Russia has lost an estimated five men for every Ukrainian soldier its forces have killed in the battle for Bakhmut, according to a NATO official.
Speaking to CNN on condition of anonymity, the official said that NATO intelligence showed that Russia’s losses in the assault on the eastern salt-mining town far outweighed Ukraine’s.
The official also said, however, that Ukraine’s losses defending the city were significant.
Russia’s use of costly wave attacks has prompted comparisons to the First World War and the commander of the mercenary forces leading the assault has described the battle as a “meat grinder” for Russian troops.
Russia has been assaulting Bakhut since August, in what has become the longest and costliest battle of the war.
Recent Russian advances have jeopardized Ukrainian supply lines to the city and prompted speculation that they may have to retreat to avoid encirclement.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the emergency Wagner Group, which is doing much of the fighting on the Russian side, last week claimed the town was nearly surrounded and called on Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, to surrender it.
Mr Zelensky on Monday night said he had ordered the generals to reinforce the city rather than retreat, however.
“The command unanimously supported” the decision not to withdraw, he said in his nightly video address. “There were no other positions. I told the commander-in-chief to find the appropriate forces to help our guys in Bakhmut.”
Russia says it wants the city as a launch pad for further offensives to capture the rest of the Donetsk region, a key war aim.
“The liberation of Artemovsk,” Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defense minister, said in televised remarks on Tuesday.
Artemovsk is the Soviet-era name for Bakhmut. “The city is an important hub for defending Ukrainian troops in the Donbas. Taking it under control will allow further offensive actions to be conducted deep into Ukraine’s defensive lines.”
The Ukrainian military on Tuesday claimed 1,600 Russians had been killed over the previous 24 hours. The figure could not be independently confirmed. Ukraine does not release figures for its casualties.
Western military analysts say Bakhmut has little strategic value on its own. Rather, both sides appear to be using it to attract enemy reserves that could be used elsewhere.
The Institute for the Study of War, an American defence think tank, said in a paper on Tuesday that the opportunity to treat elite Wagner fighters in an urban battle favoring the defense “is an attractive one” to the Ukrainians.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence said in an intelligence update on Tuesday morning that the battle “continues to degrade forces on both sides” and that both sides appeared to be struggling with logistics.
“Over the weekend, Ukrainian forces likely stabilised their defensive perimeter following previous Russian advances into the north of the town,” it said in an intelligence update. “A Russian strike destroyed a bridge over the only paved supply road into Bakhmut still under Ukrainian control around March 2. Muddy conditions are likely hampering Ukrainian resupply efforts as they increasingly resort to using unpaved tracks,” it added.
On the Russian side, it said: “Public disagreements between the Wagner Group and Russian Ministry of Defense over the allocation of munitions highlights the difficulty in sustaining the high levels of personnel and ammunition required to advance with their current tactics.”