NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut might fall to Russian forces in the “coming days” as the Russian mercenary outfit Wagner Group claimed more gains in the battle.
“We cannot rule out that Bakhmut may eventually fall in the coming days,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Stockholm. He added that Bakhmut falling would not “necessarily reflect any turning point of the war” as Western officials are downplaying the idea that a Ukrainian defeat in the city would be a major setback.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, said the mercenaries had taken control of the entire eastern district of Bakhmut, which is separated from the western areas by a small river. “Everything east of the Bakhmutka River is completely under the control of the Wagner PMC,” he said on Telegram, according to the Russian news agency TASS.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said Tuesday that if Russian forces take Bakhmut, they can push further into Ukrainian-controlled areas of the region. “The city is an important hub for defending Ukrainian troops in the Donbas. Taking it under control will allow further offensive actions to be conducted deep into Ukraine’s defensive lines,” he said.
Ukrainian officials have hinted in recent weeks at a possible withdrawal from Bakhmut, but President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday that his generals want to keep fighting for the city. Zelensky reaffirmed in an interview with CNN that aired Wednesday that Ukrainian forces will keep defending Bakhmut.
The Kyiv Independent recently spoke with Ukrainian soldiers who were fighting on the front in Bakhmut. The report said they spoke of “unprepared, poorly-trained battalions being thrown into the front line meat grinder to survive as best they could with little support from armored vehicles, mortars, artillery, drones and tactical information.”