January 30, 2023

Western allies urge Ukraine to shift tactics away from grinding war of attrition in Bakhmut

6 min read



Washington
CNN

U.S. and Western officials are urging Ukraine to turn its attention away from months of brutal fighting in the eastern city of Bakhmut and instead prioritize a potential offensive in the south. Billions of dollars in new military hardware Recently committed by Western allies, US and Ukrainian officials told CNN.

For nearly six months, Ukrainian forces have been going head-to-head with the Russians for about 36 miles. Territory in Bakhmut, located between the separatist-held cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. The city is almost completely destroyed by heavy shelling.

“This is a brutal and intense battle, with each side exchanging 100-400 meters of ground every day and exchanging thousands of artillery pieces almost every day,” a senior Western intelligence official said last week. “[Bakhmut] In terms of any kind of infrastructure, militarily less attractive, it probably would have been if it hadn’t been destroyed.”

Now, beyond what is widely expected. A brutal spring of combatAmerican and Western officials say a strategy has begun. In recent weeks he has begun to suggest that Ukrainian forces cut their losses in Bakhmut, which he says has little strategic value to Ukraine, and instead attack in the south. Focus on planning.

It was part of a message sent by three of Biden’s top officials who traveled to Kyiv last week.

In a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Feiner, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Cahill, he said the United States wants to help Ukraine move away from such a conflict. Get out of Bakhmut and instead focus on a mechanized warfare style that uses rapid, unpredictable movements against Russia, sources familiar with their discussions said.

Officials said the hundreds of armored vehicles the United States and European countries have delivered to Ukraine in recent weeks, including 14 British tanks, are intended to help Ukraine make that transition.

However, it is not clear that Zelinsky feels ready to abandon Bakhmut.

People familiar with his thinking tell CNN that Zelensky doesn’t believe the Russian victory at Bakhmut is the right thing to do, and is reluctant to give it up. Zelensky believes that holding Bakhmut would give Ukraine a better chance of retaking the entire Donbas region, and that if Russia wins, it will allow them to advance to the strategically important eastern cities of Slavyansk and Kramatorsk. Will provide an opportunity.

Bakhmut is also an important symbol of Ukrainian resistance.

Zielinski visited Bakhmut before a trip to Washington, D.C., last December, where he told U.S. lawmakers that “every inch of this land is covered in blood, there are gunshots every hour.” The battle of will change the tragic story of our freedom and independence war.

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In short, the senior Western official said, Bakhmut “is important because the Russians have made it important — perhaps more than it is.” A US military official also expressed doubts that Ukraine would give up Bakhmut – not because of its battlefield value, but because its strategic messaging value is so important.

There are also some advantages to trying to eliminate the Russians in Bakhmut.

On Monday, a senior US military official told reporters that Russia had sent tens of thousands of “unequipped, untrained” replacement troops to the front line, including Bakhmut, over the past several months, amid losses. . Despite the large numbers, the new troops have not changed the dynamics of the fight, the official said.

But Ukraine is also taking heavy casualties in the war and expending huge amounts of artillery ammunition every day. In terms of sheer volume, Russia still has more artillery ammunition and manpower. Paramilitary organization Wagner Group used thousands of criminals to “dump bodies” in the war, a Western intelligence official said.

US officials are hoping that the latest shipment of armored equipment and the newly expanded training of Ukrainian forces in Germany will encourage Ukraine to change its strategy.

“Depending on all of this equipment supply and training, I think it’s very, very possible for the Ukrainians to launch a major tactical or even operational offensive to liberate more of Ukraine. can run,” Joint Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley told reporters on Friday.

The pressure on Ukraine to change its war strategy comes amid signs that Russian President Vladimir Putin is considering a major move to initiate war in the next several weeks, officials familiar with the intelligence told CNN. Considering

CIA Director Bill Burns traveled to Kyiv earlier this month to brief Zelensky on the U.S. assessment of Putin’s plans, sources familiar with their conversation told CNN.

U.S. and Western officials familiar with the intelligence told CNN that there are also indications that Putin is considering mobilizing another 200,000-man army.

Ukrainian personnel fire 120mm mortars at Russian positions on the front line near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023.

The Kremlin has begun polling locally to gauge the popularity of another move, two officials said. Some believe the next mobilization will be quieter than the first, which Putin himself announced on television, calling it a “partial mobilization”.

Putin is aware of how unpopular the first mobilization was late last year, when protests erupted and hundreds of thousands of Russian combat-age men fled the country to avoid conscription, officials said, and he No decision has yet been made about another dynamic effort.

But Russia needs bodies to throw into the fray. The first mobilization nearly doubled Russia’s military presence in Ukraine — even if it produced fighters who were untrained and ill-disciplined — and overall, sources familiar with U.S. and Western intelligence said. Said, Putin’s grip on power is secure.

“We don’t think Putin has made up his mind yet, specifically when to do it,” said a senior Western intelligence official, as he almost certainly worries about the social fallout and negative economic impact. are

Putin’s intentions for the new offensive became clear to Western officials earlier this month when he made General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, the overall war commander, the officials said.

Gerasimov, emblematic of Russia’s early defeats in the war, is eager to prove he can turn the tide of the conflict, and is pushing for a new offensive to regain territory in the east and south. are

“I have no doubt that Gerasimov feels a lot better about his existence that he launched an offensive in the spring — so one will come,” the Western intelligence official said.

Some senior Russian military officials have been heard discussing the possibility of trying to retake the northeastern city of Kharkiv in recent weeks, according to people familiar with the discussions between Western and Ukrainian intelligence.

A view of the damaged area in Bakhmut, Ukraine on Thursday, January 12, 2023.

But U.S. and Western officials and military analysts told CNN that Kharkiv — a major city last retaken by the Ukrainians in a stunning counteroffensive — appears to be a remotely achievable target for the Russian military. do not have. As much as Putin would like to target Kyiv again, officials say it is currently beyond the reach of his forces.

As reported by CNN, Russia’s artillery fire has dropped dramatically. From wartime highs, as high as 75 percent in some places, a possible sign that the Russians have been forced to give up ammunition.

One military expert noted that this could be a huge problem for Russia if it wants to launch a major new offensive against major cities.

Officials said it was more likely that Russia would focus most of its efforts on the Donbass region – with Bakhmut as a potential springboard – and the Zaporizhzhia region, where the Ukrainian military reported on Saturday that Russian forces will focus on taking more areas. had already begun to escalate hostilities.

Russia intends to maintain its “land bridge” from the Rostov region to Crimea, and to do so it needs to retain its southern Ukrainian holdings, the officials said.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense reported in its regular intelligence update earlier this month that “a major Ukrainian advance in Zaporizhzhia seriously challenges the viability of Russia’s ‘land bridge’ connecting Russia’s Rostov region and Crimea.” Will do.”

By and large, though, the US and its allies are skeptical of Russia’s capacity for serious aggression.

“[I] The Western intelligence official said, “There’s a lot of doubt that what we’ve seen of the Russians’ ability to mobilize, train people and equip them effectively will be different than what we’ve seen before.” have done “And what we’ve already seen is nothing but a meat grinder.”



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