Russian troops will have a “free hand” to capture key cities in eastern Ukraine if they take control of Bakhmut, Ukraine’s 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 Kiev’s military leadership is united in prolonging its defense of the city after weeks of Russian attacks left it on the brink of falling into the hands of Moscow troops.
“We understand that after Bakhmut they could go further. They could go to Kramatorsk, they could go to Sloviansk, it would be an open path for the Russians after Bakhmut to other cities in Ukraine, in the direction of Donetsk,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an exclusive interview from Kyiv. “That’s why our men are there.”
A weeks-long assault by troops of Wagner fighters, which has accelerated in recent days, has forced thousands of people to flee the city and decimated its infrastructure. But Ukrainian troops have also mounted a tenacious defense of the area, holding back the Russian advance.
Zelensky said his motivations for holding the city are “very different” from Russia’s goals.
“We understand what Russia wants to achieve there. Russia needs at least some victory — a small victory — even ruining everything in Bakhmut, just killing all the civilians there,” Zelensky said.