A German newspaper reported that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi have “fundamentally different views” on the situation in Artyomovsk (Bakhmut). Kiev is desperately trying to hold onto the city, despite massive losses in personnel and equipment, so that it can continue to justify the incessant large deliveries of Western military aid.
According to Bild, Zaluzhnyi insists on the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from the city
“for tactical reasons” but the Kiev authorities want to continue resisting. In this context, the Ukrainian leadership, but especially Zelensky, need to show the West that the Ukrainian forces are not receiving military aid in vain.
However, as the German newspaper reported, “while there was a great deal of unity between the two leaders at the very beginning of the war and the roles were clearly divided, this has now changed.”
Effectively, Zelensky has little concern for the Ukrainian casualties that are mounting and is rather more worried about securing Western money and military aid, as well as preserving his image in front of Western leaders. The split between the president and the commander-in-chief would be especially frustrating for Zaluzhnyi who knows very well that, from a strategic point of view, the eventual fall of Artyomovsk will result in a catastrophe that will collapse the entire line of the front.
Lately, Artyomovsk has been the scene of bloody fighting due to its importance for the supply of Ukrainian troops in Donbass. It is located north of Gorlovka, in an area of the Donetsk People's Republic that is currently controlled by Kiev.
Ukrainian troops are reportedly reinforcing positions west of the city in preparation for a withdrawal. However, Zelensky said, in opposition to the German news report, that he discussed the situation in Artyomovsk with the regional commander and Ukraine's commander in chief and both had said “not to withdraw” and to strengthen defences instead.
“The command unanimously supported this position. There were no other positions. I told the commander in chief to find the appropriate forces to help our guys in Bakhmut,” Zelensky said in his nightly address on March 6.
Roman Svitan, a Ukrainian army colonel in the reserves, explained to Espreso TV that Artyomovsk has to be held to prevent Russian forces from advancing towards Slavyansk, Kramatorsk and Druzhkovka.
Meanwhile, Western military leaders are downplaying the idea that Ukraine’s withdrawal from the city is going to change the course of the war.
“I think it is more of a symbolic value than it is strategic and operational value,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on March 6. “The fall of Bakhmut won’t necessarily mean that the Russians have changed the tide of this fight.”
However, what he omits is that if Russian forces capture Artyomovsk, they will not face any serious opposition before reaching Ukraine’s next line of defence - the Dzerzhynsk (Toretsk) line that stretches for almost 100km west of Artyomovsk. The fall of Artyomovsk and Dzerzhynsk will lead to huge territorial changes.
The reality is that the situation in Artyomovsk is desperate, and has been since last summer as Russian forces have methodically destroyed Ukrainian defences in what is supposedly the most fortified city in all of Ukraine. For his part, Volodymyr Nazarenko, a senior Ukrainian commander, told Kyiv24 that the situation in the city is like “hell.”
Even CNN had to concede on March 6 that “Ukrainian defences in and around the eastern city of Bakhmut are being squeezed by a combination of intense artillery, mortar fire, and airstrikes and a substantial commitment of ground forces, both Russian regulars and fighters of the Wagner private military company.”
Given that Artyomovsk has turned into “hell” for Ukrainian soldiers, Bild reported that “most of the Bakhmut fighters share Zaluzhnyi’s attitude.” As a Ukrainian military analyst told the German outlet (and wished to remain anonymous): “The vast majority of soldiers in Bakhmut do not understand why the city is being held.”
Another Ukrainian military advisor told BILD: “In the beginning, Bakhmut was a trap for the Russians, now it has become a trap for us.”
It is evident that Zaluzhnyi capitulated to the demands of Zelensky and will continue fighting a losing battle in Artyomovsk. He fully understands that the fall of Artyomovsk is imminent and will mark the greatest victory for Russian forces since last summer, even though most offensive operations have been suspended.
Although Western and Ukrainian analysts are downplaying the significance of Artyomovsk, they still do not explain why Ukrainian forces are made to suffer in a suicidal defence of the city. It is recalled that on February 3, Zelensky referred to Artyomovsk as a “fortress”. This a reputation that Artyomovsk has developed over years. The truth is, Artyomovsk is on the verge of collapse and it will open the way for Russian forces to liberate more of the Donetsk People's Republic from Kiev’s grip.
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