The battle for Bakhmut is entering a decisive phase with the Kyiv's grip on the city slowly slipping away, the commander of Ukrainian ground forces in the key eastern city said.
"The situation around Bakhmut is extremely tense ... Despite taking significant losses, the enemy has dispatched its best-trained Wagner assault units to try to break through the defences of our troops and surround the city," said Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine's ground forces, according to Agence France-presse.
Russia has been pushing hard for a victory in Bakhmut, which will be a significant achievement for the Moscow strategists, who suffered a series of setbacks on other fronts in recent months.
More Russian Strikes
Meanwhile, Russia said it shot down Ukrainian drones sent in to attack civilian areas in Russian territory. The Russians also shelled settlements in northern regions like Chernihiv, Sumy and Kharkiv, besides stepping up strikes on Bakhmut and surrounding villages in the Donetsk province.
"In the Bakhmut sector, the enemy is launching offensive action and is continuously attacking Bakhmut," the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said, according to Reuters.
The Russian forces have surrounded Bakhmut, pressing for the surrender of the Ukrainian defenders. The Russian Wagner Group fighters are cutting the supply lines of the remaining Ukrainian forces, reports said.
"Despite significant losses, the enemy threw in the most prepared assault units of Wagner, who are trying to break through the defences of our troops and surround the city," General Syrskyi added.
'Russians are Smart'
A Ukrainian soldier told media personnel in Bakhmut that the city will fall to the Russians soon. "I think Bakhmut will most likely fall ... They say (Russians soldiers) are idiots, alcoholics and drug addicts .... But they have smart people there, people who know how to fight... They think, they learn, the same way we do," the 40-year-old Ukrainian soldier with the call sign "Fox" told the AFP journalists.
Bakhmut is not a militarily strategic city, nor a key industrial town. However, Russia is determined to capture Bakhmut as it is the main city in the lone territory that Ukraine can call its stronghold inside the Donbas region. In October last year, the Russian Dumas formally approved the annexation of four occupied territories in the Donbas region.
Earlier, President Vladimir Putin had declared the intention to annex the region, which comprises Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Russia had also held a referendum in the region, seeking legal sanction for the annexation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Kremlin's move to annex the region was necessitated by the intention to 'defend Russian language, culture and borders.'
The capture of Bakhmut by the Russians could lead to a military push to take control of key cities in the region. The larger cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk could under attack by the Russians. "It's an important transport hub, a lot of supply lines go through there and Russia could use it as a base ... It's fairly well fortified, so it would be difficult to take it back," Branislav Slantchev of the University of California, told The Hill.
the chances of Russia and Ukraine accepting a peace dialogue is still remote as both the sides stick to their sides of the argument. The Kremlin offers to talk with Ukraine and halt the war if Kyiv accepts the formal Russian annexation of Russian-speaking territories of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. "The constitution of the Russian Federation exists, and cannot be ignored. Russia will never be able to compromise on this, these are important realities," a top Kremlin official said, according to Reuters.
Kyiv, on the other hand, wants all territories captured by the Russians back and want to re-establish the borders that existed in 1991. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky hopes that he can fight the war for as long as it takes to drain Russia of its weapons, people and drive, with the help of his vast anti-Russia alliance.
Though Russia has suffered significant setbacks in recent months, Moscow's troops still control about 20 percent of Ukrainian territory.