Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says that capturing Bakhmut will allow Russian forces to advance further into Ukraine.
“This city is an important defense hub of Ukrainian troops in the Donbas,” said Shoigu at a military conference in Moscow.
“Taking it under control will allow further offensive actions deep into the defense of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”
Several settlements around Bakhmut had already been captured, he added.
Shoigu also accused the United States of having a strategy to “break Russia by force of arms.”
“Western countries are increasing the supply of weapons and military equipment to Ukraine, expanding training programs for the personnel of the Ukrainian army,” he said.
Even so, he said, such assistance was not leading to the success of Ukrainian forces.
“On the contrary, there is a significant increase in losses among the personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” said Shoigu.
“In February alone, they increased by more than 40% compared to January and amounted to more than 11,000 troops.” It is not possible to verify the figures given by Shoigu.
Some context: US and NATO officials have presented a different interpretation of events in Bakhmut than Shoigu.
On Monday, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that should Russian forces take Bakhmut, it wouldn’t constitute “an operational or strategic setback” for the Ukrainian military.
The city holds “more of a symbolic value,” added Austin.
And NATO intelligence estimates that for every Ukrainian soldier killed defending Bakhmut, Russian forces have lost at least five, a NATO official told CNN on Monday.