The Russians claim to have captured Ukraine’s Bakhmut after months of bloody fighting. But Kiev disputes this, saying it continues to defend itself and repel Russian attacks. What makes Bachmut so essential? And how will Moscow react to today’s entry of Finland into NATO?
Invited I ask them was a security analyst, adviser to the chairman of the Committee on European Affairs and vice-chairman of the PSP Martin Svárovský.
According to Ukraine’s General Staff, Russian troops continue to try to gain full control over eastern Ukraine’s Bakhmut. The Russian mercenary group Wagner advanced into the city center and occupied the city administration building, the American Institute for the Study of War confirmed in its latest report on the situation on the battlefield.
Earlier in the week, the head of the Wagnerites, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed that his fighters hung a Russian flag on the Bakhmut municipality building and thus legally occupied the city. However, the Ukrainian side denied his claims. On Tuesday morning, however, Ukraine’s General Staff said in its operational review that heavy fighting was continuing. On the last day alone, the Ukrainians repulsed 69 attacks.
Russian occupation forces have been trying to capture Bakhmut for months. Its occupation is part of the Kremlin’s plan to occupy the entire Donetsk region, which is part of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, Donbass. The fighting for this city is one of the bloodiest in the entire conflict, which Russia launched last February. Heavy casualties are reported on both sides, and the city itself is largely destroyed, according to Reuters.
Who controls Bachmut at the moment? Has the big planned Russian spring offensive already arrived, or is the Ukrainian still waiting? And what will be the decisive factor of the war in the coming months?
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What was said in the conversation?
1:30 – In Bakhmut, it is true that there will be fighting as long as it is beneficial for the Ukrainian side. The Russians are losing a huge amount of people and equipment there. And it is profitable for the Ukrainians to inflict such heavy losses on the Russian side.
2:30 – The location of Bachmut has lost its importance. There is nothing of strategic importance there, except for the world-famous champagne factory. Of course, it has a symbolic meaning, because in the minds of Russians it is always to set a task and then fulfill it.
4:30 “We are in the period of preparation of a major Ukrainian counter-offensive. (…) The Battle of Bakhmut is important for the Ukrainians because the Russians have concentrated again, in an extremely thick way, in one place and are bleeding there. This is useful from a counter-attack point of view.
6:30 – The big Russian offensive was already expected in the winter, I myself expected it. And now what happened. The Russian army is spread across the entire length of the front and is on the offensive in several places. (…) It is a series of small offensives where the ratio is reversed and the Ukrainians are defending themselves and inflicting blows on the enemy. Mark Milley (American general, editorial note) recently called it during a US Congressional hearing that the Russians are loading each other’s assault rifles.
8:30 – How much have the battles for Bakhmut cost Russia so far? – The realistic estimate is between 20 and 30 thousand soldiers from the autumn phase until now. Daily losses of 700 to 800 soldiers were reported somewhere, but not only in Bachmut. But what’s also important, especially in recent weeks, the amount of equipment that the Russians were losing there increased. These were tanks and artillery systems, some days the losses reached up to 20.
11:30 – So what’s going on behind the scenes of the battle for Bachmut? – The Ukrainian side has accumulated a large amount of equipment. For a longer period than just from the beginning of the year, when there is talk of an influx of Western technology. But it has accumulated a large amount of equipment, especially from the operation in Kharkiv, when it managed to seize equipment from Russia. There is equipment from the countries of the former Warsaw Pact, they received 300 tanks from the Poles alone, 90 from us, the important thing is that you do not see this force anywhere on the battlefield. The second thing is that Western technology has been coming since January. These are mainly tanks and other combat vehicles and air defense. And in parallel, Ukrainian soldiers were being trained in a number of countries. So the Ukrainians are gearing up for a major offensive.
13:50 – The question that is a secret for me, and it is good that it is a secret, is whether the Ukrainians have the ability to hit accurately at a distance greater than 90 kilometers of HIMARS. Because it was one of General Sergei Surovikin’s measures in the winter, before he was replaced, that the Russians moved logistics beyond the hundred-kilometer limit, where they were within range. (…) We already know that the United States will not give an ATACMS missile three hundred kilometers. General Milley said that the Ukrainians do not need it. Which means the Ukrainians have some more sniping skills. But we won’t find out until just before the attack.
15:00 – The moment the Ukrainians start bombing the Russian rear, the offensive will begin. (…) From what I know, the date of the counterattack has already been planned. – Not even specified as a guide? – Based on what we know, what the indications are, it could still be in April or early May. Within weeks.
16:30 – It will be done when the Ukrainians have everything they need. They halted the offensive in the winter, said they needed to stockpile a sufficient amount of equipment and training, and the moment they lacked something, they would call. So it will start as soon as everything is ready. And I think that will be decisive. But it will also be decisive what kind of power struggle in Moscow will accompany it. Because we are already seeing the symptoms of this war.
24:00 Is it a big loss for Vladimir Putin that Finland is becoming a member of NATO? – This is a big, big loss. And not only from a symbolic point of view, but I think for at least two other reasons, we can probably find even more of them. One is that Finland is a country that has been preparing for many years to face Russian conventional and hybrid threats. I had the opportunity to stay at the Swedish space center about three years ago, where there were Finnish experts who showed us how they changed the legislation, protect critical infrastructure, you can’t buy land near critical buildings. They really dealt with those hybrid threats. Not only informative, but also, for example, controlled migration, when the Russians took people to the border in old Zhiguli cars. So they are prepared both legislatively and cyberly. So someone who knows the Russians well joins NATO. Every Finnish military exercise was accompanied by Russian surveillance radars and drones. That’s one thing. And if you look at the north of the Alliance, there is Norway, which without the membership of Finland and Sweden was a bit of an island state. And in case of any major danger, say an invasion of Norway, it would take some time for the Alliance to get there. So even from the point of view of the defense of the northern flank, the entry of Sweden and Finland is of great importance.
I’m asking, Marie Bastlová
Podcast Marie Bastlova. Difficult interviews with people who have influence, responsibility, information.
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