UPDATE: Mark Sumner
Russian forces are reportedly staging a two-pronged assault on Bilohorivka, south of Kreminna with the major force coming in across the surface mine area to the southeast. Ukraine has repelled several such attacks in the last two weeks, including one within the last 24 hours, but Russian sources are claiming that this one has made more progress into the town.
The small town of Bilohorivka has been a frequent target for Russia because it is one of the few locations liberated by Ukraine in Luhansk, Oblast.
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
The first T-55 rolled off the line in 1946, and it was placed in regular service in the Russian army in 1948. This one is probably newer … but it’s still likely older than me, and that’s really saying something.
This morning, as it has every morning for the last eight months, Bakhmut holds. The question now is: Has Bakhmut held long enough?
That’s a different questions from “Why is Ukraine fighting in Bakhmut?” or “Should Ukraine withdraw from Bakhmut to save its forces?” Both of those were about the appropriateness of Bakhmut as a theater of combat, and whether Ukraine was causing sufficient damage to the Russian military by remaining in this place to justify its own considerable losses. Months ago, the Ukrainian leadership made it clear that, so far as they were concerned, the answers to these were “Because so long as we keep fighting there, another city is not being destroyed” and a very definite “Yes.”
The constant stream of obituaries that finish with “in fighting near Bakhmut” makes it clear that the cost of holding this city has been very, very high. And there are some indications that Ukraine is backing away from the city, removing some of its forces from the cauldron at the center—yes, for real this time. However, that pull back may not be directly in response to what Wagner Group is doing this week. In fact, it may be the other way around. Wagner may be advancing because Urkaine is pulling back. Right on schedule.
Back in February, one of the soldiers inside the city wrote this on a Telegram post: “Our task from the beginning of the year: ‘Hold Bakhmut until the beginning of April.” Similar messages targeted “mid-April.” Last month, Wagner Group owner Yevgeny Prigozhin seemed to be aware that something was coming around the same date, warning that April was the date for a major Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Now it’s mid-April, and Ukraine may be withdrawing from the streets of Bakhmut. But are they ready to conduct the counteroffensive that could make all the sacrifice in the city worth it?
Maybe Prigozhin’s letter last month was effective, because there are reports that much of the advances in Bakhmut over the last few weeks have come as Wagner Group is getting better support from regular Russian military. That combined firepower is reportedly giving Russian forces in the city a boost, perhaps explaining how they were able to move from the river to the railway station much more quickly than they captured blocks to the east and south.
Once again, Russian forces are occupying the railway station at the center of Bakhmut, and it doesn’t seem to be “managed to get a few troops near before withdrawing” this time. Reports are that Russia has solidified its position to the east of the station and that Ukrainian forces are no longer fighting in the area across the railroad line. To the north of the station, those tracks still look to be the boundary between Ukrainian and Russian forces, with fire being exchanged across the rails. To the south, Russian forces are again reportedly pressing in to the T0504 highway.
All the old familiar places that Russia and Ukraine traded back and forth for so long—the winery, the drywall factory, etc.—are off the map to the east. This is just the last western nub of the city. However, don’t expect Ukraine to vanish from the rest of Bakhmut overnight. Reports continue to indicate that fighting is going on block by block, house by house.
Wagner and Russian Telegram are also filled with messages about Ukraine leaving behind traps and remote controlled explosives, so that when Russians seek shelter in buildings Ukrainian forces just abandoned, they get a nasty surprise. How many of these reports are true is hard to say, but the constant spread of these stories probably makes Russian forces very reluctant to step through any door in Bakhmut.
Russian forces are reportedly “flooding into” Bakhmut from the east and north. Additionally, as noted in the UK situational report, artillery fire in the city is intensifying. Earlier this week, there were reports that Ukraine had also sent more reserves to the area, however those reserves don’t seem to have entered the city proper—which appears to be a very good idea. Because Russian artillery is able to drop into that remaining area from three sides, making the what’s left or Ukrainian-controlled Bakhmut a very difficult place to be.
Right now, it appears that Ukraine is conducting, and will continue to conduct, a “fighting retreat” from Bakhmut. Unless Russian forces are somehow exhausted—and at this point, we’re passed what seems like a thousand different experts using some variant on the phrase “almost culminated”—it looks like Ukraine will withdraw from Bakhmut around the end of the month.
In a lengthy letter on Telegram, Prigozhin admits that the value of the city for Russia is extremely limited.
The strategic role of Bakhmut is not so great. Bakhmut is followed by Siversk, Slovyansk, Kramatorsk, Konstantinivka, Druzhkivka and Chasiv Yar: settlements that are part of the so-called "Donbas ring" and form a fortified area. On the one hand, Bakhmut is part of this fortified area, on the other hand, the capture of Bakhmut itself will not ensure a short-term victory over Ukraine, the road to the Dnieper, or even the capture of Donbas.
Bakhmut the city, the citizens, the tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers who have fought there, the thousands who have died, have held the attention of the Russian military for eight months. In that time, Ukraine has acquired new Western weapons and its forces have undergone extensive training. Most,of the images which the the Ukrainian military has published for the last few months is not of combat along the front lines, but large groups of Ukrainian forces drilling and training away from the lines.
This has not slipped Prigozhi’s attention.
The Ukrainian army has gathered a sufficient number of forces. About 200,000 already sufficiently trained fighters, who have undergone two to three months of training and coordination, are ready to carry out combat missions. The amount of weapons and ammunition is quite enough for these 200 thousand to go on the offensive in various directions.
