Vladimir Putin desperately needs to show off something resembling a victory on the battlefield. But Bakhmut is not a victory for Putin. On the contrary.
– Another victory like this, and it has been lost, is said to have been said by the Greek commander Pyrrhus of Epirus after winning two battles against the Romans in 230 and 279 BC.
The losses were too great. The price of winning was too high. This is called a Pyrrhic victory. It is a good description of the Battle of Bakhmut.
For Russia, the negative consequences are so great that they call a victory comparable to a defeat. Because what Putin has achieved? The fighting for a city of little strategic importance lasted nearly a year and claimed several thousand lives, possibly tens of thousands.
Russian forces control most of a completely destroyed city, without electricity or water. At the same time, Ukrainian troops advanced on the flanks, on the outskirts of the city.
While the Kremlin wanted to celebrate what it calls a victory on the battlefield, armed groups sprang into action on Russian soil in the border region. Allegedly, the pro-Ukrainian Russians temporarily took control of towns in the Russian province of Belgorod.
Much is unclear about what happened in the border area. But if nothing else, it was proof that war is not just taking place elsewhere, far from the daily life of Russians. Battles in the border areas, drones over the Kremlin and huge numbers of casualties at the front show the Russians a different reality.
Ukraine disavows full responsibility for the attacks in Belgorod. Kiev also denied any connection to the drones over the Kremlin. But such events could create uncertainty and suspicion among Russians about Putin’s “special military operation”, which neither censorship nor propaganda can completely hide.
Ben Barry of the International Institute for Strategic Studies describes Russia’s achievement in Bakhmut as a Pyrrhic victory. He told the New York Times that a victory with such heavy losses would not help the Russians achieve their strategic goals.
Instead, it can get more difficult. The American Institute for the Study of War believes that the Russian mercenary group Wagner has been so weakened by the fighting in Bakhmut that it is almost unable to carry out new offensive operations. The Wagner Group suffered heavy losses in the protracted offensive.
No one knows for sure how many died in the battles for Bakhmut. Two months ago, the Ukrainian defense claimed that more than 20,000 Russians had been killed and more than 100,000 wounded. Recently, US sources have come to similar estimates. Russia does not provide its own casualty figures. Undoubtedly, Ukraine suffered huge losses in Bakhmut.
Russians will see images of soldiers raising the flag in the ruins of what was once a city. In the state-controlled media, the Russians were told that this was a great and important victory of historical proportions, like the fall of Berlin in World War II. It’s absurd, of course, like everything else in Russian propaganda.
Before the war, between 70 and 80 thousand people lived in Bakhmut. Almost everything is gone. What remained after the war of aggressive Russia destroyed cities and villages uninhabitable. The ruins stand as relics of Vladimir Putin’s disastrous and senseless war.
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