Bakhmut or bust
Ukraine pulls out of all but 'insignificant' sliver of Bakhmut, pivots to encircling Russian forces
Russia's Wagner Group paramilitary forces captured all but an "insignificant" corner of Bakhmut from Ukrainian defenders, Ukrainian Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky said Sunday, a day after Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin declared victory in the decimated town. But Ukrainian forces continued their advances on the northern and southern flanks of Bakhmut and are "close to tactically encircling the city," Syrsky added. Ukraine's control of the high ground around Bakhmut will allow it to defend vital supply lines, shell Russian forces inside the ruins of the city, and prevent further advances westward, analysts said.
The nine-month battle for Bakhmut was the bloodiest of Russia's war on Ukraine, and Russia's state-run Channel 1 declared "mission accomplished" on Sunday, comparing Wagner's capture of Bakhmut to the Soviet army's capture of Berlin in World War II. Russian ultranationalist military bloggers also "celebrated the alleged capture of Bakhmut but emphasized that 'Bakhmut is not Berlin' and that the capture of the city would be simply another step in ongoing difficult operations to achieve Russian objectives in Ukraine," the Institute for the Study of War reported.
"Who has won and who has lost isn't measured, however, in current control over the uninhabitable ruins that are left from Bakhmut, a once prosperous city of 70,000 people," The Wall Street Journal assesses. "The answer will depend on the outcome of Ukraine's planned offensive — which hinges, in part, on whether Ukrainian or Russian military capacity has been degraded more severely" in Bakhmut.
Ukrainian military officials say their controversial defense of Bakhmut was largely about pinning down Russian forces and inflicting heavy losses to destroy as much of the Russian and Wagner armies as possible while preventing them from advancing elsewhere along the war's long front line. Both sides lost thousands of troops in the fight, but Russia's losses are projected to be catastrophic. Wagner alone lost about 10,000 fighters since December, the U.S. estimates.
"The Russians have kept advancing by simply leveling the city, building by building," a Ukrainian company commander in Bakhmut who backed pulling out of the city until the tide turned in April told the Journal. "They kept pushing, and we kept destroying them."