Battle of Bakhmut reveals Russia’s fault lines in Ukraine war

battle of bachmut russia ukraine war

Sergey Shestak/AFP via Getty

Soldiers of the Ukrainian Volunteer Army hold their positions on the front line near Bakhmut in the Donetsk region March 11, 2023 amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The current focus of the Russo-Ukrainian war is on Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

The Battle for the City started in summer 2022, continues unabated. The battle has turned from a dubious immediate strategic benefit for Russia into one that has been fought to the end symbolize his war effort. It also highlights the current shortcomings in the Russian armed forces.

Symbolism is nothing new in warfare. The Battle of Stalingrad, while having strategic calculations, was also important Adolf Hitler’s fixation to its symbolic value.

Symbolic acts can also have strategic influence beyond their immediate military concerns. The problem is when symbolism overtakes sound strategy.

“Full restoration” of the territory

From a purely military point of view, Bakhmut does not significantly change the war. For Ukraine, however, Bakhmut’s defense is consistent with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s arguments that he will not accept anything less than that full restoration his country.

Despite Russia superior military capabilitiesHe hasn’t been able to take the city yet.

Urban Warfare favors defenders because they have an intimate knowledge of the terrain that attackers don’t have. Also, if an army needs it artillery and tactical bombing To the extent that the Russian army does so, it risks constructing new enemy defenses in the rubble of the others it has destroyed.

That’s a lesson the Russian army had to learn relearn several times, especially in Chechnyaand forgotten again.

To overcome these problems, An army must rely on its infantry and the initiative of its officers to achieve victory. This is not possible with the Russian armed forces, with their centralized command system, declining morale and miserable equipment standards.

heart of russia?

Nonetheless, Bakhmut has become the focus of Russian efforts.

Russia’s arguments for the war in Ukraine – including whether it actually regards the conflict as a war at all – have shifted over time. A common thread, however, is that the invasion was aimed at protecting Ethnic Russian-speaking population of Ukraine.

Bakhmut is located in the Donetsk People’s Republic, an area of ​​Ukraine with a significant ethnic Russian population.

At least for Russia to claim victory, it must control the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. These two entities are located in the Donbass, a region of cultural importance to Russian identity. Soviet propaganda from the 1920s actually identified the region as the heart of Russia.

As a result, Russian President Vladimir Putin is less likely to suffer setbacks in the region.

studies to how the war is affecting Putin’s popularity are admittedly problematic.
What is known, however, is that Putin is dependent on support by Russian nationalists to assert its position, and taking Donbass is vital to that base.

For this reason, Russia continues its efforts in Bakhmut and the surrounding region, despite claims by Ukraine in between 10,000 to 20,000 Russian soldiers died there.

These losses are compounded by divisions within Russia’s political establishment.

Putin managed to establish a system in which overlapping responsibilities means that he ultimately acts as the arbiter of power. While this system is effective in maintaining Putin’s position in Russian politics, it has some serious drawbacks.

The Wagner Group

This is most evident with a private military company called the Wagner Group. It was created by Russia as a means to do so undertake military operations abroad while maintaining a plausible denial.

However, the Russia-Ukraine war took its toll on the Wagner group a de facto branch of the regular armed forces of Russia.

The leader of the Wagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, recognizes that the organization’s success will bring him personal power in Russia.

To achieve this goal, he has gone to extremes to turn what was once a highly skilled force into a reliable force human wave tactics and deployment former prisoners.

Human Wave tactics involve an army sending large numbers of soldiers to overwhelm an opponent’s defenses and cause the attacker to suffer due to their nature significant losses.

However, the rapid expansion of the Wagner Group requires significantly more resources than in the past.

The supply needs of the Wagner Group put them in direct competition with the Russian Army. Prigozhin has publicly condemned Russian army officers, claiming they are not provide enough his powers. The Russian armed forces, understandably reject this argument given their own supply problems.

mutual dislike

The result of this competition is two nominally allied armies quickly trying to succeed in a battle that requires patience and precision.

one is liberal use of explosives and the other soldier life to gain victory. The lack of effectiveness of both tactics has promoted each other hatred between the parties.

The Battle of Bakhmut thus epitomizes Russia’s ill-planned adventure in Ukraine. Even if Russian forces succeed in taking Bakhmut, the losses suffered and the divisions they created within the forces will hang like a specter over their efforts for the remainder of the war.The conversation

By James HorncastleAssistant Professor and Edward and Emily McWhinney Professor of International Relations, Simon Fraser University

This article is republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. read this original article. Battle of Bakhmut reveals Russia’s fault lines in Ukraine war

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