Russia said on Tuesday that it would fight until it took Bakhmout, the epicenter of particularly deadly fighting for months in eastern Ukraine, deeming the city crucial for the continuation of its offensive despite the fierce defense of the Ukrainians.
The day before, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, rejecting speculation of a tactical withdrawal, ordered reinforcements to be sent to this virtually destroyed city, despite recent Russian advances and the threat of encirclement. The Ukrainians intend to resist in order to further wear out the Russian offensive forces in anticipation of a counter-offensive that they will launch with the heavy weapons and modern armor promised by the West.
As an echo, Poland announced on Tuesday that it would deliver ten of its German Leopard 2 battle tanks this week, in the handling of which Ukrainian soldiers have been trained.
Bakhmout “is an important node (of the lines) of defense of Ukrainian soldiers in Donbass,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday.
“His capture will allow new offensive operations to be carried out in depth,” he added, during a meeting with military officials broadcast on television.
Experts and observers doubt the strategic value of Bakhmout, but the city has taken on symbolic and tactical importance as the Russians struggle to capture it in more than seven months of fighting since August.
It is the longest and deadliest battle since the Russian invasion began in February 2022.
– Moscow needs a win –
Moscow has been seeking at least a symbolic victory since its bitter setbacks in the fall, and hopes that the city’s fall can open up control of part of Donbass, an industrial region in eastern Ukraine. , which still eludes him.
The city, which has barely 4,000 inhabitants against 70,000 before the invasion, has been largely devastated.
After recent advances, the Russians seem to control access to the city to the north, south and east, creating the threat of encirclement.
Troops from the paramilitary group Wagner are carrying out this attack at the cost of very heavy losses, as even the boss of this group of mercenaries, Evguéni Prigojine, who is in the combat zone, admits.
But the latter is in open conflict with the military hierarchy, which he accuses of not delivering enough ammunition to his men engaged on the front line in Bakhmout. According to him, the Russian lines would collapse if his men were to fall back.
He thus mocked the Russian Minister of Defense on Tuesday, saying that he “did not have met him” on the battlefield, while the Ministry of Defense affirmed on Saturday without saying more that Mr. Shoigu had returned to the combat zone. On Sunday, the minister was in Mariupol, more than a hundred kilometers from the front.
On the Ukrainian side, the battle gave birth to a new hero, after the viral diffusion of a video appearing to show the summary execution of a soldier prisoner of the Russians, of a burst of Kalashnikov after launching “Glory to the Ukraine!”.
The Ukrainian army identified the man on Tuesday as “soldier of the 30th mechanized brigade Tymofiï Mykolayovych Shadura”, stating that he had been reported missing near Bakhmout on February 3.
“Our hero’s revenge will be inevitable,” the military added.
– Ukraine has a new hero –
AFP could not independently verify the origin of the images or whether they show, as Ukrainian officials claim, the execution of a prisoner, which would constitute a war crime.
This video went viral Monday on social networks, many publications, photos and drawings pay tribute to this soldier, his courage and his patriotism.
President Zelensky promised Monday to “find the murderers” and his head of diplomacy, Dmytro Kouleba, called for an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was expected in Kiev for his third trip to Ukraine since the start of the war, in particular to discuss the extension of the agreement with Russia on Ukrainian grain exports, said indicated in a press release his spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric.
In Russia, where a crackdown on criticism of Ukraine’s invasion and President Vladimir Putin is raging, a 23-year-old student has been sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for posting “false” information on Telegram about the Russian army.
Finally, Belarus, an ally of Moscow, said on Tuesday that it had arrested around twenty people suspected of having participated in the sabotage of a Russian military plane last month at an airfield near Minsk.
In late February, the Belarusian opposition in exile claimed that a Russian military plane had been destroyed at Matchulishchy airfield, with media reporting that it was an A-50 command and surveillance radar plane.
The Kremlin refused to comment on this subject, but Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko admitted that a Russian A-50 had been targeted, however ensuring that the aircraft had not been “heavily damaged”.
He claimed that the main suspect was acting on behalf of Ukraine.