By Mstyslav Chernov | Associated Press

CHASIV YAR, Ukraine — Ukrainian military leaders expressed determination Monday to hold onto Bakhmut as Russian forces encroached on the devastated eastern city they have sought to capture for six months at the cost of thousands of lives.

Less than a week ago, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the defenders might retreat from Bakhmut and fall back to nearby positions.

But Zelenskyy’s office said Monday that he chaired a meeting in which the country’s top military brass “spoke in favor of continuing the defense operation and further strengthening our positions in Bakhmut.”

Intense Russian shelling targeted the city in the Donetsk region and nearby villages as Moscow deployed more resources to try to finish off Bakhmut’s resistance, according to local officials.
“Civilians are fleeing the region to escape Russian shelling continuing round the clock,” Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

Russian forces that invaded Ukraine just over a year ago have been unable to deliver a knockout blow that would allow them to seize Bakhmut. Analysts say it does not have major strategic value and that its capture would be unlikely to serve as a turning point in the conflict.

The Russian push for Bakhmut reflects the Kremlin’s broader struggle to achieve battlefield momentum. Moscow’s full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, soon stalled, and Ukraine launched a largely successful counteroffensive. Over the bitterly cold winter months, the fighting has largely been deadlocked.

The city’s importance has become symbolic. For Russian President Vladimir Putin, prevailing there would finally deliver some good news from the front. For Kyiv the display of grit and defiance reinforces a message that Ukraine is holding on after a year of brutal attacks, justifying continued support from its Western allies.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin endorsed that view Monday, saying during a visit to Jordan that Bakhmut has “more of a symbolic value than … strategic and operational value.”

Moscow, he added, is “continuing to pour in a lot of ill-trained and ill-equipped troops” into Bakhmut, while Ukraine is patiently “building combat power” elsewhere with Western military support ahead of a possible spring offensive.

Even so, some analysts question the wisdom of pressing the Ukrainian defenders to hold out much longer. Others suggest that a tactical withdrawal may already be underway.

Michael Kofman, the director of Russia studies at the CAN think tank in Arlington, Virginia, said Ukraine’s defense of Bakhmut has been effective because it has drained the Russian …read more

Source:: The Mercury News


Russians close on Bakhmut as Ukraine vows to hold fast

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