Russia Changes Tactics Over Bakhmut—ISW

Russian forces may have "given up" on plans to encircle the embattled Donetsk city of Bakhmut, according to a new assessment.

The decimated eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut has long been the focus of both heavy shelling and intense fighting between Russian and Wagner Group forces and Ukrainian fighters.

Bakhmut Soldiers
Servicemen of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Vedmak (Witcher) unit patrol along the frontline near Bakhmut on February 18, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russian forces may have "given up on trying to encircle Bakhmut" and are attempting to take control of the city from the north, according to a new assessment. YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images

Intelligence assessments have repeatedly suggested that Moscow's forces were aiming to surround the city. Earlier this month, the British defense ministry said Russia was making "small advances in its attempt to encircle" Bakhmut.

However, the amount of attention from the influential Russian "milbloggers" on attacks in the north of the Donbas city could suggest Russian forces have abandoned plans to encircle Bakhmut, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War think tank said on Tuesday.

A lack of discussion on positions from the west of the city may indicate Moscow is focusing on attacks from the north, the ISW said.

"This effort is likely to be exceedingly costly and slow, given the dense urban environment and Ukrainian fortification systems within Bakhmut," according to the think tank.

Russian forces may restart their efforts to encircle the city in the near future, however, the ISW added.

Recent days have shown that Moscow's forces have continued to make "incremental tactical gains" in and around the city, the ISW said. This is a trend noted by Western analysts, including the British defense ministry, in recent weeks.

This includes Russian advances northeast of the settlement, as well as the southwest of the city, the ISW evaluated.

In an operational update on Wednesday, Russia's General Staff of the Armed Forces listed Bakhmut as a target of Russia's "main efforts," with Ukraine's military having "repelled attacks" in and around the city.

Also on Wednesday, Ukraine's border guard force said it had "repelled an enemy attack on a stronghold near Bakhmut," killing 10 Russian soldiers and capturing one Wagner mercenary fighter.

On Monday, the U.K. defense ministry suggested that Russian forces operating in and around Bakhmut are likely facing "increasingly political pressure" for a victory ahead of Friday.

February 24, 2023, will mark the first anniversary of the beginning of full-scale war in Ukraine.

"It is likely that Russia will claim that Bakhmut has been captured to align with the anniversary, regardless of the reality on the ground," the government department said.

Also on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukrainian forces will continue fighting in Bakhmut, but not at any cost to Kyiv's forces.

"It is important for us to defend it, but not at any price and not for everyone to die," he told the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Zelensky had previously labelled the city a "fortress," adding that "nobody will give away Bakhmut."

Earlier this week, former U.S. Marine Troy Offenbecker said that the life expectancy for a Ukrainian fighter on Bakhmut's front lines was just four hours.

Offenbecker, who joined the International Legion fighting on Kyiv's behalf, told ABC News that the "chaotic" battlefield was racking up a high casualty count.

Newsweek has contacted the Russian defense ministry for comment.