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Ukraine Reinforces Embattled Bakhmut But Mission Is Unclear

Ukraine Reinforces Embattled Bakhmut But Mission Is Unclear

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Ukraine Reinforces Embattled Bakhmut but Mission Is Unclear

Russian forces are moving toward Bakhmut, Ukraine's strategic Donetsk region. To maintain its position there, Ukraine has received weapons from Western partners like high-mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), which are more accurate and long-range than Soviet-era artillery.

Though the United States and Europe remain engaged with Russia on the international stage, Putin has taken advantage of their engagement to push Kyiv hard on NATO membership. His increasingly assertive rhetoric and military presence in Ukraine demonstrate that Moscow won't back down even when Western powers show signs of retreating.

Ukrainian Forces Reinforce Embattled Bakhmut

As Russia intensifies its assault on Ukraine's eastern front, Ukrainian forces are bracing for a spring counteroffensive that could liberate much of their territory.

Kiev's decision to send reinforcements to Bakhmut, the site of the longest battle in this conflict, adds more troops into an arena that has already seen heavy casualties on both sides. But the government won't specify how many fighters it plans on sending or what role they will play.

The Russians have intensified their assault on Bakhmut, declaring it as their first major victory in months. If Moscow were to capture the industrial city, it would mark their first significant success since beginning to retake territory last winter in an effort to dislodge Ukraine and create a united Donetsk region that includes parts of eastern Ukraine's commercially important Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.

Russia's offensive is spearheaded by the so-called Wagner mercenary group, led by Prigozhin, whom some have dubbed Putin's chef in the war on Ukraine. Through Prigozhin, thousands of former Russian prisoners have been brought to the frontlines, offering them reprieves from prison and exoneration in exchange for their service in fighting Ukraine.

According to The Washington Post, Russia has joined the Wagner mercenary force by invading its eastern regions with tens of thousands of conscripts. Additionally, Russia sent hundreds of artillery pieces and armored vehicles into the region in support of their campaign.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces are struggling to prevent Russian conscripts from digging new defense positions in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. Although Russia has rejected Ukraine's efforts to deny them this right, it remains uncertain how long they will persist.

Over the weekend, Oleksandr Syrskyi - commander of Ukraine's ground forces - visited Bakhmut to boost morale and strategize with his troops, according to Reuters. Despite mounting losses and mounting political pressure in Kiev, top military leaders have pledged their protection of Bakhmut until victory is achieved.

The Wagner mercenary force in the battle for Bakhmut has been accused of committing war crimes and killing civilians during its campaign. Additionally, it's been charged with breaking international law by sending thousands of convicted prisoners to the frontline where they've been used as infantry assault teams in multiple waves.

The Mission Is Unclear

As the conflict in eastern Ukraine approaches its one-year mark, Ukrainian officials and Western analysts have warned that Moscow is poised to launch a decisive offensive soon. Moscow's relentless assault has claimed up to 200,000 casualties and thrust Kiev into its deepest crisis yet; its president has warned of impending government shakeup.

Russia has made a sustained effort to take over fortified towns like Bakhmut and Vuhledar, according to Ukraine's military. But Kyiv claims the assault is losing momentum. Additionally, Moscow has suffered massive losses recently around Vuhledar - whose strategic location near the line dividing eastern and southern theaters of war makes it an especially vulnerable target for Moscow's assault.

Meanwhile, Russia is struggling to find quality soldiers for its rapidly expanding armies. British intelligence reported that prison-bound convicts have been recruited into the war effort and paid pardons in exchange for fighting. Yevgeny Prigozhin of private mercenary group Wagner told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service his troops captured a village near Donetsk on February 12; estimates indicate 80% of its members have been convicted of crimes.

Putin has promised to clear the slate of criminal convictions for anyone who volunteers for combat, including those who have fled or been deemed undesirable. He has sent these prisoners into battle in what he refers to as "the Wagner force," which British military intelligence estimates has up to 50,000 fighters.

But the mission remains uncertain. The conflict has escalated to such a point that Ukrainian forces have had no choice but to launch an aggressive counteroffensive against Russian forces, who are trying to breach Kyiv's defenses with artillery and mortar fire.

On Tuesday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the most urgent matter facing Ukraine: Bakhmut. In his video message to the nation, he warned of an intensifying battle to defend the city against Russian pressure.

Russian Forces Are Increasing Their Manpower

Russia has lost nearly a quarter of its combat force in Ukraine, yet is still sending men to fight. On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree to increase their army by 137,000 personnel - marking the first major change to Russian armed forces in five years and taking effect January 1.

One of the greatest obstacles Moscow faces in its war against Ukraine is manpower. Its army lacks enough trained replacement officers to replace those lost or disabled during battle.

Most of the new conscripts are not experienced veterans and may only be weeks away from their first deployments to war. As a result, Russian military units have been forced to utilize junior officers for training purposes, leaving them short on officers and specialists across multiple fields - including combat.

Rob Lee of King's College London emphasizes the growing effects of ineffective training on battlefields. Lack of cohesive teams from scattered remnants, as well as maintaining operational tempo and significant forces along the line of contact, have all suffered due to this issue.

Analysts report signs that Russia's military is facing a shortage of equipment, such as tanks and artillery. Although more weapons have been deployed recently, analysts predict this won't last long and it will be necessary for Russia's army to remain fully stocked if it plans on mounting an aggressive spring offensive against Ukraine, analysts note.

Russia's ability to fight is further limited by a declining population and birth rate below replacement level. This leaves Russia with an acute shortage of soldiers, which explains why Moscow has been reluctant to mobilize more.

Putin's plan may prove unsuccessful until conditions improve. Even if he manages to mobilize 1.2 million men, it will take months for them to be recruited, trained, and sent off.

Furthermore, there are already signs that the military has begun to lose faith in its conscripts' abilities to fight. This has resulted in mutiny among some units who refused to be sent elsewhere in Ukraine.

The Battle for Bakhmut Is Getting Hotter

Ukraine's army has successfully repelled 19 Russian assaults on Bakhmut over the last 24 hours, according to their military command. They also suffered "heavy personnel losses" against their adversary, Colonel Cherevaty reported in an interview.

Russia has been bombarding Ukraine's positions with thousands of artillery shells a day, rendering the city practically uninhabitable.

Since the conflict started, more than 4,000 civilians have perished from it. Its population has been reduced to around 70,000 with many fleeing under Russian shelling.

Volodymyr Zelensky, Kiev's president, has pledged to continue fighting in Bakhmut and other strategic cities that the Kremlin has captured over the past year. In an interview with CNN in January, Zelensky stated that he would not give up the battle for Bakhmut because it could help Ukraine win the war in Donbas region and provide a key link between Slovyansk and Kramatorsk.

Analysts speculate that Kiev's forces in Bakhmut may not have a clear mission. The battle for the strategic city has taken on an entirely new life, leading some to suggest they are focusing too much energy on winning this battle and not enough on whether they should stay or leave.

It is no secret that Ukraine's forces are engaged in the battle for Bakhmut as part of their offensive to retake eastern Donbas from Russia. But what may be less widely known is how bitterly contested and bloodiest this battle has become.

Russia views the battle for Bakhmut as a chance to prove that its war on Ukraine is succeeding. One year after starting this incursion, Moscow hopes to show off its gains and is investing all of its manpower and resources in an effort to capture Bakhmut.

That strategy has proved costly for both sides, and Ukraine appears determined not to abandon its beleaguered city anytime soon. The battle for Bakhmut has become one of the longest and fiercest battles in this conflict; if Ukraine loses there, its prospects of winning all of Donbas region are significantly diminished.

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