Russian forces are depleted in Bakhmut, a senior general in Kiev said, and a Ukrainian counteroffensive is likely to begin soon, raising the prospect of an unexpected turnaround in the besieged city.
Oleksandr Sersky, the commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, said on his Telegram channel on Thursday:[Russians] They lose great powers [in Bakhmut] And they run out of energy.”
“Very soon we will take advantage of this opportunity, as we did in the past near Kiev, Kharkiv, Balaklia and Kubyansk,” he said.
His comments come days after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprise trip to the front lines in the Donetsk region, and will raise hopes in the West that Kiev’s controversial decision to keep troops in Bakhmut will bear fruit.
A counterattack seemed an unlikely possibility for several weeks, as forces from Russia’s Wagner mercenary group bombarded Bakhmut and came close to capturing the city.
But that effort has come at a significant cost in manpower and resources, and now appears to have slowed.
A spokesman for the Eastern Gathering of Armed Forces, Serhiy Cherifati, said later on Thursday that Russian forces had launched more than 200 attacks on the region in the past 24 hours alone, but were losing hundreds of men every day in their endeavor. CNN is unable to verify these numbers.
Another area that saw heavy fire was to the northeast of Bakhmut, Cherevatyi said, on the front line running north from the town of Kremina.
Speaking on Ukrainian television on Friday, Chervaty said, “It’s not like that [Wagner] They withdraw, but due to heavy losses they have to be reinforced by units of the regular army of the Russian Federation, primarily by the Airborne Forces.
He added that Russian forces in the area “launch dozens of attacks every day. There were 32 gunfights during the last day” in and around Bakhmut. He said there were also air strikes by fixed-wing aircraft and attack helicopters, but added that “artillery is a much greater factor of influence on military operations there than aviation.”
On Thursday, the Ukrainian National Resistance Center – an official body – said that Wagner’s mercenaries began deporting residents of the suburbs of Bakhmut, which they control.
The militants take the local population by force to the captured areas of the Luhansk region, where they are nominated. After that, they are deported to Perm (Russia) and other remote regions of the Russian Federation. “The local population is deported with the intention of evacuation. Afterwards, they are absorbed into remote regions of the empire, because they are now dependent on the occupiers.” The center’s claim could not be verified.
Ground forces commander Sersky’s optimism reflects an update Wednesday from the Ukrainian Army’s General Staff, who said in a statement that while Bakhmut is still expected to see heavy fighting, Russia’s “offensive potential is diminishing” there.
“The enemy continues to try to capture the city, losing a great deal of manpower, weapons and military equipment,” it said on Wednesday.
Western intelligence strikes a similar tone. “The pace of Russian operations around Bakhmut appears to be slowing,” the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) wrote in its Wednesday update on the conflict.
But this shift may also signal a change in Russia’s priorities. “There is a realistic possibility that the Russian offensive on the town is losing the limited momentum it has had, in part due to the reallocation of some units of the Russian Ministry of Defense to other sectors,” Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday.
Zelensky distributed awards to the forces defending Bakhmut during a morale-boosting trip on Wednesday. “It is an honor to support our warriors who are defending the country in the most difficult circumstances on the front line,” he later said in his nightly address.
The Ukrainian forces’ long resistance could justify his decision to ignore some Western calls for a tactical retreat from Bakhmut as the Russian offensive approached.
“This is tactical for us,” Zelensky told CNN earlier this month, outlining his decision-making method and insisting that Kyiv’s military officers are united in prolonging their defense of the city.
We understand that after Bakhmut they can go further. They can go to Kramatorsk, they can go to Sloviansk, the way will be open for the Russians after Bakhmut to other cities of Ukraine, in the direction of Donetsk.
On Friday, the Ukrainian authorities said that a city located 20 km west of Bakhmut was also under increasing bombardment from Russian missiles.
Authorities said three people were killed in a Russian missile attack Thursday night on the city of Kostantinivka in the Donetsk region.