What does the fall of Bakhmut in Ukraine really mean? By Kelly Beaucar Vlahos

Will the U.S., like a gambler on a losing streak, try to make up for it with bigger bets in Ukraine? From Kelly Beaucar Vlahos at responsiblestatecraft.org:

New realities on the ground could take NATO’s involvement to the next level. A Q&A with Anatol Lieven & George Beebe.

Reports indicate that after months of fighting, the Russians have taken the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. This comes at a time when world leaders are pledging more aid and weapons — including sophisticated, American-made F-16s — to Ukraine in hopes that its armed forces will be able to mount a much anticipated counteroffensive this spring.

I asked the two top Russia experts at the Quincy Institute — Anatol Lieven and George Beebe — for their candid takes on what this apparent victory for Russia really means, and how it might change the war’s landscape. 

Additionally, what might we read into the transfer of F-16s to Ukraine, and does it risk escalation into a broader NATO-Russia conflict, given the new facts on the ground? Where does that leave those who would like to move away from fighting and to a ceasefire?

Kelley Vlahos: Okay, so reports today say that after many months the Russians have taken over the city of Bakhmut. What does this mean tactically and strategically for both sides? 

George Beebe: Sure. Well, I think the real question of the significance of this victory is not going to be apparent for quite some time. I think a lot of military experts have argued that Bakhmut in and of itself is not strategically important, that it’s not likely to lead to some breakthrough for the Russians, enabling, you know, a rapid advance to more Ukrainian cities, or encirclement, or an ability to break Ukraine’s defenses all together. I don’t think that’s going to happen. 

The bigger question is whether Ukraine’s decision to basically mount an all-out defense of Bakhmut, despite its lack of strategic significance, is going to result in crippling its ability to mount a new counteroffensive elsewhere in Ukraine, something that they’ve long planned and long been talking publicly about. And I think a lot of Western military experts, including Pentagon officials, have long been urging the Ukrainians simply to mount an orderly withdrawal from Bakhmut to preserve their men and munitions for use in more important battles in the future. 

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