Hudson Institute

FLASH UPDATE: Ukraine Military Situation Report | Bakhmut Nearly Surrounded

Senior Fellow (Non-Resident)
A Ukrainian army artillery crew dismounts from a self-propelled 122mm Howlitzer after firing on a Russian position on February 18, 2023 near Bakhmut, Ukraine. The army's 93rd Brigade's heavy artillery is a main element of the Ukrainian defense of the city, which is under heavy attack by Russian forces. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
A Ukrainian army artillery crew dismounts from a self-propelled 122mm howitzer after firing on a Russian position on February 18, 2023, near Bakhmut, Ukraine. (John Moore/Getty Images)

This report first appeared as a part of Hudson's Re: Ukraine newsletter series. To subscribe, click here.

Below Hudson Senior Fellow Can Kasapoğlu offers a military situational report about the war in Ukraine.

Russia Takes Berkhivka Near Bakhmut

Open-source intelligence suggests that the Ukrainian defensive line in Berkhivka, northwest of Bakhmut, has just collapsed. The Russian offensive, consisting predominantly of Wagner elements, captured the town in recent hours. Notably, on February 23, Wagner’s shady chief, Yevgeny Prighozin, visited his units in the Bakhmut frontier.

This development was foreseeable for some time. A few days ago, Russians captured the high ground close to Berkhivka, gaining a notable elevation advantage. Defending a lowland area with such proximity to the adversary’s offensive push is difficult. War is still the prisoner of time and space.

Unless Ukraine undertakes a rapid, tactical counteroffensive, we are facing two developments: First, Bakhmut is nearly fully encircled, with the Russian offensive axes currently positioned in a large crescent around the city. Second, the only remaining patch unoccupied by the Russians is a six-kilometer-wide corridor to the west of the city between Yahnide and Ivanivske. Worse, there is only one major supply route left for the Ukrainian defensive, the T0504. Russian artillery has significant fire control over that road now.

The military implications of this development are twofold. First, Bakhmut is probably lost. Although a setback, this is nowhere near a catastrophe for Ukrainian forces. The next major Ukrainian line of defense is well prepared and extends along the east of the Slovyansk–Kramatorsk axis; the Russians still have some 20 to 30 kilometers to go before engaging that line. Second, the Russian capture of Bakhmut will come at an enormous price, marking almost a Pyrrhic victory. Russian casualties are mounting at high attrition rates.

The Ukrainian commander, General Valery Zaluzhny, now faces a stark choice. He might opt for saving his remaining units from full encirclement (and annihilation) by ordering a layered but rapid withdrawal from the city before the six-kilometer-wide corridor between Yahnide and Ivanivske closes. Alternatively, he can order his troops to stay and fight in the city, and while doing that, inflict the worst possible casualties on the Russian advance.

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