US estimates over 20,000 Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine since December in ongoing Bakhmut battle
In a recent announcement, the United States estimated that over 20,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in fighting in Ukraine since December. A further 80,000 have been wounded, according to National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, who cited newly declassified intelligence. Notably, half of the dead are from the Wagner mercenary company, which has been attacking eastern Bakhmut city. The city has become a focal point for Russian commanders, who have struggled to deliver any positive news to the Kremlin. However, the battle has taken on huge symbolic importance for both sides. Ukrainian officials have also said they are using the battle to kill as many of Russia’s troops as possible and wear down its reserves.
Moscow currently holds most of Bakhmut, but Ukrainian troops still control a small portion of the city in the west. The fierce battle has been ongoing since last year in a grinding war of attrition. Russia has been trying to take the small city in an attempt to bring itself slightly closer to its goal of controlling the whole of the Donetsk region, one of four regions in eastern and southern Ukraine annexed by Russia last September following referendums widely condemned outside Russia as a sham.
Analysts suggest that Bakhmut has little strategic value, but has become a significant point for Russian commanders. The Wagner mercenary group, which widely uses convicts and has become notorious for its often inhumane methods, has taken centre stage in the Russian assault on Bakhmut. Its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has staked his reputation, and that of his private army, on seizing the city.
However, he recently threatened to pull his troops out of Bakhmut, and in a rare in-depth interview with a prominent Russian war blogger, he vowed to withdraw Wagner fighters if they were not provided with much-needed ammunition by the Russian defence ministry. Wagner fighters could be redeployed to Mali, he warned. He has often clashed with Russia’s defence ministry during the war, accusing officials of not providing his fighters with enough support.
A top Ukrainian general said on Monday that counterattacks had ousted Russian forces from some positions in Bakhmut, but the situation remained “difficult”. New Russian units, including paratroopers and fighters from Wagner, are being “constantly thrown into battle” despite taking heavy losses, Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, said on Telegram. “But the enemy is unable to take control of the city,” he said.