It is unclear how much longer this stalemate may last, but on Wednesday the owner of the Russian military contractor Wagner Group claimed that his troops had extended their gains in the Ukrainian stronghold of Bakhmut.k,
As this was going on, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv to discuss a possible extension of the agreement that allows Russia to export food and fertilizers and allows Ukraine to ship grain from its Black Sea ports.
Each side has tried to wear the other down, and the battle for the city the Ukrainians have dubbed “fortress Bakhmut” is a prime example of this. Even though Western officials say that capturing the city of Bakhmut is unlikely to change the course of the war, Russian forces must go through Bakhmut to push deeper into parts of the Donetsk province they do not yet control.
Six months of fighting have turned the city of Bakhmut, which had over 70,000 residents before the war, into a smoking ruin. Nobody knows who has paid the highest price.
Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose troops have been at the forefront of the battle in Bakhmut, has claimed victory and claimed his forces now control the entire eastern half of the city, to the east of the Bakhmutka River. Its downtown area can be found to the west of the river.
Prigozhin’s claim has been met with silence from both Russian and Ukrainian authorities. The Institute for the Study of War in Washington, which has been following the fighting closely, has concluded that Russian forces have likely taken control of the regions mentioned by Prigozhin since the Ukrainians withdrew from them.
The city is surrounded by Russian troops on three sides, with only a single passageway leading west. Russian artillery fire on the one and only westbound highway has forced Ukrainian defenders to rely more and more on back roads, which are difficult to navigate while still wet.
On Monday, after meeting with his top generals, Zelensky vowed that they would not be withdrawing from Bakhmut.
Sergei Shoigu, the Russian minister of defense, said on Tuesday that if Russia were to take the city, it would give it a foothold in the Donetsk region, one of four regions in Ukraine that Moscow illegally annexed in September.
This line of thinking was echoed by Prigozhin in a blustery video statement he recorded near a World War II monument in Bakhmut, in which he declared that the potential Russian push would make “the entire world shudder.”
Secretary-General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg admitted that the city could be taken by Russia soon.
He made these remarks to reporters in Stockholm, Sweden, on the margins of a meeting of EU defense ministers. “What we see is that Russia is throwing in more troops, more forces,” he said. They’ve taken a lot of hits, but we can’t rule out the possibility of Bakhmut’s fall in the near future.
Although he and other Western officials have downplayed the significance of the possible capture of Bakhmut, he echoed their sentiments by saying that this “does not necessarily reflect any turning point of the war and it just highlights that we should not underestimate Russia.”
Ukraine’s armed forces have fortified defensive lines west of Bakhmut, including in the hillside town of Chasiv Yar. This is to prevent a Russian advance in that direction. Westward, the Ukrainian strongholds of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk sit behind formidable defenses.
The ISW noted that Russia probably lacked the mechanized forces required to advance from Bakhmut.
The Ukrainian presidential administration reported on Wednesday that Russian forces had shelled dozens of Ukrainian towns and villages in the Donetsk region and elsewhere in the country’s east and south.
While in Kyiv, UN Secretary-General Guterres discussed the possibility of extending the agreement that has kept some of the country’s exports flowing.
Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, drove up food prices around the world. Ukraine and Russia are major global suppliers of wheat, sunflower oil, and other agricultural products.
With the current agreement set to expire on March 18 after 120 days, Guterres has called for a second extension.
Guterres emphasized the significance of Ukrainian and Russian food and fertilizer exports to global food security and food prices.
Meanwhile, some media outlets have reported that a pro-Ukraine group blew up the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea last year; Germany’s defense minister has cautioned against jumping to such conclusions. More information is needed, according to Boris Pistorius, to determine who set off the explosion and whether or not they had the knowledge or approval of the Ukrainian government.
— Pistorius also mentioned that in the coming weeks, nearly a dozen high-tech battle tanks supplied by European countries would arrive in Ukraine. He mentioned a total of nineteen Leopard 2 tanks, eighteen from Germany and three from Portugal. The heavy tanks from the West, including the Leopards, were recently promised to Ukraine.
— Since the EU’s sanctions against Prigozhin’s mother were based solely on their familial relationship, a high EU court has declared them null and void. Her son started and owned the business until 2019, but the European Union put Violetta Prigozhina on the sanctions list as the “effective” owner of the Concord Management and Consulting LLC. Despite her continued ownership of some company shares, the General Court of Luxembourg ruled that she was no longer the owner of the company as of 2017.
— Power lines were threatened after Ukrainian drones allegedly dropped incendiary devices along a river embankment in the Russian-held city of Enerhodar, which is the main residential area for workers at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.