Russia’s offensive bogged down in Eastern Ukraine, though it could still take Bakhmut, top NATO official says

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A Ukrainian soldier from the 80th Brigade paratroopers listens to artillery fire at a front-line position near Bakhmut, amid Russia’s offensive on Ukraine in the Donetsk region on March 16.Violet Santos Moura/Reuters

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Russia’s offensive on Ukraine’s eastern front is thwarted, although Russian regular and mercenary troops appear determined to overcome Bakhmut despite taking 1,500 casualties a day.

The assessment was made on Friday by a senior NATO official in Brussels, who gave a background briefing to several media outlets, including: For security reasons, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would not allow his name to be used.


The source said the Eastern Front was largely unchanged in several areas, notably Bakhmut and to the south, in Wuhldar, despite intense fighting and terrible losses on both sides. “So far in 2023, there has been no significant adjustment of the battlefield,” he said. “The front lines remain relatively stable.”

An influx of newly trained troops and equipment, such as German-built Leopard 2 tanks from several European countries as well as Canada, would give Ukraine the ability to launch an offensive in the next weeks or months that would allow it to “bring the war”. to a successful conclusion,” he said.

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Ukraine is getting air power as well as missile and howitzer power. This week, Poland agreed to send four Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter-bombers to Ukraine and is about to send eight more. Slovakia is sending 13 MiG-29s. The United States is refusing to send the far more advanced F-16 fighter-bombers.

The Russian army and the Wagner Group, a mercenary force that has been bearing the brunt of the fighting – and losses – in parts of the east, are still determined to take the largely destroyed town of Bakhmut in Donetsk province, a NATO official said. Are. Whose pre-war population was 71,000.

The Russians controlled the eastern half of the city and occupied areas to the north and south in an attempt to shut down Ukrainian supply lines; The Ukrainians still control the western half of the city and have recently reinforced their military with elite fighting units.

NATO officials did not rule out Ukraine withdrawing its forces and building a new line of defense in the hills immediately west of Bakhmut, where the higher altitude would give Ukrainian forces a defensive advantage.

“I would not see it as an operational or strategic setback, because I think there is some very defensible terrain in that area,” he said, calling a potential Russian victory at Bakhmut a “symbolic, political objective for Moscow”, which along Will come A terrible cost and probably won’t change the course of the war.

He said the fighting in Bakhmut was “really brutal and really grinding” with thousands of artillery being fired every day, to the point that both armies were running low on ammunition. This may explain why Russian ground attacks on the Eastern Front have decreased somewhat over the past week.

His analysis is supported by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank. In a recent note, the ISW said the Russian offensive in the nearby Luhansk region in the east appeared to be slowing.

The Russian offensive in Luhansk Oblast is likely to mark the climax of the campaign, if it has not already ended. “Russian forces have made only minimal tactical gains along the entire Luhansk Oblast front line in the past week, and Ukrainian forces have recently managed to counterattack and gain territory in Luhansk Oblast.”

The NATO official said Russian losses, mostly incurred by the Wagner Group, “have been extraordinary” because the strategy appears to “substitution of manpower for equipment, quantity for quality and sacrifice of troops for incremental gains on the ground”.

He said NATO and British military projections put Russian losses in the first two weeks of February at their highest level in the first week of the invasion, which was launched on February 24, 2022. Last month, he said, Russian casualties (dead, wounded and captured) averaged 824 a day and could reach 1,500 a day during the bloodiest fighting.

NATO believes that Ukrainian losses, while high, are “significantly low” compared to Russian losses, although the official declined to attach a number to them.

The NATO official said the military alliance has no indication that China has sent, or is about to send, lethal military aid to Russia, which is pleading with allies for equipment (Iran is helping Russia with warheads). giving drone). “But we also see that it has not been conclusively, conclusively taken off the table,” he said, referring to possible transfers from China.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow next week – their first meeting since the invasion began. The visit is seen by Beijing as a show of support for the Kremlin and growing trade between the two countries. It is not known whether weapons will be discussed at the meetings.

Russia’s offensive bogged down in Eastern Ukraine, though it could still take Bakhmut, top NATO official says

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