Ukrainian Official: Army May Withdraw From Bakhmut

Funcionario ucraniano: Ejército podría retirarse de Bájmut

Ukraine’s army may withdraw from the city of Bakhmuth, an aide to the Ukrainian president said Wednesday, in remarks suggesting Russia could capture the city that has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance.

Kremlin forces have launched a bloody and protracted offensive to capture Bakhmut, a salt and gypsum mining town in eastern Ukraine that has become a ghost town.

“Obviously, our army is going to assess all the options. For the moment, they have controlled the city, but if necessary, there will be a strategic withdrawal,” Alexander Rodnyansky, an economic adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told CNN television. “We’re not going to sacrifice all our people for nothing.”

The battle for Bakhmut has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance, with its defenders holding firm against incessant shelling, and Russian troops suffering heavy casualties.

Bakhmut is in the Donetsk province, one of four regions that Russia illegally annexed last year. Moscow barely controls half of Donetsk. To capture the other half, Russian forces must pass through Bakhmut, the only access route to the largest Ukrainian cities since Ukrainian soldiers recaptured Izyum in Kharkiv province in September.

Analysts say that the fall of Bakhmut would represent a blow to Ukraine and offer tactical advantages to Russia, but would not be decisive for the outcome of the war.

Rodnyansky indicated that Russia is employing the best soldiers of the Wagner Group to surround the city. The private military company known for its brutal tactics is run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a billionaire with long ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Prigozhin said on Wednesday that he had seen no signs of a Ukrainian withdrawal and that kyiv had in fact been strengthening its positions.

“The Ukrainian army is deploying more soldiers and is doing what it can to maintain control of the city,” Prigozhin noted. “Tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers are offering fierce resistance, and the fighting is getting bloodier every day.”

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said a few days ago that reinforcements had been sent to Bakhmut.

Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov told The Associated Press that the reinforcements had been sent to “buy time” to strengthen Ukrainian firing lines on a mountain in Chasiv Yar, 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) to the west. of Bakhmut.

Zhdanov said that the possible withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Bakhmut “will not affect the course of the war in any way” because of the firing positions at Chasiv Yar.

Bakhmut is partially surrounded, and all roads, including the main supply route, are within range of Russian weapons, Zhdanov said. The city is in ruins and “no longer has strategic or operational significance.”

“In Bakhmut, the Russians suffered so many losses, of soldiers and equipment, that this city has already fulfilled its function,” Zhdanov said.

Recent drone footage showed the extent of the devastation in the city, and Zelenskyy has described it as “destroyed.”

Since the invasion of Ukraine began a year ago, Russia has attacked several cities and towns that it wanted to occupy. It also launched missiles at Ukraine’s power grid before the onset of winter, in an apparent attempt to weaken Ukrainian morale.

Although Western analysts have warned that warmer weather could give Moscow a chance to redouble an offensive, Ukrainian officials celebrated their traditional first day of spring on Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba announced that his country had emerged from Putin’s “winter of terror”.

“We survived the most difficult winter in our history,” Kuleba wrote on Facebook.

For his part, Zelenskyy added in his nightly video speech that “this winter is over. It was very difficult, and all Ukrainians felt this difficulty without exaggeration. But still, we were able to provide Ukraine with power and heat.”

If the war turns into a protracted conflict, Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said that would require a response from kyiv’s Western allies.

“It is possible that, for a long time, we will have to realign our armies and our military industry to be able to face a much bigger challenge,” Karins said after holding talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Meanwhile, one of Zelenskyy’s top advisers, Mykhailo Podolyak, on Wednesday denied that Ukraine had used drones to attack Russian territory after official Russian statements emerged that Ukraine had attacked infrastructure inside Russia.

“Ukraine does not attack the territory of the Russian Federation. Ukraine is waging a defensive war with the aim of vacating all its territories,” Podolyak tweeted, hinting that the attacks on Russian infrastructure were the result of “internal attacks.”

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