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Battle for Bakhmut

by Jess Williams (Workers GB Writers Group)

The Ukrainian government and NATO powers are at sixes and sevens about the strategic value – or dire consequences – of defending the city of Bakhmut, or as the Ukrainians now dub it ‘Fortress Bakhmut’.

Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, stressed that a Russian victory over Bakhmut would allow Russia to “continue an offensive” further into Ukraine. This view was practically echoed by Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who commented that such a scenario would leave an “open road” to the rest of the Donetsk province.

However, this view is contradicted by key representatives of NATO imperialism, likely in an effort to cope with what will be a brutal and humiliating defeat for Kiev. US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin commented: “If the Ukrainians decide to reposition [to the west of Bakhmut], I would not view that as an operational or strategic setback.” (FT’s interpretation)

The Financial Times (FT) is emphasising Bakhmut’s supposed “limited military importance”, again almost pre-empting the upcoming damage control task of the imperialist propaganda machine. NATO chief, Jens Stoltenburg, pre-empts the retreat claiming it would not become a “turning point” in the war.

However, Zelensky goes on to ignore the relatively wise advice of his NATO paymasters, as the FT reports: “…Zelensky has repeatedly said he would not sacrifice large numbers of his precious troops to hold Bakhmut, but he has not called for a retreat. In a statement on Monday, Zelensky’s office said his top generals had ‘spoke in favour of continuing the defensive operation.’”

Then, only in a matter of days Zelensky committed to a “[doubling] down” on a defence in Bakhmut, under pressure from his generals. This is confirmed by FT correspondent for Ukraine, Roman Olearchyk, “[i]n an overnight video address, Zelenskyy said he had met his top generals who had ‘unanimously’ advised ‘do not withdraw but reinforce’.” So much for “not [sacrificing] large numbers of his precious troops to hold Bakhmut”! 

What is clear is that the Battle of Bakhmut is a struggle of attrition. The struggle for control of the city entailed nine months of intense fighting between Moscow and Kiev. Lloyd Austin promises us that the “combat capability” would be greatly improved for Kiev. However, this promise is rather empty in the context of bottlenecked supply lines in NATO countries as well as the UK’s dwindling capacity to supply any military support whatsoever.

By committing to a suicidal ‘defence’ of the city of Bakhmut, Zelensky has sealed the fate of thousands of Ukrainian lives. He is not the hero but the enemy of the Ukrainian people. If he had a shred of concern for the lives of his “precious troops” he would order their immediate evacuation from Bakhmut and go straight to the negotiating table with the Russian armed forces to negotiate a peace. Either this happens, or the Ukrainian people will quickly realise who their true enemy is and purge it before it drags the Ukrainian country and people to the abyss. 

Some links:

Olearchyk, Roman. “Volodymyr Zelenskyy doubles down on defending city of Bakhmut.” Financial Times, 7 March 2023, https://www.ft.com/content/439aa6b0-2f3c-4eca-b81f-b7e9c8eb286f.

 “Military briefing: Ukraine’s battle of diminishing returns for Bakhmut.” Financial Times, 9 March 2023, https://www.ft.com/content/4ad0fddd-eba6-4b8a-86d2-df847919969a.

 “Bakhmut retreat would be no ‘setback’ for Ukraine, says US.” Financial Times, 6 March 2023, https://www.ft.com/content/b972701d-4165-48bc-8d7f-e737a3831ac0

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