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Ukrainian forces are holding the Russians in Bakhmut, defending the city makes strategic sense. But the effect of the Ukrainians’ actions is being undermined because of the West’s delay in supplying the weapons needed for the counter-offensive, the Institute for the Study of War assesses in a recent report.
The US centre, in its latest analysis, stresses that despite the cost to the Ukrainians of defending Bakhmut, the effort is “strategically sound”. The city itself “is not operationally or strategically significant”, but if the Russians were to seize it quickly, they could think about expanding their operations. “Ukrainian forces have previously employed a similar gradual attrition model to compel Russian operations in certain areas to culminate after months of suffering high personnel and equipment losses in pursuit of marginal tactical gains,” notes the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), recalling that the Russians lost men and equipment for months while besieging Sevrodonetsk or Lysychansk.
“Ukrainian forces are effectively pinning Russian troops, equipment, and overall operational focus on Bakhmut, thus inhibiting Russia’s ability to pursue offensives elsewhere in the theatre,” the analysts stress.
Nonetheless, they add, “the West has contributed to Ukraine’s inability to take advantage” of this Russian stasis in Bakhmut by “slow-rolling or withholding weapons systems and supplies essential for large-scale counteroffensive operations”.
The US think tank also cites reports from The Sun newspaper, which reported that US intelligence puts Russian losses in Ukraine at 188,000 troops killed and wounded (as of 20 January). “The historical ratio of wounded to killed in war is 3:1, suggesting that Russian casualties in Ukraine thus far are close to the total US deaths in the Vietnam War,” the analysts conclude. They recall that the number killed in Vietnam was 58,000 over eight years.
The USSR, on the other hand, lost 15,000 men during its intervention in Afghanistan, and this threshold has been surpassed by Russia in the current war – according to the UK Ministry of Defence – as early as May 2022, ISW recalls.