Russian troops will have “open road” to capture key cities in eastern Ukraine if they seize control of Bakhmut, President Volodymyr Zelensky warned in an interview with CNN, as he defended his decision to keep Ukrainian forces in the besieged city.
“This is tactical for us,” Zelensky said, insisting that Kyiv’s military brass is united in prolonging its defense of the city after weeks of Russian attacks left it on the cusp of falling to Moscow’s troops.
“We understand that after Bakhmut they could go further. They could go to Kramatorsk, they could go to Sloviansk, it would be open road for the Russians after Bakhmut to other towns in Ukraine, in the Donetsk direction,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an exclusive interview from Kyiv. “That’s why our guys are standing there.”
A weeks-long assault from Wagner mercenary troops, which has picked up pace in recent days, has forced thousands from the city and decimated its infrastructure. But Ukrainian troops have also mounted a dogged defense of the area, stalling Russia’s progress.
Zelensky said his motivations to keep the city are “so different” to Russia’s objectives. “We understand what Russia wants to achieve there. Russia needs at least some victory – a small victory – even by ruining everything in Bakhmut, just killing every civilian there,” Zelensky said.
He said that if Russia is able to “put their little flag” on top of Bakhmut, it would help “mobilize their society in order to create this idea they’re such a powerful army.”
Read more here and watch the interview below.