In a gripping display of defiance, Ukrainian battalion commander Oleg Shiryaev strategically deployed his troops to repel the advancing Russian forces outside the war-torn city of Bakhmut. Utilizing drone imagery, Shiryaev directed his men from nearby trenches, warning them of the enemy's movements as they approached a patch of trees. With precision and determination, he ordered a mortar team into action, unleashing a powerful explosion that struck down a Russian fighter and carved a fresh crater into the scarred hillside.
While Russian forces declared victory in Bakhmut last month, Ukrainian defenders like Shiryaev refuse to retreat. Instead, they persevere, keeping up the pressure and continuing their fight from strategic positions on the city's western fringes. This unwavering resistance is now presenting a new challenge for Moscow, as it grapples with the looming threat of an impending Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Russian forces, seeking to maintain control over the area, are struggling to dislodge Ukrainian fighters from the commanding heights overlooking Bakhmut. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar revealed that despite Russia's attempt to portray calm, artillery shelling persists at levels comparable to the peak of the battle for the city. Maliar emphasized that the fight is evolving, taking on different forms as the conflict enters a new phase.
Bakhmut holds significant strategic importance for both sides. Russia had envisioned capturing the city as a step towards its ambition of seizing control over Ukraine's industrial heartland in the eastern Donbas region. However, their forces have been forced to regroup and rotate fighters in order to retain their grip on the battered city. Notably, private military contractor Wagner Group, responsible for aiding in the capture of Bakhmut, is withdrawing its mercenaries, who suffered heavy losses exceeding 20,000 men. They will be replaced by Russian soldiers.
For Ukrainian forces, recent efforts have been opportunistic, seizing small gains and securing strategic positions from different flanks. The Ukrainian 3rd Separate Assault Brigade has been particularly active in this regard. Michael Kofman, an expert from the Center for Naval Analyses, pointed out that the victory in Bakhmut presents new challenges for Russian forces trying to hold the city. As the Wagner fighters withdraw, Russian forces face the difficult task of defending Bakhmut, potentially risking their ability to maintain control in the long run.
Ukraine's objective in the Bakhmut area extends beyond the city itself, which lies in ruins. Ukrainian analysts assert that the primary goal is to hold the western heights and establish a defensive arc outside the city. This broader strategy aims to weigh down Russian forces, seize the initiative, and set the terms of the battle environment, forcing the enemy into a defensive and reactive posture. By restraining the enemy and inflicting significant damage on their personnel and equipment, Ukrainian forces aim to prevent any Russian breakthrough or outflanking maneuver.
As the battle for Bakhmut rages on, experts highlight the importance of "information superiority" in shaping the course of the war. Military analyst Mathieu Boulègue emphasizes the need for tactical subterfuge and obfuscation to catch the opponent off guard and shift the balance of power. In this high-stakes conflict, the ability to create surprises and operate in the shadows could prove crucial in determining which side gains the upper hand and turns the tide of the war.
(With AP Inputs)