Russia is throwing much of its resources into trying to take Bakhmut but the city in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine would only give Moscow’s forces a “symbolic” rather than strategic prize, British defense officials have said.
The U.K. Ministry of Defence (MOD) said on Saturday that Russia is investing much of its firepower along a roughly ten mile-long sector of the entrenched front line around the city, which has been hard-fought over for months.
The defense officials said that Russia was likely planning to encircle Bakhmut with tactical advances to the north and south.
Russian troops had made small advances on the southern axis of the assault, where they are trying to consolidate limited bridgeheads to the west of the boggy ground around the Bakhmutka River, the MOD said.
The offensive has been Russia’s priority since early August but the capture of the town “would have limited operational value,” although it could be a staging post to threatening the larger urban areas of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, officials added.
“The campaign has been disproportionately costly relative to these possible gains,” the defense officials said. “There is a realistic possibility that Bakhmut’s capture has become primarily a symbolic, political objective for Russia.”
Newsweek has contacted the Russian defense ministry for comment on the MOD assessment which emphasizes Ukrainian gains and Russian losses.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a U.S. think tank, said on Friday that Russian forces had only made “minimal advances” around Bakhmut while Ukraine’s General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces had repelled Moscow’s assaults near the area.
The ISW had previously assessed that Russia was undertaking a “high-cost effort” to take the city which was only “of limited operational significance.”
Former British military intelligence officer Philip Ingram recently told Newsweek that Bakhmut had “almost become an accidental main effort for Russia” because of the belief in Moscow that their forces could break through the Ukrainian lines.
“However, the Ukrainians have had a say and stopped them,” he said, adding that Russia’s fixation on the area could allow Ukraine to stage an effective counteroffensive elsewhere.
The ISW has predicted that Russia will continue to target Ukrainian critical infrastructure as long as its weapons can make an impact.
However, the think tank noted that the boost in Western-provided air defense systems to Ukraine are prompting the Russian pro-war community to question whether Moscow’s missile campaign was sustainable.
Pro-Kremlin military bloggers have previously raised concerns about the HIMARS M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, which has been supplied to Kyiv by Washington.
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