The AtlanticThe Atlantic

What the battle in Bakhmut has done for Ukraine

By Phillips Payson O’Brien, Mykola Bielieskov

22 Apr 2023 · 5 min read

Editor's Note

The Atlantic argues that Ukraine's extension of the battle for Bakhmut, while criticized as needlessly destructive, is in fact rooted in a solid strategic understanding.

For many months now, Ukrainian and Russian forces have been waging a bloody battle over what might look like the most insignificant of locations. On tiny patches of land around small cities in the Donbas region—such as Avdiivka, Vuhledar, and, most famously, Bakhmut—the combat has been so intense that many Western commentators and outlets have been second-guessing and criticizing the Ukrainian government’s insistence on continuing to fight in those areas. According to documents included in the recent Discord leak, U.S. intelligence officials have been warning Kyiv for months to withdraw from Bakhmut. Far better, the skeptics’ argument goes, for the Ukrainians to pull out of the cities and take up new, more easily defended positions in the countryside, leaving the Russians—who seem willing to devote enormous quantities of soldiers and equipment to the fight—only small gains of little military value. Some observers even claim that, in holding on to Bakhmut, the Ukrainians might be jeopardizing their expected counteroffensive, in part by using so many munitions to defend the city.

But Ukraine does not have the luxury of choosing where it has to fight, precisely because it is preparing a counteroffensive. As it seeks to roll back the Russian forces that advanced farther into Ukrainian territory in last year’s Battle of the Donbas, Ukraine needs some time to master a wide variety of new equipment provided by its European allies and the United States, while simultaneously wearing down Russian troops and equipment.

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