- Russia is under increasing political pressure to capture Bakhmut by February 24, UK intel said.
- It’s “likely” that Russia will claim victory there regardless of the reality on the ground, it said.
- Analysts say that Russia will struggle to seize Bakhmut by the first anniversary of the Ukraine war.
As the first anniversary of the war in Ukraine approaches, Russia is increasingly under pressure to claim a big victory, notably the capture of the important city of Bakhmut, according to the UK Ministry of Defence.
The ministry said in an intelligence update on Monday that no matter how the fight for the city is faring, Russia intends to declare a victory there by February 24, or the country’s leadership faces the risk of increasing domestic tensions.
“It is likely that Russia will claim that Bakhmut has been captured to align with the anniversary, regardless of the reality on the ground,” the MoD said.
—Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) February 20, 2023
Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region, has been besieged and effectively ruined by Russian forces since the onset of the war in Ukraine. Late last year, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy said it had been reduced to “burned ruins.”
Russian forces have been trying to encircle the city for months, but fierce Ukrainian opposition has held them back.
Nonetheless, fierce fighting in Bakhmut has resulted in heavy casualties on both sides, with one American fighting alongside the Ukrainian army telling ABC News that the average lifespan on the frontline there is “four hours.”
The UK intelligence update added that Russia is continuing to pursue several offensive axes in eastern Ukraine, with casualties reportedly remaining high in Bakhmut.
Last week, a UK Ministry of Defence intelligence update said that Russia had been suffering its highest rate of casualties since the start of the war. It attributed the uptick in casualties to a lack of trained personnel, coordination, and resources in both Vuhledar, also in the Donetsk region, and Bakhmut.
The Institute for the Study of War think tank said on Thursday that Russia is unlikely to meet its first-anniversary deadline because its forces do not appear to be “quickening their rate of advance around Bakhmut.”
It added that a possible hope for Russian forces is that Ukraine could decide to voluntarily withdraw from the city, which it added would be possible if Ukrainian forces determine that the costs associated with holding Bakhmut are too high.
On Sunday, Zelenskyy suggested that Ukraine is prepared to weigh up the importance of holding the city. He said it was important for Ukraine to defend Bakhmut “but not at any price and not for everyone to die.”
But military analyst Oleksandr Kovaleno, of the Ukrainian think tank Information Resistance , told Reuters that “there are no grounds at this time” for Ukraine to leave Bakhmut, because it is not yet encircled.