukrainians due to the losses incurred in its defense, then after retreating to the west they would have a favorable defensive position.
Expert: Why did the Russians make such a decision? This we may never know
According to Wasielewski, due to the huge losses on both sides, the Battle of Bakhmut gained great symbolic and psychological significance, but it is not crucial from a military and strategic point of view.
– Why did the Russians decide to concentrate their forces on a small 100-kilometre section of a 1000-kilometer front? We may never know, the expert said. In his opinion, there are two logical explanations: either the effect of the inertia and inertia of the Russian military, or a conscious decision to adopt a strategy similar to the one Germany used during World War I at the Battle of Verdun, which was the center of a war of attrition, intended to bleed the Entente troops to death. At that time, however, despite huge losses on both sides, it was the Germans who suffered greater losses, and although at the end of the war they still occupied significant swathes of Franceeventually had to capitulate.
According to Wasielewski, it may be similar in this case, because a significant part of the Russian forces – both those from the Wagner Group and those composed of Russian conscripts – have been destroyed. He recalled that last year’s offensive ended in a similar way for the Russians, during which they won Severodonetsk and Lisichansk: prolonged attacks depleted Russian forces, allowing the Ukrainians to launch a lightning counter-offensive against poorly defended lines in Kharkiv Oblast.
In his opinion, the same may be true in the case of the expected Ukrainian counter-offensive, although – as he predicts – it may come only in the summer. As he assessed, the key factor in this decision will be the level of training and readiness of the units that the Ukrainians keep in reserves.
“Ukrainians are fighting for their survival, if they lose, they will lose their country”
When asked whether the expected Ukrainian offensive could be the last big turn of the war, given the size of the losses on both sides – estimated at over 100,000. – Wasielewski said that history suggests that the conflict may continue for a long time.
– Ukraine has as many people as America during the Civil War. Meanwhile, the sheer number of dead during the four years of this conflict is more than 600,000 people. And we must remember that Ukrainians are fighting for their survival, if they lose, they will lose their country – said the expert. As he added, as long as the West continues to support Ukraine with military equipment, this factor will also work in favor of Kiev.
– Russia’s problem, of course, is not the availability of people, but material constraints: already during the first mobilization, we had stories about the lack of uniforms, bulletproof vests, and other basic things. And then there is the question of who will train them and where. Because the army that joined the fight in February 2022 is largely gone, he concluded.
Main photo source: PAP/EPA/OLEG PETRASYUK