As the assault on Artemovsk (Bakhmut) continues, rather than attempting to steamroll Ukrainian defenses in the town, Russian forces are now encircling the area, effectively cutting the it off from resupply and reinforcements from the rest of the Ukraine. This article will look at why Russia is choosing to do this and the potential consequences of following a plan such as this.
In Hot Water
The situation in Artemovsk was covered in this article, and since this was published, the plight of Ukrainian assets in the town has continued to get worse. Just as Hitler did during the Second World War, Zelenskiy ordered that there be no Ukrainian retreat from the town, this meaning that there is no solution to a hopeless situation for the Ukrainian military.
The town of Artemovsk (Bakhmut) is now effectively surrounded, yet the fact that the Russians have minimized fighting in residential areas is for good reason.
The town is not yet physically surrounded by Russian assets, yet with drones and portable missiles having the reach that they do, Moscow’s men control all access to Artemovsk, day and night and across country as well as on the roads.
Putting on the Lid
As the situation in Artemovsk gets worse by the days, Ukrainian officers ensured that by blowing a bridge, their soldiers cannot retreat.
Despite the fact that the Ukrainian Armed Forces have no options regarding leaving the town, they have gone to the trouble of blowing up a bridge linking themselves with the outside world. Another bridge in the center of the town was destroyed using demolition charges during the fall, yet the recent destruction of one of the few existing routes that potentially led out of the area could mean that the Ukrainians are preparing for a siege.
A tactic frequently used by Ukrainian forces over previous months as they attempt to push back against the Russians has been to advance infantry in small groups accompanied by tanks, yet in doing so, they have come under punishing fire from both the Wagner PMC as well as Russian tanks, missiles and artillery.
With the Russians holding the lead regarding technology, night vision equipment and reconnaissance drones, the older Ukrainian tanks and unprotected soldiers stand out like sore thumbs during night operations.
At this time of year, both darkness and the cold rule; in order to stay warm, tank crews leave their engines on at all times, this making the detection and subsequent destruction of both armor and ground troops by Russian forces all the easier.
With human casualties being as high as they are, it is only to be expected that material losses be proportionally great, and whilst the final tally will not be known until the town comes under complete Russian control, through deduction as well as certain posts on social media, some figures are now becoming apparent.
Ukranian villagers sit in an overgrown playground in the outskirts of Bakhmut, Eastern Ukraine.AFP
From the beginning of August until today, the Ukrainian 54th and 59th brigades have employed anywhere between six to eight tank companies in the town and surrounding areas. This gives a total of 84 to 122 vehicles. These have been mercilessly pounded by Russian artillery as well as missiles for more than four months of the most bitter combat seen to date in the war.
Many of these were lost as Russia closed in on the town, yet with repair facilities and spares being non-existent, any surviving vehicles are likely in bad shape. This will undoubtedly be the case with armored cavalry and artillery units as well, months of combat and dwindling support rendering units unserviceable.
A recent article examined the merits of Russian and Soviet equipment, but even the toughest kit has its limitations. Much has been said concerning the military tactics adopted by both sides during the conflict, yet tanks and especially artillery have been at the forefront of most large battles. It is for that very reason that the Ukrainian Army has repeatedly come under the spotlight due to its inordinately high consumption of heavy munitions, and this may spell the end for Ukrainian assets in and around Artemovsk. One factor that is of paramount importance to both effective artillery and tank guns is barrel wear.
This affects the accuracy of these weapons, and this is beginning to hinder Kiev’s men across the country. When guns are fired, not only does the barrel wear, but it gets hot, and if you keep firing, it will get hotter still, and therein lies the problem. The hotter a barrel gets, due to hot metal being less resilient than when cold, a faster rate of fire translates into an accelerated rate of wear, many Ukrainian assets now being little more than scrap metal.
With the town cut off, resupply has become impossible. This shot from a pro-Ukrainian source shows how bad the situation regarding food already is
With all that said, there are other matters to be considered before we look at the current situation. As mentioned, the war from a Ukrainian standpoint has to a very great degree been one of prolonged artillery barrages and tank maneuvers, and aside of the effects this has on the equipment itself, it causes immense headaches regarding resupply.
