Around 30,000 soldiers from Vladimir Putin’s Wagner Group “private army” and regular Russian units have been killed or wounded in the battle for the eastern town of Bakhmut, says a top British military expert.
Ian Stubbs, senior military adviser at the UK Delegation to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), stressed that the “staggering casualties” had been the cost of the Wagner mercenaries advancing just 25km (15.5 miles) in nine months.
Latest reports suggested that Wagner soldiers were still inching their way forward in fierce fighting towards the centre of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk province.
But Ukrainian military chiefs stressed that their forces were still holding the town.
In a speech in Vienna, Mr Stubbs said: “In recent weeks, the staggering casualties suffered by Russia around Bakhmut appear to have had significant impact.
“Their assault seemingly stalled, reports suggest that the Russian military and Wagner group urgently need to replenish personnel and munition stocks.
“Approximately 30,000 Russian fighters have been killed or wounded since the battle for Bakhmut began nine months ago, with the Wagner-dominated force advancing just 25km in this time.”
As Volodymyr Zelensky appeared to hint that a Ukrainian counter-offensive may be launched very soon, as Putin’s spring advances have made little significant gains, Mr Stubbs slammed “astounding levels of incompetence in Russia’s military leadership”.
He added: “It is nearly 400 days since Russia’s barbaric and illegal invasion of Ukraine. Since then, we have seen the extraordinary determination of the Ukrainian people as they defend their homeland. With support from their partners, Ukraine has shown that agility and ingenuity can have a devastating effect against a so-called super power.”
Ukrainian President Mr Zelensky spoke in his Thursday evening video address of the “tremendous path” his country had taken in 400 days of resistance since Russia’s invasion on February 24, 2022.
“Ukraine will win at the front ... we will not leave a single trace of Russia on our land, and we will not leave any enemy unpunished either. We are preparing news about this,” he said.
He did not give details, but the Ukrainian military has been planning a counter-offensive.
Ukraine said on Thursday that Russian forces continued their assault on Bakhmut and nearby towns as well as on the contested city of Avdiivka and surrounding area.
The mining town of Bakhmut has been the site of the bloodiest infantry battle in Europe since World War Two, with Russian forces seeking their first victory since mid-2022.
“Our defences are holding the city and repelling numerous enemy attacks,” the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a report on Facebook on Thursday evening.
The Ukrainian military had said a day earlier that Russian fighters were having some success in Bakhmut.
Evhen Dikyi, a Ukrainian military analyst interviewed on Ukrainian NV Radio on Thursday, said Russian forces control more than half the city.
“I can tell you that Bakhmut is holding firm. But there is heavy fighting in the city and it is getting closer to the city centre,” he said.
“If Russian forces are reported to have made ‘some progress’ it is probably because they have crossed the Bakhmutka River. They have come wave upon wave and we are talking about a few hundred metres,” Mr Dikyi added.
A month ago, the Ukrainian military seemed likely to abandon Bakhmut but has since decided to stay and fight for it, hoping to break the attacking force and inflict heavy casualties on it.
Russian forces were reported to be suffering between five to eight casualties compared to each Ukrainian one.
On the political front, Turkey’s parliament approved a bill on Thursday to allow Finland to join NATO, with Sweden’s bid to do so not as far advanced.
The Turkish parliament was the last among the 30 members of the Western defence alliance to ratify Finland’s membership after Hungary’s legislature approved a similar bill earlier this week. Sweden has also sought NATO membership.
NATO countries individually, notably the United States, UK and European nations, and the alliance collectively have provided major military and financial support to the Kyiv government.
“Soon both Finland and Sweden will be (NATO) members, meaning that President Putin is getting the exact opposite of what he wanted,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Fox News.
“He wanted less NATO. He is getting more NATO.”
Russia has repeatedly accused the West and NATO of playing a direct role in the Ukraine conflict by supplying weapons to Kyiv and has warned that NATO weapons are “legitimate targets” for its armed forces.
Nato member countries have given weapons, including tanks, bilaterally to Ukraine, rather than under the umbrella of the military alliance.