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Russia has suffered at least 60,000 casualties in its attempt to capture the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, a western official has said. They also said that overall Russian casualties are “well over 200,000” and there are indications the anticipated Ukrainian counter-offensive could begin within weeks.
According to the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), as more Russian forces were deployed to Bakhmut, Vladimir Putin’s troops may be less likely to appropriately react to a new offensive by Ukrainian forces.
In its latest update, the MoD said: “Russia has continued to redeploy regular units to the Bakhmut sector, as Wagner Group assault detachment complete their withdrawal to rear areas.
“Russian VDV (airborne forces) have assumed an increasingly important role in Bakhmut: elements of the 76th and 106th divisions and two additional separate VDV brigades are now deployed to the sector.
“The VDV is much degraded from its pre-invasion ‘elite’ status. However, Russian commanders have likely attempted to maintain some of these still relatively capable units as an uncommitted reserve.
“Because they have instead been forced to deploy them to hold the front line in Bakhmut, the whole Russian force is likely to be less flexible in reacting to operational challenges.”
Earlier this month, Russia claimed to have captured Bakhmut, a city in eastern Ukraine, after about a year of fighting.
A Western official said: “We judge that capturing Bakhmut has likely cost Russia at least 60,000 casualties in that Bakhmut-Popasna sector over the course of the year-long battle.”
They said it was a “conservative estimate” for the number of Russian casualties on that area of the front, and on the estimated breakdown of killed to wounded they said: “I think we would say at least a third killed.”
They reiterated what a number of observers have said in describing Bakhmut as “not strategically significant” in terms of the wider conflict.
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“In Bakhmut, we now assess that Ukrainian elements have withdrawn from the main built-up area of the town.
“We are seeing Wagner (mercenary) forces in the process of withdrawing, at least for now. Replacing these force elements is a significant commitment of Russia’s already overstretched regular forces.
“We are assessing that it looks likely that the VDV (the Russian Airborne Forces) are heavily involved in this replacing of the Wagner moving out. Our sense is that is likely to antagonise the VDV leadership.”
The western official said the overall number of Russian casualties in the conflict is “well over 200,000”.
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Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said last month the Russian mercenary group lost more than 20,000 fighters in the drawn-out battle for Bakhmut.
Moscow said it has lost just over 6,000 troops in the entire war.
Russia has kept up a steady barrage on the Ukrainian capital and other parts of the country in recent weeks as Kyiv readies what it says is a counter-offensive to push back Moscow’s troops, 15 months after their full-scale invasion.
The western official said: “We assess that the forces that the Ukrainians have reconstituted ready for the counter-offensive are now either in or are likely soon to be moving to assembly areas which would give them access in reasonably short order to where they actually want to have their axes of attack.”
They added: “I think all of the signs are that this is sort of … within weeks rather than within months.”
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