US and Western officials are urging Ukraine to shift its focus from the brutal, months-long fight in the eastern city of Bakhmut and prioritize instead a potential offensive in the south, using a different style of fighting that takes advantage of the billions of dollars in new military hardware recently committed by Western allies, US and Ukrainian officials tell CNN.
For nearly six months, Ukrainian forces have been going toe-to-toe with the Russians over roughly 36 miles of territory in Bakhmut, which lies between the separatist-held cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. Heavy shelling has left the city almost completely destroyed.
“It is a brutal and grinding fight,” a senior Western intelligence official said last week, with each side exchanging anywhere from 100-400 meters of land per day and exchanging several thousands of artillery rounds almost daily.
[Bakhmut] is less attractive militarily, in terms of any sort of infrastructure, than it might have been if it had not been this destroyed.”
Now, ahead of what is widely expected to be a brutal spring of fighting, there is a tactical opening, US and Western officials say. In recent weeks they have begun suggesting that Ukrainian forces cut their losses in Bakhmut, which they argue has little strategic significance for Ukraine, and focus instead on planning an offensive in the south.
That was part of a message delivered by three top Biden officials who traveled to Kyiv last week.