Details remain limited and the situation is fluid and could change at any moment, but the bloody battle for the city of Bakhmut could soon be over. Signs point to Ukrainian forces having withdrawn to a final bastion in the city’s southwest quarter. Once again, as we have seen many times, the situation could rapidly shift, but this appears to be the situation at this time.
Reports indicate Russian forces have taken most of western Bakhmut, save for sporadic fighting among the apartment blocks and neighborhoods in its west end. The only Ukrainian forces still in the city’s ruins have reportedly fallen back to a heavily fortified sector near the former MiG-17 monument known as “the airplane,” with heavy fighting ongoing along Chaikovskoho Street northeast of where the fighter once sat atop its pedestal.
The monument seen months ago:
Multiple reports state that last night, large areas of the devastated city came once again under incendiary attack.
Before the war, more than 70,000 people lived in the city now reduced to a smoldering, splintered pile, its ruined apartment blocks towering over what remains.
After previously hedging that Bakhmut would not imminently fall, Wagner PMC boss Yevgeny Prigozhin filmed a triumphant victory rant at the city’s wrecked train station claiming “full control” over what’s left of the place. If indeed Russia’s hold on the city is at is seems, whether Wagner will stick around at the frontline or withdraw, leaving the regular Russian Army to hold it while Wagner regroups, becomes a relevant question.
Beginning about a week ago, Ukrainian forces in the area began flanking attacks against Russian positions around the city. Both the Institute for the Study of War (@TheStudyofWar) and the British Ministry of Defense assessed these counterattacks eliminated the threat of a Russian encirclement cutting the city off.
Apart from buying time to withdraw from the ruins to the high ground west of the city, the flanking attacks appear to have forced Moscow to commit additional forces to the area. With the Ukrainian counteroffensive looming, tasking these forces to Bakhmut suggests Russia still views what’s left of the city as an important objective, even if symbolic.
Regardless of whether this is the end of Bakhmut’s siege, fighting will likely shift to its trench-lined flanks and to the heights west of town. Ukraine’s defense against repeated encirclement attempts, human wave attacks, and an onslaught of artillery has raised comparisons to what was experienced in the Second World War.
Its staggering human toll aside, we may not know how important the city’s defense was until the Ukrainian counteroffensive. Russia and Wagner PMC expended untold manpower and equipment fighting to take the city, keeping those resources from other sectors of the frontline through the winter as Ukraine built up its forces through Western aid. The time bought with blood in Bakhmut may have given Kyiv the window it needed to punch back elsewhere.
Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.
Only a day after President Joe Biden informed heads of state at the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan of U.S. support for an F-16 coalition to train Ukrainian pilots, two NATO members have publicly jumped aboard. Both Portugal and Denmark will reportedly train Ukrainian pilots, with Denmark potentially supplying F-16s.
“We are open to discussing – once we have made the training efforts – whether we should go one step further and donate F-16 fighter jets,” said acting Danish Defense Minister Troels Lund Poulsen in remarks to Danish media outlets DR and Ritzau.
The Danish F-16s, though built as Cold War A/B Block 10s and Block 15s, were upgraded as part of the joint Mid-Life Update (MLU) program giving them capabilities closer to current U.S. Block 50/52 variants. Alongside avionics and other upgrades, the MLUs pack a modern punch with AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, Paveway and JDAM precision-guided bombs, and advanced Sniper or Litening targeting pod capabilities.
However, F-16 deliveries and support will be highly conditional. In remarks at the G7 Summit as reported by Ukrinform, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said strikes on Russian territory remain off-limits for U.S.-provided systems.
“So, all of the capabilities that the United States has proven to Ukraine come with the basic proposition that the United States is not enabling or supporting attacks on Russian territory,” Sullivan said. “That will go for the support for the provision of F-16s by any party as well. And the Ukrainians have consistently indicated that they are prepared to follow through on that.”
We reported earlier this week on the leaked U.S. assessment that Ukrainian pilots could accomplish “basic” F-16 training in just four months. You can read more of our coverage on the F-16 training program and all it entails here.
Kyiv is certainly happy about the announcement, with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense tweeting a render of F-16s sporting Ukrainian Air Force digital camouflage and roundels. The claim on ‘coming this fall’ could be aspirational.
Explosions rocked a Russian-controlled base near Mariupol more than 70 kilometers from the frontline, with rumors swirling that Kyiv may have targeted a command post that hosted Russian Defense Minister Gen. Sergei Shoigu earlier that day.
Satellite imagery confirmed considerable damage at the facility across the highway from Mariupol Airport. The base west of the city’s ruins looks like it has several earthen platforms for radars, as well as previous damage from battles for the city a year ago.
The strike possibly targeted an underground command and control facility supporting Russian forces in the area, and open-source intelligence analysis suggests Shoigu was in the area before the strike.
It’s not immediately known whether Shoigu or any other Russian VIPs were at the base when it was struck. The loss of a command and control facility ahead of an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive could be more relevant, however. We also don’t know what weapon struck the site.
Speaking of that counteroffensive, it appears Sweden has quietly trained and stood up a Ukrainian mechanized brigade equipped with Leopard 2 tanks, CV-90 infantry fighting vehicles, and Archer self-propelled howitzers. If organized as reported, the unit could easily be one of the best-equipped Ukrainian battle groups for the offensive.
As for the offensive itself, it appears Ukraine’s backers are confident in the capabilities it now has to see it through. White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan stated at the G7 Summit that Kyiv has all it needs to counterattack.
Ukrainian units continue to train, however, with airborne and air assault exercises underway at a base near Zhytomyr, with Ukrainian paratroopers practicing jumps from helicopters.
Elsewhere, paratroopers with the Ukrainian 81st Airmobile Brigade are moving in the field with Stryker armored vehicles, one of them sporting a mine-clearing plow.
Ukrainian artillery remains hard at work, as video shows a barrage of BM-21 “Grad” rockets, and a crew striking a Russian T-72 with their 2A36 Giatsint-B 152-mm gun.
A Russian attack near the obliterated remains of Pisky ran into Ukrainian mines and anti-tank missiles as seen in incredible drone footage of the assault. A Russian MT-LB struck a mine, with a Ukrainian FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank team hitting a BMP-2.
Lastly, Ukrainian first-person view (FPV) kamikaze drones remain a threat to Russain troops. Onboard video shows one drone smacking into the front of a Russian “bukhanka” van just as its occupants throw open the door in an attempt to run.
Elsewhere, an FPV drone flies right under a Russian tank’s “cope cage” and netting to score a hit.
That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.
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