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Ukraine’s fight for Bakhmut

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Tuesday marked 300 days since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. On Tuesday, the Ukrainian military was pushing back the Russian forces around the town of Bakhmut.

The Fight for Bakhmut

In the first days of December, the Russian forces made advances in the south and northeast of Bakhmut, capturing small settlements. But the Ukrainians managed to keep their lines of communication and supply open, so there wasn’t an immediate threat of the Ukrainian garrison falling. And now, the Ukrainians are striking back, reclaiming some lost territory.

According to the Ukrainian Joint Forces Task Force, the command responsible for the fighting in the Donbas, the Ukrainian forces have been repelling five to seven Russian sabotage and reconnaissance groups every day.

The Russian effort against Bakhmut is primarily led by the infamous Wanger Group private military company, which is using large numbers of ex-convicts to attrite and pin down the Ukrainian forces.

In the east, the Russian forces conducted limited counterattacks in the vicinity of Kreminna in an attempt to frustrate the Ukrainian preparations for the liberation of the area.

In the south, the two sides are engaged in a long-range fires duel, with the Ukrainians having the upper hand in terms of quality and range. Moreover, Ukrainian military intelligence reports suggest that the Russian military is pulling back units from the eastern bank of the Dnipro River and redeploying them in the Donbas.

The situation in the Donbas, including Bakhmut. (ISW)

Russian casualties

Every day, the Ukrainian military is providing an update on their 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 more than 1,500 Russian tanks (which amounts to more tanks than the combined armor capabilities of France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom) and more than 5,300 military vehicles 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.

Furthermore, more recent reports that are citing Western intelligence officials indicate that the Russian military has suffered more than 100,000 casualties (killed and wounded) in the war so far.

In the summer, Sir Tony Radakin, the British Chief of the Defence Staff, had told the BBC that the West understands that more than 50,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded in the conflict thus far. If we were to take the Ukrainian figures as accurate, the number mentioned by Sir Radakin is on the low side of the spectrum.

A Russian soldier in the winter. (File photo)

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 more than 100,000 troops so far in the war.

Yet, it is very hard to verify the actual numbers unless one is on the ground. However, after adjusting for the fog of war and other factors, the Western official numbers are fairly close to the Ukrainian claims.

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

  • 99,230 Russian troops killed (approximately three times that number wounded and captured)
  • 5,974 armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles destroyed
  • 4,599 vehicles and fuel tanks
  • 2,995 tanks
  • 1,960 artillery pieces
  • 1,680 tactical unmanned aerial systems
  • 281 fighter, attack, and transport jets
  • 410 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS)
  • 266 attack and transport helicopters
  • 653 cruise missiles shot down by the Ukrainian air defenses
  • 212 anti-aircraft batteries
  • 177 special equipment platforms, such as bridging equipment
  • 16 boats and cutters
  • four mobile Iskander ballistic missile systems

On Tuesday, Ukrainian forces continued to inflict the heaviest in the direction of Bakhmut, which is located in the south of the Donbas, and Lyman, which is located in the northeast of the Donbas.

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 tank firing at targets. (Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)

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Stavros Atlamazoglou

Greek Army veteran (National service with 575th Marines Battalion and Army HQ). Johns Hopkins University. You will usually find him on the top of a mountain admiring the view and wondering how he got there.