FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian service members fire a howitzer D30 at a front line near the city of Bakhmut FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian service members fire a howitzer D30 at a front line near the city of Bakhmut 

Russia rejects US casualty claims as strategic Ukraine battle continues

Moscow has rejected a US assessment of Russian military casualties in Ukraine but declined to give its estimates. However, the United States said Monday that Russia's military had sustained 100,000 casualties in the past five months, including tens of thousands of dead. Many soldiers have been killed and injured in the battle for Bakhmut, which is symbolic for both sides.

By Stefan J. Bos

On Tuesday, Ukrainian troops were seen battling against Russian forces, including Wagner mercenaries, around Ukraine's eastern city of Bakhmut and the nearby settlement of Soledar.

Between the ruins and trenches, Ukraine still tries to hold on to some parts of this devastated city.

The White House estimated on Monday that Russia's military had sustained 100,000 casualties in the past five months, including more than 20,000 dead.

But retired U.S. Luitenant-Colonel Daniel L. Davis cautioned that these figures are difficult to verify. "I think we got to take those figures with a grain of salt. Because a lot of those are difficult to really ascertain. Unless they have some secret line to the Kremlin where they get that, you know they are going to be just difficult estimates," he said.

"And for all the casualties that Russia has, and I am sure the number is quite high whatever the number really is, they have also exerted a tremendous casualty count on the Ukrainian side both in Soledar and in Bakhmut. And the key problem is going to be for Ukraine that many of the troops they had earmarked for their spring or summer offensive have been lost in Bakhmut. And it remains to be seen whether they still have enough to go on the offensive, and we probably should find out pretty quickly, I think," Davis added.          
Moscow also rejected the U.S. assessment of Russian military casualties in Ukraine as having been "plucked from thin air." The Kremlin claimed that Washington had no way of obtaining the correct data.

However, the last time Russia publicly revealed its tally of losses in the campaign was in September, when the defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, said 5,937 Russian soldiers had been killed in the armed conflict.

The battle for Bakhmut

Moscow declined to give estimates of its losses but said Tuesday it had been successfully attacking Ukrainian depots storing Western-supplied weapons.

Ukrainian authorities say that Russia has, in recent days, killed and injured dozens of people in its most significant strikes on Ukraine for weeks.

However, General Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukrainian ground forces, said the battle is ongoing as preparations continue for a counterattack.

"Together with the commanders, we have made several necessary decisions to ensure the effective defense and inflict maximum losses on the enemy," Syrskyi told troops fighting in Bakhmut.

"Despite all the forecasts and advice, we will continue to hold Bakhmut, destroying Wagner and other most combat-capable units of the Russian army. We give our reserves an opportunity to prepare, and we are preparing for further actions ourselves."

But as fighting continues here around Bakhmut, the war also rapidly impacts millions of hungry people far from the frontlines.

Russia said on Tuesday that it might not extend a Black Sea grain deal that allowed Ukraine to safely export grain from specific ports to help prevent a global food crisis.

Yet Moscow has warned it may walk away from the deal on May 18 if Ukraine's allies do not address demands to ease restrictions on its agricultural exports.

Listen to the report by Stefan Bos

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02 May 2023, 17:42