His worry is that right now, with Russia focusing on Bakhmut and only Bakhmut, those Ukrainian forces could go essentially anywhere. It’s taken months for Russia to assemble the bulk of its force in one place, and even longer for Russia to put together something that seems like a unified push in that single location. In Bakhmut, but nowhere else, Russia seems to be able to exert its will. The opinion of analysts in Ukraine, and the Pentagon, is that Russia’s logistical and command structure currently can support only one significant offensive push.
Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut today
Will Ukraine be able to move in some other region before the last forces give up that remaining toehold in Bakhmut? If Russia is able to claim victory in Bakhmut, and forces of both Russian military and Wagner disperse to other locations, will it be much more difficult for Ukraine to stage an effective counteroffensive? Will Russia be able to keep the tentative cooperation it’s built in the center of Bakhmut and use it to conduct a successful operation elsewhere, maybe in less than eight grinding months, and possibly without shedding 1,000 men a day?
Yeah. Those are questions. That’s what those are. Unfortunately, they don’t come packaged with answers.
Prigozhin’s letter also claims that lengthy battles like Bakhmut are part of a U.S. plot to draw out the war, causing the Russian people to grow disillusioned with the government and turn to more liberal politicians who will end the war and move Russia into greater alignment with the West. I wish we were that smart.
Leopard 1, Leopard 2
If the Ukrainian counteroffensive is waiting on Western equipment, particularly main battle tanks, then there’s both good news and bad news. The good news is that more of those tanks are coming Real Soon Now.
This is a Danish Leopard 1A5 which has reportedly finished the necessary repairs and updates needed before being sent to Ukraine. Denmark has promised to transfer a truly gratifying 100 of these tanks to Ukraine. Unfortunately, this is one of the first such tanks reported to be ready to roll, and even when it arrives in Ukraine, the welders are likely to go to work adding additional bits of armor and production from pesky drones dropping grenades. In other words: These tanks will definitely not be in Ukraine this month.
Reports this morning indicate that Canada has increased the size of its crash program for teaching Ukrainian tankers to operate the Leopard 2. The eight Leopard 2 tanks sent by Canada are reportedly either already in Ukraine or near the border in Poland, but the presence of crews still being trained makes the idea that of these Leopard 2 crews are about to hit the front lines worrisome.
There’s no doubt that Ukraine has assembled a significant, better trained, better rested force away from the front lines. It’s not clear if any of those forces, should they roll out in the next few weeks, would include units formed around Western main battle tanks.
That didn’t work. That also didn’t work.
The Ukrainian military has released this image of Russian tanks that were destroyed in a new series of failed attacks. You get two guesses as to the location, but the first one doesn’t count.
Meanwhile, there are numerous videos and images on Telegram and Twitter this morning that show a failed Russian in the woods to the south of Kreminna. This is also one in a big series of failed Russian attacks in a very small area.
The Ukrainian General Staff situation update actually reports 56 repelled attacks in the last 24 hours, which is up slightly from earlier in the week, but still well below last month’s average.
Creatures of the night, unite
Okay, I don’t usually post images of prisoners of war, but this Russian guy … when they cut Wagner off from its supply of death row inmates, did Prigozhi start recruiting nosferatu? Do we have a Dog Soldiers situation here?
Slovyansk hit by missile
A missile strike in the city of Slovyansk has hit an apartment building, killing a reported nine people.
Russia fired a reported thirteen S-300 missiles into Slovyansk and the nearby city of Kramatorsk, this morning. Those cities are essentially the end goal in Russian efforts to capture Donetsk oblast — a goal currently being held up at Bakhmut.
This is one of the largest missile strikes Russia has launched in the last month, but it was still small compared to earlier waves of missile attacks. The S-300 appears to be the only missile which Russia still has in relative abundance.
Meanwhile, in Sudan
Within the last few hours, intense fighting has erupted by the Sudanese army and paramilitary forces in the capital city of Khartoum. Rebel forces have reportedly taken control of the nearby air base in the village of Jabal Awliya.
Those rebel forces are commanded by Commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who was formerly closely connected to Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the leader of the Sudanese military. However, a schism between the two threatens to split both the military and the nation. Part of the reason for that schism seems to go directly back to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Sudan had previously been enjoying support and investment from Russia, which was helping to prop up the government formed by al-Burhan and Dagalo following the ousting of the previous strongman government in 2019, which was followed by chaos, which was followed by a 2021 coup. In particular, Sudan was giving Russia access to gold mines in Sudan in exchange for weapons and support. That allowed Russia to get easily fungible gold, and kept the Sudanese junta well-supplied.
With pressure from the outside community pushing Sudan to deny access to Russia, and Vladimir Putin’s distraction over Ukraine leading to lessened support for his other projects, the partnership between al-Burhan and Dagalo crumbled.
Honestly, I’m not familiar with either force in this conflict to say whether either of them represent “the good guys.” Even relative good guys. There are levels of connections here that RSF to the government that was overthrown in 2021, which itself was in no way legitimate, and to the one that existed before 2019, which … ditto. The BBC explains more of the rivalry behind the fighting.
All I can say is that images and videos coming out of Khartoum this morning are … kind of nuts.
International agencies are calling for a cease fire. Right now, just keep your fingers crossed for the people who live there.