Ukrainian official: Forces can withdraw from the key city of Bakhmut

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Ukrainian military may withdraw troops from the key stronghold of Bakhmut, an adviser…

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Ukrainian military may withdraw troops from the key fortress of Bakhmutan adviser to Ukraine’s president said Wednesday in remarks that suggested Russia could seize the city that has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance.

Kremlin forces waged a bloody, months-long offensive to take Bakhmut, a salt and gypsum mining town in eastern Ukraine that became a ghost town.

“Our military is obviously going to weigh all options. Until now, they have held the city, but if necessary, they will strategically retreat,” Alexander Radnyansky, an economic adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, told CNN. “We are not going to sacrifice all our men for nothing.”

The battle for Bakhmut epitomized the determination of Ukraine when the defenders of the city stood their ground incessant shelling and Russian troops bear heavy losses.

Bakhmut is in the Donetsk region, one of four that Russia illegally annexed last fall, but which Moscow only half controls. To take the other half, Russian troops must pass through Bakhmut, the only approach to the larger towns controlled by Ukraine since Ukrainian forces retook Izyum in Kharkiv Oblast in September.

Analysts say that the fall of Bakhmut would be a blow to Ukraine and would give Russia tactical advantages, but would not be decisive for the outcome of the war.

Radnyansky pointed out that Russia is using the best troops of the Wagner group to try to surround the city. The private military company, known for its brutal tactics, is headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a rogue millionaire with longstanding ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On Wednesday, Prigozhin said that he saw no signs of Ukraine’s withdrawal and that Kyiv was actually strengthening its position.

“The Ukrainian army is deploying additional troops and doing everything possible to maintain control over the city,” Prigozhin said. “Tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers are putting up fierce resistance, and the fighting is getting bloodier every day.”

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar said earlier this week that reinforcements had been sent to Bakhmut.

Ukrainian military analyst Oleg Zhdanov told The Associated Press that the reinforcements may have been sent “to buy time” to strengthen Ukrainian fire lines on a hill in Chasov Yar, 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) west of Bakhmut.

Zhdanov stated that the possible withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Bakhmut “will not affect the course of the war in any way” because of the firing positions in Chasvy Yar.

Bakhmut is now partially surrounded, and all roads, including the main supply route, are under Russian fire control, Zhdanov said. The city lies in ruins and “no longer has any strategic or operational importance.”

“In Bakhmut, the Russians lost so many forces – soldiers and equipment – that this city has already fulfilled its function,” said Zhdanov.

The latest footage from the drone showed the extent of destruction in the city, and Zelensky called it “ruined”.

Since the invasion of Ukraine a year ago, Russia has bombed various cities and towns that it wanted to capture. He also launched missile strikes on Ukraine’s electricity supply on the eve of winter in an apparent attempt to weaken the fighting spirit of the residents.

While Western analysts warned that warmer weather could give Moscow an opportunity to resume its offensive, Ukrainian officials nevertheless celebrated Wednesday as their traditional first day of spring.

Foreign Minister Dmitriy Kuleba said that his country had come out of Putin’s “winter terror.”

“We experienced the hardest winter in our history,” Kuleba wrote on Facebook.

The war could become a protracted conflict, analysts predict, and Latvian Prime Minister Kristianis Karins said it would require a response from Kiev’s Western allies.

“Potentially for many years we will have to readjust our armed forces, our military industry, to be able to approach a much, much bigger task,” Karins said after talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. .

Meanwhile, one of Zelenskyi’s top advisers, Mikhail Padalyak, denied on Wednesday that Ukraine had used drones to attack Russian territory after Russian official statements that Ukraine struck the infrastructure deep inside Russia.

“Ukraine does not attack the territory of the Russian Federation. Ukraine is waging a defensive war with the aim of deoccupying all its territories,” Podoliak wrote on Twitter, suggesting that the strikes on Russian infrastructure were the result of “internal attacks.”

Ukraine’s Western allies discourage Ukraine from attacking targets in Russia itself to avoid escalating the conflict, and Podalyak’s statement may reflect an attempt by Kiev to maintain a degree of denial in light of these Western concerns.

In the past, Ukrainian officials have not claimed responsibility for attacks in Russia, but have also insisted that Ukraine has the right to strike any target on Russian territory in response to Russian aggression.

When asked about Podalyak’s refutation, Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peyskov replied: “We don’t believe it.”

Pictures of the drone that crashed near the village of Gubastava, less than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Moscow, showed it was a small Ukrainian-made model with a claimed range of up to 800 kilometers (almost 500 miles) but no power. carry a lot of explosives.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that it prevented a massive drone attack on Crimea. According to Russian state media, air defenses shot down six drones, and electronic warfare systems disabled four more.

In addition, the office of the President of Ukraine reported that at least nine civilians were killed and another 12 were injured.

Three people, including a 1-year-old boy, were wounded Wednesday by Russian shelling in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, regional authorities said.

Fierce fighting continued in the Donetsk region, where Bakhmut, the cities of Avdeivka and Vugledar, as well as 17 cities and towns came under intense fire from Russian troops.


Yuras Karmanov in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed to this report.


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