Why does “Putin’s cook” want to control Ukrainian Bakhmut?

CNN’s Tim Lister, Vasko Kotoviu, Olga Wojtović, Jesse Greitner, Eleanor Bixton and Laura Ford contributed reporting.

(CNN)– Russian forces are getting closer and closer to controlling the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, after weeks of bloody fighting that gradually led to the fiercest Ukrainian resistance.

Why is Bakhmut so in focus?

Bakhmut is not the city Russia hoped to fight to capture in the second year of its conquest. It is in a relatively small outpost in eastern Donetsk that has been kept out of the slow Russian campaign for several months.

Although Russian forces have made increasing gains across the city, the Ukrainian army has yet to back down, leading to a standoff reminiscent of protracted battles in other cities such as Severodontsk over the past year.

Capturing Bakhmut would give an indication of some military advances for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and give his forces the opportunity to launch attacks on more urban areas in the West.

What is happening on the ground?

There are still about 4,500 civilians in Bakhmut, including 48 children, Tetyana Ignatchenko, a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s Donetsk regional military administration, told CNN, and asked people to evacuate the city because of the danger.

But the Ukrainian forces admitted that it had become difficult to hold on to the city because the roads leading from the west were under pressure from the Russian forces, who had advanced to the north and south of the city.

The Ukrainian army also confirmed that the Russian forces are using highly experienced fighters from the “Wagner” private military group while trying to seize the city.

What does Bakhmut mean for war?

Capturing the city would represent a long-awaited success for the Russian forces as well as gaining limited strategic value, as it has important routes to other parts of the Donetsk region, and if the Russians manage to seize the high ground to the west of the city, the nearby industrial cities will be at the mercy of their artillery, and it is unclear Where exactly will Ukrainian forces return if they withdraw from the city?

Also important is Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group, known as “Putin’s chef”, who was keen to show that his men could score victories with the capture of Solidar and now Bakhmut.

Prigozhin claimed earlier Friday that his forces had nearly surrounded Bakhmut, and called on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to order his forces to withdraw from the city.

Prigozhin said in a video clip filmed in the northern suburbs of Bakhmut, which he posted on social media: “I appeal to the President of Ukraine, Vladimir Alexandrovich Zelensky (Vladimir Zelensky), dear Vladimir Alexandrovich, our units surrounded Bakhmut, and there is only one way left.”

Wagner’s chief concluded, “They (Ukrainian soldiers) are fighting, but their life is short, maybe it lasts a day or two. Give them a chance to leave the city, because it is in fact besieged.”

On the other hand, experts say that the fall of Bakhmut is unlikely to significantly change the general picture of the war in eastern Ukraine, as there has been little change on the ground in 2023.

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