Russia's Advancement Past Bakhmut Could Come at a High Price: ISW

Russia's hypothetical success over the city of Bakhmut would likely come at a high price to its troops, who have already suffered heavy losses, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned during an interview with CNN Tuesday that Russia would have an "open road" into his country if Russian President Vladimir Putin finally has success in his months-long battle for Bakhmut, an industrial city in the Donetsk region.

But according to an ISW assessment released later on Tuesday, Putin's troops "lack the capability" to capture Bakhmut and continue to advance toward other key cities in Ukraine.

Bakhmut Could Mean High Price for Russia
Ukrainian servicemen on Sunday drive a tank in the village of Chasiv Yar near the city of Bakhmut, Ukraine. According to the Institute for the Study of War, the capture of Bakhmut could be "highly costly" for Russian troops. Aris Messinis / AFP via Getty

"As ISW has previously assessed, Russian forces would have to choose between two diverging lines of advance after capturing Bakhmut," read the report. "These two potential axes of advance are not mutually supporting, and degraded Russian forces would likely have to prioritize the pursuit of just one to have any chance of success— though Russian commanders have repeatedly stretched their forces too thin across multiple axes of advance throughout the invasion of Ukraine"

The think tank noted that Kyiv has "heavily fortified both of these routes, which are supplied by numerous ground lines of communication running deep into the Ukrainian rear, and any Russian attempt to advance down these roads would likely be highly costly."

According to a U.S. intelligence officer who previously spoke to Newsweek, it's only a matter of time before Russia loses in its invasion of Ukraine. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also said earlier this week that Bakhmut seems to hold "more of a symbolic value than it is strategic and operational value" to Putin, who has targeted the city of 70,000 for nearly seven months.

U.S. officials also estimate that Russian forces are facing up to 70 percent casualties along the front lines of the war.

The ISW noted on Tuesday as well that Russia's recent tactical assaults in urban areas around Bakhmut "likely lack the mechanized forces necessary to advance beyond" the city. According to the report, Moscow has been increasingly reliant on "'assault detachments,' a battalion-size element optimized for frontal assaults on fortified areas, rather than for maneuver warfare."

"The continuing devolution of Russian force structure towards small assault detachments using simplified tactics, combined with mounting losses among the most effective Russian troops, will likely greatly limit the ability of Russian forces to properly exploit any paths of advance opened by the capture of Bakhmut," read the assessment.

"Russian forces remain unlikely to secure more than a tactical victory following 10 months of assaults," the ISW added.

Newsweek has reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment.