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21 Jan, 2023 05:47

US urges Ukraine not to ‘fixate’ on defending key city – media

Washington wants Kiev to spare its scarce resources until the next round of US-supplied arms arrives
US urges Ukraine not to ‘fixate’ on defending key city – media

The US believes that Ukraine should “refocus” on preparations for a new offensive, suggesting fierce battles for the eastern city of Artyomovsk (called Bakhmut by Ukraine) may be “hampering” Kiev, according to multiple news outlets, citing a senior US official. The comments cut against months of Western media reports that described the town as a key, strategic area. 

Speaking to a small group of reporters on Friday, a top official in the administration of President Joe Biden (who refused to be named or cited verbatim) said that Ukraine “should not fixate on defending the city of Bakhmut at all costs,” according to AFP. Instead, Kiev was advised to use the time to prepare a large counter-offensive against Russia. 

The strong focus on the city is “hampering Ukraine in the more important task” of organizing a spring offensive to reclaim territory lost to Moscow, the official reportedly added, noting that “time favors Russia” due to its superior troop numbers and artillery.

In a similar report on Friday, Reuters also indirectly quoted a senior Biden administration official advising Kiev to wait “until the latest supply of US weaponry is in place and training has been provided,” apparently referring to the $2.5 billion arms package approved in Washington this week. The aid includes a large number of artillery rounds, munitions for the US-supplied HIMARS multi-launch rocket platform, and, for the first time, Stryker combat vehicles – but no tanks. A small number of Ukrainian troops are also undergoing training at a US base in Germany, with some learning how to operate the Patriot missile defense battery authorized for Kiev in December.

The official allegedly said that Western weapons that will be needed for a “mobile offensive force” for future battles are currently “pouring into Ukraine,” adding that Kiev should not waste its limited resources on the “strategically unimportant target,” according to Reuters.

While much of the Western press – including outlets such as PBS, NBCCBS, the New York Times, and others – have repeatedly deemed the city a key hub of major strategic importance, US officials have voiced an altogether different view in recent days. 

Even if Moscow successfully captures the city, “it’s not going to strategically change the dynamics on the battlefield. It’s not going to set the Ukrainians back to a degree where they’re all of a sudden on the back foot and they’re losing,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said earlier on Friday.

The city of Artyomovsk has become a stronghold of the Ukrainian army in the years since the 2014 coup in Kiev. It is part of a 70-kilometer-long defense line created by the Ukrainian forces during the intervening years. Russia claims sovereignty over the city along with the rest of the Donetsk People’s Republic, which joined Russia in October after a referendum. Kiev rejected the vote as a “sham.”

The city remains a major logistics hub for Ukrainian forces in the region and has emerged as a focal point of the conflict in recent months. Russian troops have achieved several victories in the area over the last several weeks, taking the city of Soledar and the strategic village of Klescheevka among several other settlements as they seek to encircle Artyomovsk.

While it remains unclear whether Kiev will heed the advice, the comments from US officials came on the heels of a Friday report by Der Spiegel, which cited Germany’s Federal Intelligence Agency (BND) as being “alarmed” over heavy losses suffered by Ukrainian troops in the area. Earlier this week, British newspaper The Times also reported that Kiev had sent poorly equipped troops with little combat experience to defend Artyomovsk.

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