The landscape around the Ukrainian stronghold of Bakhmut resembles a First World War battlefield, the ground carved out by artillery and cut by networks of trenches.
For months, Russian forces, including mercenaries from the Wagner Group, relentlessly attacked the city as they pursued full control of the Donbass region, but to no avail.
As Volodymyr Zelensky told a jam-packed US Congress last month: “They attacked him day and night, but Bakhmut is holding his ground.”
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On Tuesday, the Wagner Group’s Yevgeny Prigozhin’s discussion of the struggles to cross Ukrainian lines around the city was shared by state media.
He said there were “500 lines of defense” and each house was a “fortress”.
So why is Bakhmut so important to Russia?
Strategically, it’s not, retired Air Vice-Marshal Sean Bell told Sky News.
“Bakhmut is not a significant military target,” he said.
But in the context of the wider Russian effort to capture all of Donbass, Bakhmut is part of a pocket of territory still controlled by Ukrainian forces that has been a “thorn in Putin’s side”, Bell added. .
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said capturing the city would have “limited operational value” for Moscow, although it added it would “potentially allow Russia to threaten the major urban areas of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk”.
On Tuesday, the department said it was “unlikely” that Kremlin forces would make a significant breakthrough near Bakhmut in the coming weeks.
What are Yevgeny Prigozhin and Wagner doing in Bakhmut?
Much of Moscow’s offensives around the city are carried out by Wagner Group mercenaries, including a large number of convicts who have been taken from Russian prisons.
After effectively telling Vladimir Putin that Wagner could take him to Bakhmut where the Russian army could not – and then failing to take the city – Mr Prigozhin began blaming Russia for the lack of progress, says Mr Bell.
“He’s not a military expert. So Bakhmut suddenly becomes not about military significance, but about political significance and Putin tells him and the battle between them over power and inheritance.
“So I suspect that’s why Bakhmut has become such an iconic moment in the war when from a military point of view it’s very difficult to understand how he got there.”
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Another feature of the battle for Bakhmut, Bell says, is the difference in warfare styles between Ukrainians and Russians.
“Russia just has untrained conscripts, ‘here’s a gun, shoot it.’
“And what we see on the battlefield – and Bakhmut is a very good example – is that Russia has leveled it by doing lots and lots of carpet bombing.
“What the Ukrainians have done is surgically hit their supplies, surgically hit where their leaders are, surgically hit their bomb depots.”
He likened Russia’s strategy to a war of attrition like those seen in the two world wars, while Ukraine used modern joint military thinking.
“It feels like a clash of cultures where the only experience of Russians is 20th century warfare, while Ukrainians are fighting using western technology in 21st century warfare,” he added.