Russian attack | In Bahmut, “Russia’s madness is most obvious” – Why does Russia concentrate its forces in the trenches, where there are casualties, but no victories?

For months now, Russia has concentrated a huge amount of its military power on the Bahmut front in eastern Ukraine. Battles are fought in muddy trenches with many casualties but few victories.

The new ones the lethal power of firearms scared all sides of the war. It was September 1914. In the first battle of the Marne, more than a hundred thousand soldiers died during the week. There were many more injured.

World War I found that mobile warfare had become extremely dangerous with the widespread use of assault rifles, mines and gases. So the soldiers started digging shelters.

Meandering trenches were dug on the front line between Germany and France, which eventually reached from the English Channel to the Swiss Alps, although not uniformly.

The trenches of the Western Front protected the soldiers from enemy fire. But at the same time they congealed the war into a slow positional war, where living conditions were miserable.

In cramped and damp conditions, diseases spread easily. The trenches were filled with water and mud. Tens of thousands of soldiers died from trench foot caused by wet feet alone.

The inconsolable images of the ‘no man’s land’ of the Western Front were recorded in black and white photographs, paintings and contemporary texts: scorched earth, corpses and mud. Mudslide and the people covered and swallowed by it.

Soldiers on the Western Front in 1917.

Over a hundred a year later, social media channels such as Telegram and Twitter have been filled with similar imagery: mud, mud, mud and bodies.

Many of the images are said to be from the Bahmut front in Donetsk Oblast, eastern Ukraine. Bahmut was originally a city roughly the size of Lappeenranta, but most of its approximately 70,000 inhabitants have fled their homes.

There have been bloody battles on the outskirts of the city for a long time, which have only intensified in recent weeks. The daily number of dead and injured reaches hundreds.

Some of the images circulating on the internet have been located near Bahmut, says an expert mapping the war events in Ukraine John Helin, who has reviewed the videos in this story. Fierce battles take place, for example, at the gas station northeast of Bahmut, at the corner of the intersection between the M03 and T1302 roads.

“The Russians are taking shocking losses while holding a gas station, which the Ukrainians are shooting with their artillery day and night,” Helin described the situation at the end of November.

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It is difficult to verify the exact shooting location of the videos shot from inside the trenches in gray November. According to Helin, the footage is new in any case, published in the latter half of November, and corresponds to Bahmut’s conditions.

Ukrainian during the autumn, the counterattack has progressed on many fronts, forcing the Russian troops to withdraw from the Kharkiv region and the city of Kherson. But on the Bahmut front, Ukrainian forces are in trouble.

Russia has concentrated a significant amount of its manpower and weapons in the region. More and more new soldiers are constantly arriving to replace those killed in previous attacks.

“Their tactic is to send forward these human parcoches that we have to eliminate”, said Petro– commander of the National Guard of Ukraine to the CNN channel at the end of November.

According to the Ukrainian commander, Russia did not succeed in a direct attack on Bahmut, so it is approaching the city from around it. The setup is dangerous for both the attacker and the defender.

“We have had to move from the urban terrain to the fields, where we are exposed to artillery fire.”

in Bahmut the war did not start on February 24th. Russian-backed troops already invaded the city in the spring of 2014, when the city still bore its communist-era name of Artemivsk.

The Ukrainian forces regained Artemivsk in the same summer, and in 2015 the war in eastern Ukraine turned into a war of positions. Normal life continued in the city, but trenches were dug in front of Bahmut.

Now the city, which the Russian troops are approaching, has been badly destroyed. Russian forces have captured some of the trenches built by the Ukrainians years ago, forcing the Ukrainian forces to move more quickly to their crouched shelters.

The trenches the basic principles have remained very similar ever since the First and Second World Wars, says the captain Olli ToivanenMaasotakoulu Pioneerikoulu protection promotion teacher.

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“Accommodation dugouts, battle trenches and the principles of protection sought in them have remained the same. Currently, there are ready-made building elements that can be used to speed up the building.”

Trenches are usually built on a dominant terrain point, the terrain of which offers natural protection and good visibility and firing range.

According to Toivanen, the fortresses built by the Ukrainian and Russian troops have features of field fortifications during the Soviet Union. The Russians, in particular, have a clear pattern in their fortifications, which follow the manuals of motorized infantry.

Compared to the First World War, the battle trenches and fire stations seen in Ukraine now form bases in places that can be defended in several different air directions.

In Bahmut’s trenches, the main danger also comes from above, when explosives are dropped using commercial drones.

According to Toivanen, it is still too early to assess how effective drones are in a positional war.

“At least they are useful psychologically and for propaganda purposes. But it remains to be seen how significant weapons they will be.”

The weekend during the fighting around Bahmut continued at least on the south and northeast sides of the city, says ISW. According to the British Defense Forces, Russia’s intention is to besiege the city.

But experts have wondered why Russia is willing to pay so much for slow progress toward a city that has little bearing on the overall cost of the war.

“I don’t understand why they waste so much blood in Bahmut,” says the Swedish National Defense Academy’s military teacher, Lt. Col. Peter Liden. “But they judged Bahmut worth it.”

Lidén believes that Bahmut’s value to Russians is above all symbolic. The symbolic value is built partly by history, on the other hand by the fact that so many have already died for the occupation of the city.

Also fighting in Bahmut is a group of Wagner mercenaries and a group of criminals recruited from Russian prisons. For example in the British newspaper The Guardian it was estimated that the Wagner forces seem to be fighting in Bahmut mostly for honor and prestige in the eyes of the Russian leadership.

Russia demands proof of progress from its soldiers, even when it seems impossible.

“Russia wants some kind of victory,” says Lidén. “They have invested so much in Bahmut that they have to continue until the end.”

The battles that are essential for Russia’s main goals are still elsewhere, Lidén states. The most important thing for Russia is to secure the Crimean peninsula, i.e. to prevent the advance of the Ukrainians in the Zaporizhia region and east of the Dnieper in Kherson.

Yet from early summer Bahmutin could be seen as part of Russia’s wider plan in the east. At that time, the Russian troops captured the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysytchansk, practically taking over the entire Luhansk Oblast.

After the occupation of Luhansk, the Russian troops could have continued their journey through Bahmut to Slovyansk and Kramatorsk. However, Bahmut is not a necessary transit route.

The battles in the Luhansk region also consumed Russian forces so that rapid progress is no longer successful. Conquering Sloviansk and Kramatorsk in the near future seems unlikely, as advancing on the Bahmut’s foothills alone has proven to be extremely difficult.

American according to think tank ISW Russia’s use of force in Bahmut shows that it has not learned from its mistakes. As in the Luhansk region in the summer, during the fall Russia has spent a huge amount of its military forces near Bahmut on targets that do not promise a military breakthrough.

The front line moving is difficult, as the defender has a strong advantage. It became clear already during the First World War.

For example, in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, a total of over a million German, French and British soldiers were killed, wounded and missing.

The front line moved 12 kilometers the whole time.

Also in Bahmut, the front line is moving slowly. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi said in one of his evening speeches at the end of October that “Russia’s madness is most obvious” in Bahmut.

“Day after day for months, they’ve been driving people to their deaths while consuming a huge amount of artillery ammunition.”

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