Russian forces could finally capture the city of Bakhmut “in the coming days,” predicts NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has made Bakhmut a focal point of his army for months. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday that taking control of the eastern Ukrainian city will give Moscow’s troops a chance to advance deeper inside Ukraine, although experts are skeptical of Russia’s approach.
Prior to a meeting with the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union on Wednesday, Stoltenberg addressed what he called a “critical time” for E.U. defense ministers, saying that “Russia’s war of aggression grinds on against Ukraine.”
“And over the last weeks and months, we have seen fierce fighting in and around Bakhmut, and what we see is that Russia is storming in more troops, more forces and what Russia lacks in quality, they try to make up in quantity,” Stoltenberg continued. “They have suffered big losses, but at the same time, we cannot rule out that Bakhmut may eventually fall in the coming days.”
Ukrainian servicemen on Wednesday fire with a 105-mm howitzer toward Russian positions near the city of Bakhmut. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the eastern Ukrainian city “may eventually fall” to Russian forces “in the coming days.” Aris Messinis / AFP via Getty
U.S. intelligence estimates that for every 10 soldiers Russia sends to the front lines, only three remain unscathed. Another NATO official previously told CNN that Moscow’s troops are losing at least five soldiers for every Ukrainian solider killed in defense of Bakhmut.
On Wednesday, Stoltenberg said Russia’s hypothetical success in the region “does not necessarily reflect any turning point of the war and it just highlights that we should not underestimate Russia.”
Despite the intense losses, Russia seems determined to capture the city. Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s first deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, previously told Newsweek that there was “no way to liberate Donbas without capturing Bakhmut and I know that liberation of Donbas is one of the tasks of our military operation.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also reaffirmed Monday that he would not be withdrawing troops from the city, adding that Ukrainian command “unanimously supported this position.”
British intelligence assessed on Wednesday that Russian command may attempt to launch a fresh attack in the Vuhledar region as “a key way to achieve an operationally significant breakthrough in Ukraine’s lines.” Denis Pushilin, Russia’s leader in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, previously said that capturing the Vuhledar region could be crucial for Russia’s success in its invasion of Ukraine.
On Wednesday, Zelensky said during his nightly address that the fight over Bakhmut was Ukraine’s “first priority.”
“We are doing everything to ensure that our tactical steps contribute to the strategic goal—the success of Ukraine in the battle for the entire temporarily occupied territory of our state,” he added.
Newsweek has reached out to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense for comment.