Ukraine says its battle with Russia over its ruined city Bakhmut is grinding down Vladimir Putin’s best troops.
There has been fierce fighting in the city since the start of the month, as Moscow attempts to secure its biggest victory in Ukraine in more than six months.
Russia has deployed hundreds of thousands of reservists and Wagner Group mercenaries to the battle and captured the eastern part of the city and outskirts of it to the north and south.
But it has not yet managed to encircle Ukrainian defenders and it was estimated last week between 20,000 and 30,000 of its troops have been killed and wounded.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a presidential aide to Volodymyr Zelensky, said the battle had successfully slowed down Russia’s attack – and allowed Ukraine to prepare for its planned spring counter-offensive.
He told Italy’s La Stampa newspaper: “Russia has changed tactics.
“It has converged on Bakhmut with a large part of its trained military personnel, the remnants of its professional army, as well as the private companies.
“We, therefore, have two objectives: to reduce their capable personnel as much as possible, and to fix them in a few key wearisome battles, to disrupt their offensive and concentrate our resources elsewhere, for the spring counter-offensive. So, today Bakhmut is completely effective, even exceeding its key tasks.”
The Ministry of Defence (MOD) said in its latest intelligence update that Bakhmut has become a “killing zone” that is probably highly challenging for Russia’s Wagner mercenary forces trying to continue their assault westward.
It said in over the past four days, Wagner forces had taken control of most of eastern Bakhmut.
The MOD also explained Ukrainian forces held the west of the city and had demolished key bridges over the Bakhmutka River, “which now marks the front line”.
The ministry said in a statement: “With Ukrainian units able to fire from fortified buildings to the west, this area has become a killing zone, likely making it highly challenging for Wagner forces attempting to continue their frontal assault westwards.
“However, the Ukrainian force and their supply lines to the west remain vulnerable to the continued Russian attempts to outflank the defenders from the north and south.”
Kyiv, which had seemed at the start of March to be planning to withdraw westward, announced this week that its generals had decided to reinforce Bakhmut and fight on.
Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said that, as Russia pressed its offensive, “our soldiers are doing everything possible to prevent the enemy implementing their plans”.
Russia’s advances have appeared to slow amid complaints from Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner private militia leading Russia’s assault, that it was was failing to provide his men with enough ammunition.
Additional reporting by Reuters.