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Some have called the Russian efforts to take Bakhmut senseless, but I don't necessarily agree.
Why does Bakhmut matter and why are both Ukraine and Russia willing to throw so many men into the meatgrinder it has become?
As promised: why Bakhmut? A thread.
1) It controls the Ukrainian logistics of a vast area and is a significant transport hub
2) It allows Russia to threaten other contact line fortifications.
3) Capturing it and pushing past the contact line. gives Russia better terrain for future offensives.
The city of Bakhmut is an important crossroad and the major arteries of northern Donetsk run through it, most importantly the M03 towards Slovyansk.
In addition, a railroad runs from the city towards the south through Maiorsk to Luhansk and Russia. 3/
This means that capturing the city and the surrounding area, especially the Severodonetsk road, helps with Russian logistics in the area and makes the city a good staging point for future offensives towards Slovyansk.
We'll talk about this more in the third part. 4/
On a more local level the main supply route of Soledar, and Siversk further north, runs near the city and thus capturing Bakhmut makes the defence of the Siversk area more challenging.
The bridge over the Siverskiy Donets at Zakitne is still down.
(Sentinel, 4.12.22) 5/
Thus the logistics of the whole Siversk direction would need to be run through much smaller roads.
In addition, many feel that the Kreminna direction might be the best bet for Ukrainian advances in Luhansk. Russian gains near Siversk would put that effort in trouble 6/
While Ukraine has been good at using smaller roads for logistics in the past, it's unclear how winter conditions will affect many of these minor routes. Snow and ice may at the very least slow down logistics over them. 7/
Even if Siversk itself is properly supplied, the fall of Bakhmut would greatly affect the situation in Soledar, and give Russia better eyes upon the Bakhmutovka valley, meaning that Ukrainian defensive lines might have to be pulled further west 8/
In the most boring way taking Bakhmut opens up the Popasna road for supply. 9/
However, Siversk isn't the only thing influenced by Bakhmut. While the city itself is deep behind the old contact line, its fall would allow Russia to flank other fortifications.
This is part of a larger Russian idea of encircling strong points on the contact line. 10/
By looking at the rainbow gradient map of doom, we can see that the ridgeline on the SW side of Bakhmut (the light blue area top mid) is the dominating terrain feature of the area, and gives Russia the ability to support attacks southwest, towards the Toretsk supply routes. 11/
The area of Dyliivka is not nearly as well fortified as the area near Bakhmut was, and should Russia manage to cross the canal west of Kurdyumivka and advance westwards with the help of the heights, they could eventually put the T0516 under fire control. 12/
As with other Russian advancements, this would hardly be a lighting strike towards the southwest, but it would nevertheless make supplying Toretsk and Pivnichne a lot more challenging, and Russia hopes that it could force Ukraine to withdraw from those cities. 13/
This would, again, open up the contact line and let Russia advance westwards from the Maiorsk railway station without urban combat in Pivnichne and Toretsk. This is in line with other Russian attempts to threaten encirclement and have Ukraine withdraw from cities. 14/
If Toretsk falls, Niu-Yorks supply lines start being under threat.
As said, these advances would most likely not be fast. Nothing like we saw in Popasna, and a long slog, but Russia may believe that it could breach the contact line in multiple places before spring
This brings us to 3)
Russia may believe that with the mobilization producing up to 300 000 troops, and giving it a chance to rest and refit other units, it's in a position to take the initiative and launch a major offensive attempt come spring. 16/
Such an offensive attempt would most likely be aimed at capturing the rest of the Donetsk oblast. For this to have any chance of success, Russia wants to be past the contact line fortifications. The Popasna offensive taught them dearly how hard it is to push past them. 17/
This also highlights the importance of Bakhmut once again. The M03 towards Slovyansk is a natural attack vector for Russian troops, and the railway line means, that should Russia manage to take significant ground, Bakhmut can act as a supply hub. 18/
Of course, the chances of such an offensive succeeding are slim in the best of conditions and are reliant on Ukraine running low on artillery ammunition and other equipment.
However, that doesn't really matter as long as the Russian political leadership demands it. 18/
Outside of these 3 points, there is the Siverskiy Donetsk - Donetsk canal which is essential for getting water to the areas that Russia has occupied since 2015. Donetsk is suffering from lack of water and controlling the canal is very important for Russian political goals. 19/
It's also true that the significance of Bakhmut was much, much higher back when Russia still was in Izium and Slovyansk would've been advanced upon from two sides.
In a similar vein, Siversk was in a bad situation already during the summer with Russians north of the river 20/
Russian gains do not mean that the Siversk area will certainly fall into Russian hands, nor that the Toretsk - Niu York - Pivnichne triangle will fall. It just makes future Russian operations to take these areas easier, or even possible at all in the case of the latter. 21/
Even if Bakhmut falls the Ukrainians will put up a significant fight against any future Russian advances. Of course, Bakhmut with its urban terrain and relatively covered supply line to the west has presented itself as an exceptionally defensible area. 22/
Thus, in conclusion, I've seen the Russian operations in Bakhmut be called senseless, but I think Bakhmut isn't called "the key to Donetsk" for nothing. The Russians know the possibilities that controlling the city opens and Ukraine knows the challenges losing it will bring. 23/
With the challenges that both sides have had with offensive action against determined defenders, I'm not sure it's worth it, but there is at least a reason why both sides are willing to expend such large amounts of men and material in the Bakhmut meatgrinder. 24/
Any future advance from Bakhmut onwards will also be a slow slog, just as Bakhmut itself has been, and the situation on the ground may change many times before any of the possibilities can actually be realised, but without Bakhmut Russia can't realise them at all. 25/