According to US intelligence officials, over 20,000 Russian soldiers have been killed and more than 80,000 injured during just five months of fighting in Ukraine. The majority of these casualties occurred during the trench warfare for the small eastern city of Bakhmut, which Russia has repeatedly claimed it was on the brink of capturing.
However, White House national security council spokesperson John Kirby has stated that “Russia’s attempt at an offensive in the Donbas, largely through Bakhmut, has failed … Russia has been unable to seize any really strategically significant territory”. These losses have been considered a significant increase in Russian casualties compared to the early days of the war, and even overshadow some of the bloodiest allied battles of World War II.
Kirby did not reveal how the US calculated the number of deaths, but stated that around half of the casualties were fighting under the Wagner mercenary group, rather than with the Russian military.
These soldiers were being sent into battle without proper training or leadership. Despite the situation being difficult, Ukrainian forces are still holding out in a corner of Bakhmut and counterattacking against the Russians.
The battle for control of a road west out of Bakhmut city remains a key focus of the conflict, as it serves as the last vital supply line for Ukrainian troops fighting on the ground there. If Bakhmut falls to Russia, it could give Russia a route towards larger towns to the west, including Kramatorsk.
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However, after months of heavy losses, Moscow’s bitter push for the shelled-out ruins of this provincial town feels more symbolic than strategic. Kirby stated that “This attempted effort, particularly in Bakhmut, has come at a terribly, terribly high cost. Russia has exhausted its military stockpiles and its armed forces”.