Battle for the Triangle: Why Ukraine was Powerless When the Russian Army Began to Cleanse Artemovsk

NEW – August 20, 2022

After a brief pause, the Russian army launched an offensive on Artemovsk [pronounced ArtYOmovsk – SZ] (Bakhmut). The city is defended by elite units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, but all of them are on the verge of exhaustion.

Artemovsk on the map of Ukraine

On August 16, at a briefing of the Ministry of Defence, it became known that the Russian Army, together with the allied forces, broke through the defence of the Ukrainian Armed Forces near Artemovsk in the DPR. In particular, the 72nd Motorised Infantry Brigade of the UAF suffered significant losses.

“As a result of a concentrated fire strike on the positions of the 72nd Motorised Infantry Brigade near the settlement of Artemovsk in the Donetsk People’s Republic, more than 50 nationalists were destroyed, as well as six pieces of military equipment,” said Lieutenant General Igor Konashenkov, an official representative of the Russian Defence Ministry.

Russian sappers found French EMP F2 anti-tank mines, which are prohibited by international law, at Ukrainian positions left near Artemovsk.

Artemovsk, renamed Bakhmut by the Ukrainian authorities in 2015, was turned into a powerful fortified area. There was fighting there in 2014-2015. The city and its surroundings were repeatedly shelled by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Among other things, Artemovsk is a major transport hub through which the transport network that is critical for the Donbass grouping of the UAF passes.

Special operation in Bakhmut

In June 2022, after the liberation of Popasnaya, the Russian Army, together with allied forces, went on the offensive simultaneously in several directions, expanding the springboard for the upcoming operation in Artemovsk. Back then the Russian-controlled zone expanded to Vrubovka, Nyrkov and Vasilyevka in the north, Vladimirovka – in the northwest, Svetlodarsk – in the southwest, and the advanced units of the DPR and LPR militias reached the outskirts of the village of Pokrovskoye. Experts noted that after the alignment of the front line in the west, battles for Artemovsk will begin.

Now the denouement in the history of the breakthrough of the front is approaching, and the command of the Ukrainian army is morally ready to lose positions at this line, although in their hearts the officers and generals of the UAF still hope for a miracle. In reality, no miracles are expected for them.

According to the UAF Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny, the positions of the Ukrainian army are under attack 700-800 times a day. Russian complexes produce from 40,000 to 60,000 units of ammunition. The most tense situation, according to Zaluzhny, is now in the area of the “fire triangle” AvdeevkaPeski-Maryinka. The situation in which the Ukrainian Armed Forces found themselves was analysed by military expert Aleksey Leonkov.

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Everything is already at breaking point, and it’s not for nothing that Zaluzhny keeps nagging Zelensky to give the go-ahead for the withdrawal of troops, so as not to hold Artemovsk, but to concentrate forces on the Slavyansk-Kramatorsk fortified area or somewhere else. However, he does not give them this opportunity. I suspect that the American generals and others are behind Zelensky’s decision. But the situation now is such that they already have big problems with many things.”

Ukrainian Armed Forces’ losses in 2022

According to Aleksey Leonkov, the Ukrainian units located near Artemovsk are still trying to maintain the appearance of a fight, but each time it is getting harder for them. There are interruptions in armament. And the much-vaunted MLRS HIMARS propaganda is running out. At the same time, the UAF has to repel attacks in several directions.

“Of course, they are still supporting their resistance, adding fresh forces from reservists, and so on. But from the firing point of view, they already have to decide where and whom to support. We still have counter-battery and other fighting going on, and for the UAF to be simultaneously in three places – near Avdeevka, near Artemovsk, and near Slavyansk – is quite difficult.”

Leonkov notes that the UAF’s long-range systems are still working poorly, but there is almost no ammunition left for them. In fact, HIMARS is no longer used for military purposes, but to intimidate the civilian population and create a disturbing agenda. Thus, for example, according to the administration of Pervomaysk, on the evening of August 16, Ukrainian security forces shelled the city with MLRS HIMARS, as a result of which an apartment building in one of the most densely populated areas was severely damaged, one person was killed and another was missing.