Kiev has been gobbling up heavy munitions at an unprecedented rate, this having exhausted Ukrainian, then European, then US stocks to the point where the combined NATO member states simply cannot keep up with the demands being made upon them. When looking at a near-isolated pocket such as Artemovsk, it doesn’t take a genius to understand that the cannons, and therefore the principal strategy of the Ukrainian Armed Forces are going to a halt sooner rather than later.
Memories of Mariupol
This is one of the very few shots published showing how Artemovsk looks today. It is eerily similar to Mariupol eight months ago
It was in March this year that the city of Mariupol was surrounded by Russian forces, yet in the face of an inevitable defeat, it was not until May that the city was in Russian hands. Those two months saw unthinkable suffering by the civilian population, their bestial treatment at the hands of Ukrainian and fascist troops demonstrating the true intentions of their former masters in Kiev. Should the Artemovsk arena see a repeat performance, it can be guaranteed that Ukrainian troops will terrorize and loot for as long as they can.
This war has involved many Ukrainian towns and cities, yet apart from precision strikes against infrastructure, Russia has wherever possible avoided the street battles seen in many other conflicts. This has meant that civilian casualties have been far lower that would have previously expected and explains why Russian assets have not attempted to steamroll their way into the town.
The current area of combat on the edge of the town has largely been destroyed anyway, yet rather than putting the general public in harm’s way, as with Mariupol, Moscow has again chosen to carry out an encirclement rather than an all-out assault on a center of population.
Although Russian forces have made every effort to prevent civilian casualties, the outskirts of the town have suffered immense damage from the ongoing fighting
Aside from Russia’s interest in eventually taking the town, there are presently other interests in the town that Western governments would rather not be there. We are all aware of a mass of Polish troops in-theater under very dubious circumstances, yet there are others in the town that could prove to be an extreme liability for the likes of Washington, Berlin or London.
Whilst none of these administrations have admitted to having assets on the frontlines, it is widely known that troops from NATO member states are widely distributed throughout the Ukraine. Should Moscow be able to prove that the Atlantic Alliance is actually party to the conflict, the dangers this would present to the security of a very unstable Europe may cause a backlash in certain capital cities.
Russia will doubtlessly go to great pains in ensuring that agents such as these can be captured rather than liquidated.
Having conducted operations as it has, Russia has intentionally turned Artemovsk into a cauldron. As much as Kiev may want its troops to move forward, they are now in a predicament whereby they cannot even retreat, and with Russia creating a virtual no-fly zone in the area, even helicopters are unable to reach Artemovsk.
A hermetic seal now surrounds and covers those in the town, the fate of both soldier and civilian being inexorably intertwined. Coming days and weeks will show the world what will become of city and society.
The battle for Artemovsk has been ongoing for months, yet the past few weeks have seen it not only take center-stage in the Western media, but also enter its final act. A logistics hub that for eight years aided the Ukrainian government in its attacks against the Donbass Republics is finally being surrounded, another Russian victory being yet another failure for Kiev.
Four months of destruction and carnage are now coming to an end, worn out men and machines now an island as waves of Russian assets begin to wash around them. Ten thousand men and innumerable mechanical losses have led to this juncture, a small town in the East becoming a huge loss for both Kiev and the West. Months of failed tactics due to years of bad politics led Ukrainian forces here, yet first and foremost, the guns must stop firing and ordinary people be made safe.
We can only hope that Ukrainian Army soldiers are thinking about surrender whilst fascist elements caught in the region are reflecting upon their futures, a new reality taking the place of the hatred which has ruled for nearly a decade. With them we presume are a large number of ‘irregular individuals’, yet the fate that awaits them will likely be very different indeed. This war was part of the Eurasian chessgame, and by involving themselves, they will surely be pawns between Moscow and the West.
The Artemovsk cauldron is now a thing, the cold of winter bringing one phase of the hot war to an end. We can only presume that this loss will make Kiev feel the heat; for as long as Zelenskiy sticks to his guns, those guns will continue to fire. And for as long as guns are firing, Kiev will continue to shoot itself in the foot.