I received the following from a friend who is well plugged in with the Ukrainian side. I consider his information reliable:
Volodomyr Zelensky visited Chasov Yar today to kick off an offensive to relieve Bakhmut and push the Russians back. A number of armored and artillery brigades are being moved down from the North to support such a relief operation.
Chasov Yar may be four or so miles from Bakhmut. Zelensky can no longer chance a visit to Bakhmut as he did earlier this month.
As we have noted before there are somewhere between 15 to 20,000 UKA fighting inside Bakhmut, and the UKA area of control is shrinking and also bifurcated between a larger group in the western center of the city and the remainder in the north east of the city.
Sources report that Leopard and Challenger tanks have been moved into position for the relief operation, even though the room for tank operations is not great because of the bad weather, rain and mud.
Some experts think this relief operation will last only four or five days and may start as early as tomorrow. It can’t go much longer than that because the UKA has limited reserves and cannot afford a long battle or stalemate with the Russians.
It is anticipated this will be a very bloody battle and could be decisive for both sides.
Zelensky is acting outside of the advice he is getting from the US/NATO which desires a frontal attack on Crimea and not at Bakhmut or, further to the south, Avdviika, which is also under Russian attack and potential encirclement.
If the Russians lose at Bakhmut it pressages a much longer war, perhaps years.
Up till now the Russians have been operating slowly and methodically, but this will go out the window with a fierce rescue operation.
If the Ukrainians lose, it suggests that the UKA will have squandered much of its offensive capability, and it could lead to a chaotic outcome.
The odds are stacked against the Ukrainians. They cannot match the Russians in terms of artillery shells and rate of fire. Russia, like the United States and NATO, has robust ISR (i.e., Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) capabilities. That means Russia should be monitoring the build up of Ukrainian assets in Chasov Yar and should be prepared to bring to bear an enormous volume of fire on any attacking columns.
My friend made quite an understatement in noting that, “bad weather, rain and mud” create a problem for the tanks. There are not multiple points of access available to the tanks and they will be facing Anti Tank Guided Missiles, artillery, bombs delivered by combat air, sea and air launched missiles. While I am loathe to reference previous battles in history, this certainly appears to be a Pickett’s Charge moment.
Russia enjoys a critical logistics capability in this looming fight. It can rapidly reinforce troops in that sector and it can supply the ammunition necessary to sustain intense fire. There are reports in the last few days that the intensity of fighting in Bakhmut has lessened. While lack of ammunition is one possibility (an unlikely one), I think a better explanation is that Russia is witting of the upcoming attack and is laying in wait to conduct a devastating ambush.
I want to remind you of a point I have made in previous pieces on the Bakhmut situation — this is not the only point of attack for the Russian side. The Russians are pressing forward on multiple fronts and forcing the Ukrainians to make some hard choices about where to deploy scant reinforcements and munitions. Unlike Ukraine, Russia has trained, experienced and well-equipped reserves near the front. The Russian responses will either confirm the claims of Western analysts, who insist the Russians are inept and poorly trained, or it will destroy that meme.
A Russian defeat in Bakhmut will not alter Russia’s objectives in this war. It would lead to a shakeup in military command and a significant escalation in Russia’s use of force against Ukraine. It would buy Ukraine some time and re-energize the West’s commitment to expand support to Ukraine.
A Ukrainian defeat, however, will be devastating and decisive. If Russia crushes the counter-offensive it will represent the slaughter of some of Ukraine’s most capable troops and the loss of recently supplied equipment and ammunition that is already in short supply. A Ukraine failure will eliminate Western optimism that Ukraine can produce a military miracle and will make NATO allies think twice before agreeing to pour more resources into the maw of Ukraine.