“Even with today’s shelling of Pervomaysk, the enemy fired only three missiles, that is, half a HIMARS cassette. This means that they are already beginning to save missiles and use them only in elevated areas, so that this topic always sounds like ‘HIMARS, they say, is here, there and there, and everywhere.’ But half of their own vehicles have already been nullified — 8 out of 16 units remain – so the effectiveness of fire in military terms is zero. Unfortunately, they still manage to strike civilian targets, resulting in destruction and casualties.”

Peski on the map of Ukraine

Just 97 kilometres from Artemovsk is the village of Peski. For the UAF, this was an important fortified area, long considered by the UAF command as a springboard for the offensive on Donetsk. It is from here that the militants have been shelling the capital of the DPR and neighbouring cities for eight years. On August 13, it became known that the village was completely liberated from Ukrainian forces. It should be noted that the fighting for Peski has been going on for several months, and the active phase occurred in the last three weeks.

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“This small victory is another step towards our big victory and a peaceful, happy life in Donetsk,” said Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Main Council of the Zaporozhye Regional Administration.

More specifically, the settlement of Peski is of great importance for the operation to liberate Artemovsk and the upcoming cleansing of Avdeevka.

Alexey Leonkov: “Peski was taken after some of the weapons were withdrawn, and then at the same time our troops began to work on Artemovsk, and the return of UAF firepower to Peski was stopped. And the UAF did not have any fire support when our troops stormed Peski. And now they are working out that it is necessary to support a strike in all directions, and the UAF General Staff reports that the Russian Army has gone on the offensive in all directions.”

Where the Russian army advanced in Ukraine: Artemovsk, Maryinka, Avdeevka, Slavyansk

According to Aleksey Leonkov, the Ukrainian Armed Forces now have to choose where to keep the defence, and where it can be weakened, but the choice is difficult and not obvious. And in this regard, the Ukrainian army is in a weak position.

“They understand that we know that they don’t have enough weapons and ammunition left, and we know that they are constantly moving them back and forth. Therefore, they have to somehow be cunning in order to abandon them somewhere, and deprive some areas of support. Artemovsk is key, and it seems that it’s necessary to concentrate forces there. But suddenly, they think, the allied army will start manoeuvres near Kramatorsk, and the UAF strike force will remain near Artemovsk, then what? And if they choose Artemovsk, they may lose Slavyansk or Avdeevka. Therefore, as I understand it, now the situation is such that they are rushing around there.”

If to look at the map and study the location of Artemovsk, one will find that the city divides the entire area of operation in Donbass in two. The capture of the city guarantees the Russian Army the creation of two tactical “cauldrons”: the first — for the Slavyansk-Kramatorsk grouping and the second — for the Avdeevka grouping of the UAF. In addition, it offers access to the operational space – the highway and railway tracks, along which it’s possible to go all the way to Pavlograd.

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“It’s clear cut that it turns out to be an entrance to the rear of the Slavyansk-Kramatorsk grouping and to the rear of Avdeevka. Supply routes and escape routes are being cut, which means that there is difficult terrain: when these fortified areas were created under the leadership of British and American engineers, this matter was taken into account. If Artemovsk breaks, our army will be in the rear of these structures and cut off their supply, reducing their resistance to a minimum.”

If we take into account not only the planning of the offensive, but also the issue of the safety of civilians, we can find that 46 kilometres from the liberated Peski and 127 kilometres from the liberated Artemovsk is Maryinka. At the moment, the allied forces continue to fight for this city. The Ukrainian military, and along with them the radicals who had previously rampaged in the city, have already been driven out to the outskirts. As they retreated, the Ukrainians dropped their weapons, as had happened before. As soon as the “fire triangle” is liberated from the UAF and nationalist formations, the Russian army in Donbass will have only two major goals: the enclave of Slavyansk-Kramatorsk and Avdeevka. Cleansing these cities will close the question of the existence of the UAF in the form in which the structure endangered the population of the Southeast for many years.

Sergey Andreyev

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