Should Russian forces take the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, it wouldn't constitute "an operational or strategic setback" for the Ukrainian military, according to US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
"I certainly don’t want to discount the tremendous work that the Ukrainian soldiers and leaders have put into defending Bakhmut, but I think its more of a symbolic value than it is strategic and operational value," said Austin during a visit to Amman, Jordan.
"So the fall of Bakhmut won’t necessarily mean that the Russians have changed the tide of this fight. I think it will continue to be contested," he added.
"What I do see is the Russians continuing to pour in a lot of ill-trained and ill-equipped troops," said Austin. "And those troops are very quickly meeting their demise."
Some context: Intense fighting is raging around Bakhmut and analysts say that Russian forces are making gradual gains as they seek to encircle Ukrainian units.
On Sunday, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said that geolocated video footage suggests that "Wagner Group forces continued to make advances in northeastern Bakhmut and advanced near the Stupky railway station," which is north of the city.
"Ukrainian forces are unlikely to withdraw from Bakhmut all at once and may pursue a gradual fighting withdrawal to exhaust Russian forces through continued urban warfare," added the ISW.