Expert on fighting in Donbass
“The Russians don’t make anything of their successes”
05/28/2023, 11:20 am
The ruined city of Bakhmut has been taken by the Russians, but how do they use it? Military expert Wolfgang Richter on the lack of consequences and why the Russians seem at a loss.
ntv.de: It’s been a while since Bachmut was taken, the fighting was fierce. What has happened there since then?
Wolfgang Richter: In the Bachmut area, there is still no sign that the Russian troops can use the success they had in the city itself to take further steps. Ukrainian forces remain on the wings outside the city, intent on doing exactly what the Russians have been trying to do for so long: outflank the city, encircle the Russian troops. There is currently fierce fighting south and north of the city because both sides are still trying to make a profit there.
Otherwise, taking Bakhmut hasn’t helped the Russian troops so far?
The Russians are clearly focused on the Donetsk region, where Bakhmut is located. They focus on the Donbass in general and believe that with a lot of effort and losses they can break through there. But so far they have not been able to use the success in Bachmut operationally, otherwise they would have had to start moving immediately and gain space.
In what form would something like this have to happen?
They would have to have the attacking formations already deployed in order to quickly advance into the depths. In fact, if the Russians conquered a few more ruins, nothing happens after that. Instead of exploiting the success, advancing further, smashing the Ukrainian logistics, approaching the headquarters, nothing is happening. The Russians make nothing of their successes.
How can this be explained?
In the Bakhmut area there are not only Wagner troops but also Russian paratroopers. The Ukrainian army has now countered them with its own paratroopers, so opposing paratrooper units are meeting there. Although these are elite troops, they are primarily suitable for urban combat, in built-up areas or in the forest, less for offensive attack movements. They are too lightly equipped for that. They lack artillery and strong armored forces. Another problem: the Russian armed forces do not develop any initiative on the ground, at the lower levels. Everything is centrally planned from above and everything is set for attrition and trench warfare. This keeps the troops from moving, they remain static in what they are doing.
The Ukrainian troops are much more mobile in comparison, aren’t they?
In general, the Ukrainians know better how to coordinate fire and movement and, above all, how to quickly coordinate reconnaissance and artillery strikes. The Ukrainians are able to use their reconnaissance results sometimes within seconds, possibly minutes and attack their targets accordingly. In the coordination of the drone-GPS-artillery fire complex, the Kiev armed forces were good from the start.
Should the Russians move, could a push into western terrain take place?
Bakhmut is part of the prepared position system of Ukrainians in the Donbas. The terrain 30 to 40 kilometers to the west is relatively flat and used for agriculture. So overall this is a good attacking ground up to the next line of defenses with the larger cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. Battles like the one at Bakhmut would probably be repeated there. However, the western edge of the Donbass and the headquarters of the Ukrainian Eastern Army are already there. It would then be about an important position that is not only of operational importance.
Their loss could also have strategic implications, since the Russians aim to militarily occupy the entire area that has already been annexed. In addition, the loss of the area between Bakhmut and Kramatorsk could endanger a possible Ukrainian counterattack to the south, because the Russians could then move against the rear of the Ukrainian attack formations.
What about other sections of the front?
In the south-west and south of the Ukrainian front line, in the Kherson and Zaporizhia areas, the Russian Armed Forces are conducting only defensive operations, so they are preparing for defense there. At most, there have been minor reconnaissance advances, mainly on the part of the Ukrainians.
And in the Northeast?
In the region around Kharkiv, Sumy and the Russian Belgorod, the front line in the north-east, it was rather quiet for a long time, although artillery fire was reported daily. There the Ukrainians and the Russians face each other directly at the state borders. The advances of the so-called volunteer corps in the Belgorod region not only looked like propaganda and an attempt to destabilize Russian self-confidence, but it may well have been a reconnaissance thrust, which was intended to test how strong the Russians were there in view of the expected counter-offensive stand by the defense. Even if the front lines are likely to change by a few kilometers after the expected counter-offensives in the summer, I do not expect any strategic turnaround in the war in the near future, which will lead to a victory for one side or the other. The resources available on both sides are more likely to lead to the conclusion that the war will be protracted and cost more heavy casualties.
Frauke Niemeyer spoke to Wolfgang Richter