Wars often throw up illusory wins for megalomaniacs. Bakhmut is one such win. As Russia and the mercenary Wagner Group gloated over the fall of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, after 10 months of fierce fighting, the battle seems over for now. Russia’s losses are so huge that they will outstrip its psychological gains from Bakhmut. Clearly, Bakhmut is nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory for Russia’s dictator. What happens now on will not be to Russia’s liking.

The Most Drawn-Out Battle

Bakhmut is a bubbly town, literally. The city houses Artwinery, one of eastern Europe’s largest makers of sparkling wine. This may tempt rejoicing Russian forces and the Wagner Group to rush into a victory bash. However, they would do well to drown their Pyrrhic victory in crates of sparkling wine, minus the sparkle. Bakhmut is sure to figure in the history of wars as the only fallen city which came with the bubbly for the rejoicing Pyrrhic victor. https://www.nytimes.com/live/2023/05/22/world/russia- ukraine-bakhmut-news

Bakhmut is Pyrrhic victory for obvious reasons. The battle for Bakhmut was a replay of Verdun. It is the most drawn-out battle in the Ukraine war, most fiercely fought by Russia and its bloodiest. Against Ukraine’s modest loss of 40,000 dead in Bakhmut, Russia’s corresponding losses were in excess of 100,000 dead, since the siege began in July 2022. American president Joe Biden believes the figures are true and endorses them. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/us-believes-russians- ukraine-have-suffered-100000-casualties-5-months-2023-05-01/

Video Courtesy: YouTube/CNN

Fallacy to Equate with Verdun

Before the onset of the Ukraine war, the southeastern city of Bakhmut housed 70,000. Today, the city stands wiped out, totally ravaged and in ruins. Considering the huge deployment of forces in Bakhmut, both by Russia and Ukraine, the aggregate dead and wounded is estimated to be in excess of 70,000. The Russian share in this loss is staggering. A NATO source says Russia lost five times more soldiers than Ukraine. https://poliphoon.com/russia-ukraine-and-verdun/

Convinced historians aver that it is fallacy to compare the battle of Bakhmut with Verdun, where the loss of lives was just around 0.7m. Yet, branding Bakhmut as Ukraine War’s Verdun is not totally out of place. For the simple reason that Russia’s losses in Bakhmut far execeed its gains. Just like it happened to the Germans in Verdun. Perhaps this is why Ukraine is hesitating to declare the fall of Bakhmut and Russia’s deemed victory. https://www.bangkokpost.com/world/2505260/its- like-verdun-the-grinding-battle-for-ukraines-bakhmut

Puzzle Births More Questions

Bakhmut has been won, but the victory will sap Russia so much that it will not be able to launch successful offensives elsewhere in Ukraine tomorrow. Strategists argue that Ukraine chose to prolong the fight in Bakhmut with this objective in mind. Russia too chose the same strategy for the same objective. A Wagner mercenary claims now that Russia lured Ukraine into the Bakhmut “meat grinder” to bleed the latter to the point of final surrender and capitulation. https://www.politico.eu/article/russia-throws-more-soldiers- bakhmut-donetsk-region-ukraine-war-ahead-vladimir-putin- victory-day-parade/

As weakening of the enemy was the common strategy, it is easy now to understand why the war has been dragging on. Little surprising that the battle for Bakhmut turned attritional. What remains unexplained is why did both the sides fight so fiercely for a small sliver of frontline stretching across mere 600 miles. The puzzle gives birth to more questions. Why did Russia opt not to attack strategic Ukrainian fortresses of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk? https://poliphoon.com/russia- ukraine-and-verdun/

This is the Bakhmut Shock

Why did Russian president Vladimir Putin choose not to widen his Zaporizhzhia gains? Why did Russia opt not to send Wagner to push the Ukrainian army away from occupied Donetsk? Simple, Russia was obsessed with Bakhmut because of Wagner founder chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s personal ambitions. Mr Prigozhin was desperate for a victory to push himself up. Thus, he forced Russia willy-nilly into a hopeless attritional war in Bakhmut. https://carnegieendowment.org/politika/89008

This is the Bakhmut Shock. For selfish reasons, Mr Prigozhin has made Russia lose thousands of soldiers. He has got now what he wanted. As a bonus, even congratulatory messages from Mr Putin. Though Bakhmut’s fall does not really help Ukraine get advanced weapons from the West, it has sent a strong message to Russia: if it tries to capture fortified Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, it will have to lose lives on a large scale.

Facing Vexatious Questions

Worse, Mr Putin is worried about Bakhmut repeating itself. Simply, he is not ready for a Bakhmut redux. He is a distressed man today for multiple reasons. The way the Ukraine war has progressed to date, he does not know how it will turn tomorrow. Nor does he know when could the much-talked-about Ukrainian counter-offensive happen? He is desperate to know who is protecting Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky on his numerous foreign trips?

Mr Putin is facing more vexatious questions. Who is likely to aid Ukraine next? Will Ukraine retake the rebel areas of Donetsk and Luhansk? If Mr Putin continues to be confused and worried, even after 15 months into the war, it reflects poorly on his strategies. There could be some truth in Mr Zelensky’s claim that the fiercely-contested Bakhmut has not been captured by Russia, and Ukraine continues to control the ‘bubbly’ city. http://www.cnnphilippines.com/world/2023/5/22/Zelensky- Ukraine-Bakhmut-Russia-capture.html

In Conclusion

There is no Bakhmut victory. Mr Zelensky is right. The exaggerated claim makes Mr Putin a fit case for an urgent SWOT examination. It is time to bring his territorial ambitions and military strategies under the scanner. The fall of Bakhmut is no win. If it could be called one, at best it is a symbolic and not a strategic win. More so as the fall of Bakhmut will not end the war in Ukraine. It would be rash exuberance for the Russians to rush in so soon for a victory bash in the Artwinery cellars of Bakhmut. Hope Mr Putin will let sense prevail on the Bakhmut diasater.