- Russian forces and Wagner Group mercenaries are thought to be incurring severe casualties in the ongoing battle for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
- According to British diplomat Ian Stubbs, between 20,000 and 30,000 Russian personnel have been killed or wounded around the city since May 2022.
- Ukrainian leaders are refusing to surrender Bakhmut out of what they say is military necessity, while preparing a counter-offensive that is expected to begin in the next two months.
A British diplomat has said that hundreds of Russian soldiers are being killed for every kilometer of ground seized around the city of Bakhmut. For months, it has been one of the hottest portions of the 600-mile front.
Ian Stubbs, a senior military adviser within the British delegation to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, spoke to Ukrinform on the sidelines of the Security Co-operation Forum in Vienna on Wednesday. He said that Moscow’s troops and their Wagner Group mercenary compatriots are taking high casualties in the “intensive combat” in Donetsk region.
“Over the past week, we have seen intensive combat as Russia continues its grinding offensive in the Donbas,” Stubbs added. “Russia is suffering extremely heavy casualty rates.
“Since May last year, between 20,000 and 30,000 Wagner and regular Russian forces have been killed and wounded in the area around Bakhmut alone; a huge loss of human life for a total territorial advance of approximately just 25 kilometers [15.5 miles],” he said.
Ukrainian serviceman stands in front of a 105mm howitzer near Bakhmut, on March 8, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Fighting around the city has led to very heavy casualties for several months. ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images
Such a toll means “over 800 Russian personnel killed or wounded for each kilometer gained, the vast majority of them Wagner fighters,” Stubbs added.
Oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, who owns and operates the Wagner Group, “is finding it increasingly difficult to resupply what he has termed the ‘meat grinder’ in eastern Ukraine… Everyone can see the truth. Russia’s military and its defense industry are failing in Ukraine,” Stubbs said.
Neither Russia nor Ukraine regularly publishes casualty figures. Moscow has only confirmed the deaths of some 6,000 troops fighting in Ukraine. Kyiv claims to have killed more than 162,000 Russians since February 24, 2022, while Western estimates range up to around 200,000 Russian dead and wounded.
Western officials have also said that Ukraine may have lost up to 100,000 soldiers killed in more than a year of fighting.
Newsweek has contacted the Russian Defense Ministry by email to request comment.
Members of a Ukrainian special forces unit gather in the woods near Bakhmut, in the region of Donbas, on March 15, 2023. A British diplomat has said that hundreds of Russian soldiers being killed for every kilometer of ground around the city. ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images
The Battle of Bakhmut is now more than seven months old. It has become indicative of Russia’s inability to translate mammoth human resources into battlefield success.
Casualties are believed to be high on both sides. The Ukrainian leadership has come under criticism for its refusal to surrender the town, despite the slow encroachment of Russian units around it.
President Volodymyr Zelensky and his top officials have said that Bakhmut is being held and reinforced for military, not political, reasons. A Russian seizure of Bakhmut would open the way to subsequent assaults on the Donbas cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. These are two key objectives of the Russian spring offensive, which seeks to complete the occupation of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
Former Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk told Newsweek that Kyiv’s “military leadership is absolutely certain it is worthwhile; it is not a political decision, it is a military decision. I am certain it is very difficult but there cannot be easy decisions on the war.”
“We cannot fully understand the details as such decisions are made using all available details of intelligence and operational campaign planning,” Zagorodnyuk said.
“However, it is clear that, unless the remainder of Russian capability is not blocked in Bakhmut, they will swiftly focus on other areas in Donbas, which might impact a huge amount of civilians living there and perhaps preparations for the future counter-offensive.”
The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi, said in a statement posted to the military’s Telegram channel on Wednesday that the “enemy continues making unsuccessful attempts to encircle the city and move forward.”
Ukrainian defenders, Syrskyi added, “resist the furious pressure of the enemy. Thanks to their work, enemy tanks, IFVs [infantry fighting vehicles], MLRS [multiple-launch rocket system], and ammo depots fly up into the air.”
“Such decisive actions of our army greatly exhaust and demoralize the enemy and bring our victory closer,” Syrskyi said.
While resisting Russia’s slow advances along the front lines, Ukrainian troops are preparing their own spring counter-offensive. Presidential office adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said last week that Kyiv expects its effort to begin in the next two months.
Ukraine’s leaders hope that their units will by then be reinforced by NATO heavy and light armor, on which Ukrainian crews are currently being trained in NATO nations.