Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky visited Bakhmut on Sunday and said the situation is difficult but under control.
By Matthew Mpoke Bigg
April 10, 2023
The New York Times
Russian forces are using scorched earth tactics in their attempt to capture the battered city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, using airstrikes and artillery fire to destroy any buildings and positions held by the city’s Ukrainian defenders, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces said Monday.
Ukrainian forces are under severe pressure in the city, which is already mostly in ruins, as fires sweep through buildings and soldiers fight in fierce, block-by-block combat. In recent weeks, Russia has advanced in villages to the north and south of Bakhmut and fought fierce battles in the city center itself. But after visiting one of “the hottest areas of the front line” in Bakhmut, the Ukrainian commander, Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, said that while the situation is difficult for Kyiv’s forces, it remains under control. “The enemy has switched to so-called Syrian scorched-earth tactics,” he said, according to a statement from the Ukrainian military’s media center, referring to Russia’s intervention in that country’s civil war. “They are destroying buildings and positions with airstrikes and artillery fire. The defense of Bakhmut continues. The situation is difficult, but under control,” he said. The commander visited the city on Sunday, the statement said.
Russia has been a dominant military force in Syria since 2015, when President Vladimir V. Putin sent several thousand Russian troops and aircraft into the country, destroying towns and cities with airstrikes and turning the tide of the Syrian civil war in the Assad regime’s favor.
The battle for Bakhmut is one of the longest-running and most lethal of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia’s assault on the city in the Donetsk region began last summer and has since taken on a symbolic significance for both sides that goes beyond its immediate strategic value. Both sides have poured in troops and sustained high numbers of casualties, though military experts say that casualties have been higher for Russian forces than for Ukrainian.
Gen. Syrsky said that the fighting had effectively exhausted the Russian mercenary group, Wagner, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin. As a result, Russian military commanders were now deploying large numbers of special forces and airborne assault units in the fight for Bakhmut, he said. The claims have not been independently verified.
A cache of leaked Pentagon documents circulating online portrays the Russian military as running out of steam, short on men and equipment and facing a stalemate. But Wagner — known for its skill on the battlefield, its army of former prisoners and its murder of at least one perceived traitor with a sledgehammer — remains a potent force, the documents say. Signs of setbacks for Ukraine’s forces point to losses of most of the city of Bakhmut. Last week, Wagner forces raised a flag over the ruins of the City Hall.
As Russian forces have slowly advanced on Bakhmut’s outskirts, Ukrainian military officials said their forces had managed to fend off Russian attempts to take or damage two key access roads, the T504 highway and a route known as the 506. Six weeks after the start of a Ukrainian operation to reinforce supply lines outside Bakhmut and protect the roads, Ukrainian military officials said they had thwarted, at least for now, a Russian effort to sever those roads and surround the city. Ukrainian commanders decided to reinforce the defenses of the roads rather than retreat, according to the leaked documents. Ukraine’s army deployed many soldiers to the fight
for Bakhmut that it had hoped to hold in reserve for a counteroffensive anticipated in the coming weeks or months, and its forces have sustained heavy casualties.
Matthew Mpoke Bigg is a correspondent covering international news. He previously worked as a reporter, editor and bureau chief for Reuters and did postings in Nairobi, Abidjan, Atlanta, Jakarta and Accra.