March 6 (UPI) — Ukrainian officials said Monday that they plan on defending the long-contested eastern city of Bakhmut despite Russian advances.
President Volodymyr Zelensky held a meeting with military staff on Monday in which he was briefed by military leaders on the situation in Bakhmut, his office said in a statement.
“They spoke in favor of continuing the defense operation and further strengthening our positions in Bakhmut,” the statement said, adding that they “considered the situation in Bakhmut in detail.”
Russian troops, with the help of mercenaries from the Wagner Group, have closed in on capturing Bakhmut after months of fighting, forcing Moscow to use more resources than anticipated.
While visiting the Middle Eastern country of Jordan, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin downplayed the importance of Russia possibly capturing Bakhmut and did not believe that it was marked a moment where Moscow was regaining momentum in the invasion.
“I think it is more of a symbolic value than it is strategic and operational value,” Austin said. “The fall of Bakhmut won’t necessarily mean that the Russians have changed the tide of this fight.”
Austin said, however, he had observed “the Russians continuing to pour in a lot of ill-trained and ill-equipped troops” into the fighting.
“And those troops are very quickly meeting their demise,” he said.
Wagner founder, oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed his mercenaries continued “to smash the Armed Forces of Ukraine near Bakhmut” but his units had to retreat because of a lack of ammunition.
Prigozhin said on his business Telegram channel, that his team was in “urgent need to allocate ammunition” but his “representative at the headquarters had his pass canceled and was denied access to the group’s headquarters.”