Russia Claims Its Troops Surround Bakhmut; Why is This Town Strategically Crucial?

The Moscow-backed administration of Donetsk said on Wednesday that the Russian forces have surrounded the key city of Bakhmut. "Bakhmut is now operationally surrounded, our forces are closing the ring around the city ... a top aide to the administrator of the region said, according to DW.

The battle for Bakhmut has been the focus of the Russia-Ukraine war in recent months. The Russia-backed administration also claimed that fighting was now focused on taking control of the Chasiv-Yar-Bakhmut highway.

cty of Bakhmut
Ukrainian members of the military fire an anti-aircraft weapon, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in the frontline city of Bakhmut, Ukraine Reuters

Renewed Russian Fire

Meanwhile, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said the villages of Klishchiivka and Kurdyumivka south of Bakhmut also came under renewed Russian fire. The Ukrainians also said the Russian army was incurring heavy losses as it tries to advance into the region. "The invaders are suffering heavy losses," the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said.

Why is Bakhmut Important?

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.'

Members of the armed forces of the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic drive a tank on the outskirts of Donetsk, Ukraine. Reuters

Some analysts have said 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, Branislav Slantchev of the University of California, told The Hill. "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," he said.

Control of Soledar

Battle for Soledar
Battle for Soledar Ukraine defense ministry

In mid-January, Russia said it took control of Soledar, a strategically important step in its push for Bakhmut. Ukraine insisted that its forces were battling to hold the town, but officials acknowledged the situation was difficult, with street fighting raging and Russian forces advancing from various directions. "Our soldiers are constantly repelling enemy attacks, day and night ... The enemy is sustaining heavy losses but is continuing to carry out the criminal orders of their command," Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said. The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said it was highly unlikely that Ukrainian forces still held positions within Soledar.