The Battle for Bakhmut: Russia Claims Victory, but the Cost May Be Too High

Russia has claimed to have fully captured the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, with President Vladimir Putin congratulating his troops and the mercenary Wagner Group for taking the largely levelled eastern city.[0] However, Kyiv says it still controls part of the city.[1] Ukraine has heavily fortified the areas around the city of Bakhmut, and its forces are advancing on the suburbs for a possible flanking manoeuvre. From a strategic standpoint, winning in Bakhmut could potentially pave the way to the west, potentially reaching Kramatorsk – a city with approximately 150,000 residents prior to the war.[1] However, Western analysts have said that the conquest of Bakhmut is a pyrrhic victory for the Kremlin that has been won at a huge cost and diverted vital military resources from other parts of the Russian frontline which has become increasingly stretched.[2]

For a while now, Moscow has asserted that taking control of Bakhmut would serve as a crucial move in pushing further into the Donbas area that it maintains was annexed from Ukraine. The massive offensive failed to capture any significant ground elsewhere, making it the main focus of attack.[3] Even as Ukrainian fighters remain in Bakhmut, for all intents and purposes, the city is now effectively controlled by Russia.[2] Capturing Bakhmut is crucial for Russia to continue its incursion into Ukraine and accomplish Putin's goal of “liberating the Donbas.”

The battle for Bakhmut has revealed a deepening split between Wagner, a mercenary force that has recruited thousands of convicts from Russian prisons, and the regular Russian military.[3] In an attempt to bring about a symbolic triumph for Putin after months of inactivity, the Wagner Group, established by entrepreneur Yevgeny Prigozhin, has fought alongside Russian soldiers in Bakhmut.[4] The paramilitary organization is largely comprised of former convicts and was once viewed as a game changer for Russia.[4] The months of brutal and fierce combat in Bakhmut have produced ambiguous outcomes for Russia and Ukraine.[4]

As the Russian military lost face, the Wagner Group took on the fight for Bakhmut late last year.[1] The Kremlin's military analysts are optimistic about using Bakhmut as a starting point to seize control of the major cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, both of which are located on one of the Donbas region's primary railway intersections.[5] In order to accomplish its objective of seizing the whole Donetsk region, it must capture both cities.[5]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky likened the ruins of Ukraine's eastern city of Bakhmut with the destruction of Hiroshima in World War II, as he attended the Group of Seven summit in the Japanese city on Sunday.[6] To be frank, the sight of destroyed Hiroshima in photographs brings to mind Bakhmut and other alike towns.[6] “All the buildings are ruined and there is nothing left alive,” he informed the press.[7] Even though Bakhmut was not considered strategically important and had a small population of only 70,000 prior to the Kremlin's complete invasion, the conflict along the frontline has been concentrated on the town.[5] [5]

The attention will now shift towards Ukraine's impending counter-attack.[8] Hanna Malyar, the Deputy Defence Minister, stated that the Ukrainian troops are making progress by moving forward towards the suburbs on both sides and have partially surrounded the city. In the meantime, the Ukrainian army said although it only controls an “insignificant” part of the city, its forces are still advancing on the suburbs for a possible flanking manoeuvre.

0. “Ukraine's Zelensky denies that Russian forces are occupying Bakhmut” Axios, 21 May. 2023,

1. “Why is Bakhmut important in the Russia-Ukraine war?” Al Jazeera English, 21 May. 2023,

2. “Ukraine war: The Russians appear to have captured ‘kill box' Bakhmut – is this a turning point in the conflict?” Sky News, 21 May. 2023,

3. “Putin congratulates Russia troops, Wagner for ‘capturing Bakhmut’” Al Jazeera English, 21 May. 2023,

4. “Wagner Founder Faces ‘Disaster' in Ukraine Next Week, Ret. General Predicts” Newsweek, 21 May. 2023,

5. “Putin claims first battlefield victory in a year as Russian troops seize Bakhmut” The Telegraph, 21 May. 2023,

6. “Zelensky compares Bakhmut destruction to Hiroshima” CNN, 21 May. 2023,

7. “Zelensky likens Bakhmut's devastation to Hiroshima after World War II” The Jerusalem Post, 21 May. 2023,

8. “Has Bakhmut been captured?” Meduza, 21 May. 2023,

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