Russia Makes Marginal Gains as Bakhmut Battle Descends Into Trench Warfare

Russia has made marginal gains in the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, a U.S. think tank has assessed, as clashes in the region have reportedly descended into trench warfare.

In its daily update of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said that President Vladimir Putin‘s troops remained unlikely to have advanced in Bakhmut at the tempo that Russian sources have claimed.

BM-21 'Grad' multiple rocket launcher
A crew of the BM-21 ‘Grad’ multiple rocket launcher prepares to fire towards Russian positions on the front line near Bakhmut, on November 27, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A U.S. think tank has assessed that Russia has made marginal gains in Bakhmut.
ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images

Bakhmut, in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, has been targeted by Russian forces for months, without much success, with clashes in the region intensifying in recent weeks against the backdrop of Ukraine’s successful Kherson counteroffensive in the south.

The ISW said Tuesday that geolocated footage shows that Russian forces made marginal advances southeast of Bakhmut, adding that it remains unable to confirm most other claimed gains around the town made since November 27.

According to the think tank, some Russian milbloggers have made unsubstantiated claims that Russian forces broke through the Ukrainian defensive line south of Bakhmut along the T0513 highway to advance towards Chasiv Yar, which would cut one of two remaining main Ukrainian ground lines of communication to the town.

“Such claims are likely part of a continuing Russian information operation and are premature, as ISW has previously assessed. ISW continues to assess that the degraded Russian forces around Bakhmut are unlikely to place Bakhmut under threat of imminent encirclement rapidly,” the think tank said.

The ISW assessed on Monday that its researchers “do not portend an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut.”

“Russian troops, in their current degraded state, are likely unable to be able to accomplish this task quickly,” wrote the think tank.

The Guardian reported on Monday that clashes between Ukraine and Russia in Bakhmut has descended into trench warfare reminiscent of World War I.

The Command of the Ukrainian Air Assault Forces released graphic footage on Tuesday that purports to show the bodies of killed Russian troops in and around a trench in Bakhmut.

“The Russians are storming Bakhmut from several directions at once,” the Ukrainian military said.

Newsweek previously reported that seizing Bakhmut would allow Putin’s troops to launch artillery strikes on other key towns while simultaneously boosting military morale as Russia seeks to secure a victory after a string of setbacks.

Jaroslava Barbieri, doctoral researcher into Russian foreign policy at the University of Birmingham, said that at this stage in the war, the town has more symbol rather than strategic military importance.

“Repeated military losses in northeast and southern Ukraine have led to unusual public criticism in Russia that the so-called ‘special military operation’ is not going according to plan,” Barbieri told Newsweek.

“Taking control over Bakhmut is a desperate attempt to send the message that Russia is making incremental gains and can still win in Ukraine,” she added.

Jon Roozenbeek, a British Academy postdoctoral fellow—whose research has focused on the war in Donbas since 2014—at the University of Cambridge, also told Newsweek that taking the town would be symbolic for Russia as it would enable Putin to show some form of military victory, amid recent successful counteroffensives by Ukraine.

“Like you need in any war, you need to be able to show victories, and there have been few and far between for Russia since early summer,” said Roozenbeek.

Newsweek has contacted Russia’s Foreign Ministry for comment.

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