Russia’s ongoing offensive around Bakhmut has cost Moscow between 20,000-30,000 casualties, with the private security contractor Wagner Group sustaining the majority of the losses in human-wave assaults against entrenched Ukrainian positions.
For its part, Ukraine has opted to defend the city rather than pulling out, with President Volodymyr Zelensky publicly stating recently that Ukrainian forces would bolster troops numbers in the region. Russian efforts to undertake a renewed offensive in early-2023 have so far stalled, with any capture of Bakhmut offering a tactical but not strategic victory, according to western officials.
It is unclear what casualties the Ukrainian forces have sustained in defending the city, with ratios varying from around one-third to that of Russia, out to one-tenth and beyond. It can realistically be determined that Ukrainian forces will have suffered thousands of personnel wounded and killed in action in the action around Bakhmut.
It is understood that Russia’s Wagner Group has been particularly hard hit, with rudimentary tactics and poorly trained operators, many of whom have been recruited from Russian prisons, contributing to the loss of life in the offensive. Recruitment from prisons has been discontinued, with claims that there are not enough prisoners still incarcerated to backfill personnel gaps in any new recruitment drive.
Russian Army support to Wagner has been limited in recent weeks as a result of ammunition supply shortages, with stockpiles dwindling, it was claimed. Reinforcements to the Bakhmut offensive also appear to be replacing losses rather than any new troop build up, with Russia having to ensure adequate coverage across its entire 1,200km frontline in eastern Ukraine.
Bakhmut itself is effectively surrounded on three sides by Russian forces, with Ukrainian forces conducting limited withdrawals inside the urban area, in a process that sees the trading of space for time, stated western officials. The defensive action, in a city of limited strategic value, appears to be being considered as an opportunity to inflict significant casualties on Russian forces assaulting the area.
Support continues for Ukrainian forces
Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces continue training at a number of sites in Europe as NATO looks to assist Ukraine in the creation of a new cadre able to conduct combined arms operations, integrating the main battle tanks (MBT) and armoured and infantry fighting vehicles donated to Kyiv in recent months.
The UK has begun training Ukrainian forces on the use of the Challenger 2 MBT and has trained up to 10,000 new Ukrainian soldiers in infantry combat skills. Other NATO countries have followed suit with their own training efforts, in coordination or cooperation with allies.
While support for the continued support of Ukraine is generally strong across NATO countries, the Alliance’s militaries continue to make observations of the performance of Russian forces in the now one-year-old war.
Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on 1 March, Christine Wormuth, Secretary of the US Army, said that while Russia had performed “poorly” on the battlefield in Ukraine, the threat to Europe existing beyond any potential cessation of hostilities between Kyiv and Moscow.
“If you look at the track record of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and Russia, they went into Georgia in 2008, and into Ukraine for the first time in 2014. However the war in Ukraine resolves itself in the next year or two, I think we have to think very seriously and be very concerned about the possibility that Putin will try again to retake territory in Ukraine,” Wormuth said.