Between a Russian army that is marking time and Ukrainian forces reinvigorated by international aid, Bakhmout has become the symbol of a war that is bogged down. Jérôme Pellistrandi, former general and director of the Revue Défense Nationale, analyzes the situation for La Dépêche du Midi while international opinion speaks of a turning point.
Are we at a turning point in the war in Ukraine? The question is on everyone’s lips. The Kyiv counter-offensive is in preparation as the front has been largely frozen since last year. And for months, the bulk of the fighting has been taking place in the devastated eastern city of Bakhmout. Between a Russian army which is marking time and Ukrainian forces reinvigorated by international aid, Jérôme Pellistrandi, former general and director of the Revue Défense Nationale, looks back on the situation in this city, which has become the epicenter of the war.
What’s going on in Bakhmout right now?
You should know that the city is a field of ruins. The Ukrainians impose their tempo and the command has decided to go on the defensive. kyiv’s forces retreated from building to building. The Russians control the majority of the city but this fact is to be balanced with the strategy adopted by the Ukrainians. When you’re in defensive positions, you inflict maximum losses on the enemy without taking too much damage, so it’s worth retreating to wear down the attacker.
This is why the parallel with Verdun is relevant. Bakhmout is a mixture of Verdun and Stalingrad. For this second comparison I am talking about the fight in urban areas which is done street by street. High technology is not necessary.
We are talking about a turning point in the war with this battle of Bakhmout. Is that right?
Right now it’s very hard to say. What is certain is that the city has become a strategic issue of the utmost importance because it is now a symbol in the conflict.
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The turning point will take place if Russia takes Bakhmout but as we know the Russian army is weakening. According to the Americans, since December 2022, the Russians have lost 100,000 combatants killed or wounded, including 20,000 combat deaths. It is considerable. Even if we must not forget that this war is also a battle of communication.
Anyway, the Russians seem to be exhausting their strength taking a city where there is nothing left. The situation there is worse than in Mariupol.
What can you tell us about the famous Ukrainian counter-offensive?
Actually we’re waiting for it and we haven’t seen it yet. Even if we know that she is preparing. It will take place, but we don’t know where and when. Moreover, we will have to wait a little longer as announced by Zelensky on Thursday. His army still needs time and the counter-offensive will perhaps take place in mid-June?
He has to take speaking precautions but at some point you’ll have to stop waiting because you’re never at the top of your abilities.
Is international aid the key to this counter-offensive?
It’s obvious that it’s a game changer. Notably the latest British aid. The United Kingdom has announced that it will supply Ukraine with Storm Shadow cruise missiles, becoming the first country to deliver this type of long-range weapon, which can strike at 250 kilometers. Here we are talking about the ultimate. For example, these are the missiles that were used with the bursts in Syria against Bashar al-Assad.
The Kremlin could be worried about a potential Ukrainian advance towards Donbass?
On the Kremlin side, we begin to understand that it smells scorched. If in addition we add the tensions linked to Wagner’s attacks against the Russian General Staff, that is a lot.
The Ukrainians will not be able to reconquer the Donbass. But in the event of a Ukrainian advance, we would witness a reversal of roles that is difficult to imagine. The Ukrainians will not be able to reconquer Dombass. They in turn would have to enter an urbanized area occupied by the enemy.