By David Sole
The city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk People’s Republic region annexed into the Russian Federation on September 30 has been the scene of heavy fighting in the Russia-Ukraine conflict for many months. As Russian forces continue to move slowly forward into and around the city, the battle is proving to be a “kill box” for the Ukrainians.
Roughly speaking, a kill box is an area of free fire on which all types of military ordinance can be focused. Bakhmut has developed into such a zone of destruction.
The Ukraine offensive, which drove Russian forces from much of Kharkiv province, petered out upon encountering stronger Russian defensive lines. Bakhmut has now become a target of a Russian counterattack, with each side piling in reinforcements week after bloody week.
Ukrainian and Western media sources had been touting Bakhmut as a scene of terrible losses on the Russian side. But Newsweek’s headline dated December 10 says it all: “Russia Inflicts Heavy Losses on Ukraine as Battle of Bakhmut Rages.”
This analysis came not from the Russians, but from a report by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). The ISW “is a United States based think tank … supported in part by contribution from defense contractors … headquartered in Washington, D.C.”
Much of the battle hinges on artillery barrages where it is estimated by various sources that Russia has a ten to one advantage over the Ukrainians. The U.S. and NATO are unable to supply their Ukrainian proxies with 155 mm artillery shells, having emptied much of their strategic reserves and stockpiles. The U.S. is trying to negotiate with South Korea for the purchase of 100,000 of these shells. But even if this deal goes through, and considering the time necessary to ship them to Poland, where they can be put on trains to travel over 1,000 miles to the front, it is unlikely that these shells will make a difference. With Ukraine estimated to be firing up to 5,000 shells a day, those S. Korean munitions would only last 20 days. The Russian forces are said to be firing 50,000 to 60,000 artillery rounds every day.
The toll on Ukraine’s military is substantial. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced that Ukraine had lost 8,300 military personnel, along with large quantities of aircraft, tanks and armor in November alone. Shoigu previously put Ukrainian losses through September at over 61,000 soldiers. The Russians admit to about 6,000 combat losses. Ukraine denies these figures, but Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, posted a speech where she said that more than 100,000 Ukrainian troops had been killed since February. Her speech was later deleted from the internet.
While Ukraine is suffering serious losses, it continues to throw more reserves into Bakhmut. The Russians appear to be slowly moving to surround that city to cut off those troops from resupply. The U.S., UK and other NATO countries have committed to train thousands of Ukrainians, but it will be several months before they can be prepared to go into battle.. Military analyst Scott Ritter, a former U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, who has been closely following the conflict, has reported that tens of thousands of Polish troops have been put into Ukrainian uniforms and are fighting at the front against the Russians.. He estimates that up to 1,000 Poles have already been killed. Ritter also says that Romanian soldiers are in Ukraine as well as thousands of French, Canadian, British and U.S. contracted military personnel.
As the situation on the ground deteriorates for Ukraine, alarming remarks were made by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, perhaps made to frighten Russia. “It is also a war that can become a full-fledged war that spreads into a major war between NATO and Russia … a full-fledged war is a possibility…” the NATO chief told the press. Russian President Vladimir Putin later stated that Russia was looking at U.S. military doctrine that uses the idea of a preemptive strike if conflict is inevitable. The danger of escalation is very real.
However, all is not well between NATO allies. The New York Times reported on growing tensions between Poland and Germany on December 10, stating that: “Relations between Warsaw and Berlin, never warm, have deteriorated since the start of the Ukraine war, damaging unity in both NATO and the European Union.”
Russia, for its part, took note of former German Prime Minister Angela Merkel’s public admission that the 2015 Minsk Accords, brokered between Ukraine and Russia and guaranteed by France and Germany, were never meant to secure peace in the mainly Russian ethnic areas of Donetsk and Lugansk. Fighting had flared in those regions of Ukraine following the 2014 CIA sponsored violent Maidan coup that overthrew the elected government of Ukraine. Merkel said that those “peace accords” were designed to give time to the Ukraine right-wing forces to build up an army with NATO’s help. This eventually led directly to the current conflict.
U.S./NATO supply of tens of billions of dollars in military equipment has been reportedly done with little oversight, especially in the early stages of the war. Corruption charges were made in major media outlets in the West. Now some of these weapons are showing up in distant theaters, threatening the stability of other nations not involved in any way in the Ukraine situation.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari spoke in his capital city of Abuja to leaders of the Lake Chad Basin Commission on November 29. He said that “weapons meant for the Ukraine war …are being diverted to West Africa and ending up in the hands of terrorist groups.”
Captive of their own role as propaganda machines for the Pentagon, the CIA and the State Department, the western media are not asking the most important question – where will the 300,000 plus Russian reservists be sent as they finish their military refresher programs in the coming months?
A Russian Battalion Tactical Group (BTG) consists of 600 to 800 soldiers along with “air defense, artillery, engineering and logistical support units … A tank company and rocket artillery typically reinforce such groupings.”
Using the upper figure of 800 soldiers per BTG, that will give the Russians around 375 new battalions to put into combat. Where will these overwhelming forces be utilized? If a Russian offensive is in the making, it might be assumed that Russia won’t wait for thousands of NATO trained Ukrainians to be sent to the front. This would indicate a Russian winter offensive. Signs of this ought to be seen sooner, rather than later.