For months, the Ukrainian defenders of Bakhmut have been resisting the full force of the Russian invaders. Waves of Wagner mercenaries and regular Kremlin forces have advanced at immense cost into the meat grinder of urban warfare and failed in their aim of its capture before Moscow’s Victory Day parade on May 9. Instead of Putin being able to announce victory in Bakhmut, he had to preside over an embarrassing Kremlin parade featuring precisely one tank. It was a metaphor for Russian failings in Ukraine.
Ukrainian forces are now making gains outside Bakhmut and that is even before the launch of the much-anticipated Ukrainian spring counteroffensive. Russian infighting is rampant with the head of Wagner mercenary forces Yevgeny Prigozhin launching a verbal assault against the Russian military leadership for “abandoning” their Bakhmut positions, saying: “There was no tactical retreat… What happened was the outright flight of units of the ministry of defence from the flanks.” He laid the blame at the feet of Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu: “Stop lying… our flanks are falling apart… this is all leading to a massive tragedy for Russia.”
President Volodoyr Zelensky has been careful to explain that the start of major Ukrainian operations is dependent on weapons systems being in place. In recent days, he has been touring European capitals, securing a massive package of military support for his country.
Germany is now to provide more Leopard tanks, armoured personnel carriers, combat vehicles, self-propelled howitzers, reconnaissance drones, anti-aircraft systems and other air defence equipment. The package is worth more than 2.7 billion euros and comes after an earlier significant tranche of modern battle tanks and sophisticated anti-aircraft systems which can target drones and missiles.
Across the EU, an unprecedented effort is underway to provide more than a million artillery rounds. This will help counter the Russian advantage in artillery capability, as will the UK’s provision of devastatingly capable Storm Shadow missiles, which has a significantly further range than the highly effective US Himars system. In future, there will be no part of occupied Ukraine that is not reachable, including major supply and command centres and bases like Sevastopol.
Spring is when soggy ground in Ukraine makes way for improved conditions for military operations, and the Russians know they will face a major onslaught. They have been digging trenches the full length of the frontline. However, their ground forces have already taken massive losses with battle-hardened units depleted and replaced with inexperienced recruits. Russian losses are estimated at around 200,000 killed and wounded, with thousands of tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery pieces destroyed since the full-scale invasion began last February.
When the Ukrainian counteroffensive is launched, it will include thousands of troops trained in western Europe. They will be in a position to undertake combined arms operations, using the most modern and powerful weapons systems available against largely static, poorly led Russian forces.
We must do more than just wish the Ukrainians well in the forthcoming counteroffensive. Major pledges of equipment by Germany, the EU, UK and US are hugely welcome. It is, however, Ukrainians who are fighting and dying. It is Ukrainian men and women who are paying the ultimate price for the whole of democratic Europe. We must support them. Slava Ukraini, Heroem Slava – Glory to Ukraine, Glory to the Heroes.