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Russia wants to capture Bakhmut to mark the invasion’s one-year anniversary, but this seems unlikely

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It has been 359 days since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. On Friday, the new Russian large-scale offensive started piecemeal and isn’t going well.

After several days, the Russian forces are still looking for a breakthrough in the Donbas.

Heavy fighting

According to the Ukrainian government, the Russian forces are aiming to capture Bakhmut by February 24 to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the invasion. Given the fact that they are still a long way from taking the town, it is most likely that this plan will fail. The Russian forces have made some gains to the north and south of the town, but they aren’t close to encircling it.

In the east, the back-and-forth fighting along the Kreminna-Svatove line of contact continues. The Russian forces launch daily local assaults in an attempt to dislodge the Ukrainian military and retake lost territory. However, the Ukrainians have been able to slowly advance and are now on the outskirts of Kreminna.

In the south, the situation remains fairly similar, with skirmishes along the Dnipro River. The Russian forces continue to bolster their fortifications in the area in anticipation of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Related: General Mark Milley says Russia has already ‘lost’ in Ukraine

The battlefield on February 16 according to the Institute for the Study of War. (ISW)

Russian casualties

Every day, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense is providing an update on its claimed Russian casualties. These numbers are official figures and haven’t been separately verified.

However, Western intelligence assessments and independent reporting corroborate, to a certain extent, the Ukrainian casualty claims. For example, the Oryx open-source intelligence research page has visually verified the destruction or capture of close to 1,700 Russian tanks (which amounts to more tanks than the combined armor capabilities of France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom) and more than 8,300 weapon systems of all types; this assessment has been confirmed by the British Ministry of Defense.

The same independent verification exists for most of the other Ukrainian claims. Recently, the Pentagon acknowledged that the Russian military has lost thousands of combat vehicles of all types, including over 1,000 tanks, and dozens of fighter jets and helicopters.

Related: Russia uses ‘relic’ weapons in Ukraine, including the 9K111 Fagot anti-tank system

Russian tanks captured by Ukraine earlier in the war. (Creative Commons)

In November, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley shared the U.S. military’s assessment that the Russian military has lost way more than 100,000 troops so far in the war. But U.S. officials revised this assessment in February. According to U.S. intelligence, Russia has lost almost 200,000 troops killed or wounded in the conflict so far.

Yet, proper casualty figures are still hard to compute and verify given the fog and friction of war.

As of Friday, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense is claiming the following Russian casualties:

  • 141,260 Russian troops killed (approximately three times that number wounded and captured)
  • 6,520 armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles destroyed
  • 5,187 vehicles and fuel tanks
  • 3,298 tanks
  • 2,322 artillery pieces
  • 2,013 tactical unmanned aerial systems
  • 871 cruise missiles shot down by the Ukrainian air defenses
  • 467 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS)
  • 298 fighter, attack, and transport jets
  • 287 attack and transport helicopters
  • 241 anti-aircraft batteries
  • 221 special equipment platforms, such as bridging equipment
  • 18 boats and cutters
  • four mobile Iskander ballistic missile systems

On Friday, Ukrainian forces continued to inflict the heaviest in the direction of Bakhmut, which is located in the south of the Donbas, and along the Kreminna-Svatove line in the east.

The stated goal of the Russian military for the renewed offensive in the east is to establish full control over the pro-Russian breakaway territories of Donetsk and Luhansk and create and maintain a land corridor between these territories and the occupied Crimea.

Feature Image: Ukrainian soldier on a YPR-765 armored carrier in Bakhmut. (ArmyInform.com.ua)

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Stavros Atlamazoglou

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations and national security. He is a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ). He holds a BA from the Johns Hopkins University, an MA from the Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and is pursuing a J.D. at Boston College Law School.

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