(CNN) Russian forces are exhausted in bakhmut and a Ukrainian counter-offensive could soon be launched, one of kyiv’s top generals said, raising the prospect of an unlikely turnaround in the besieged city.
Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, said Thursday on his Telegram channel that “(the Russians) are losing significant forces (in Bakhmut) and running out of power.”
“Very soon, we will seize this opportunity, as we have done in the past near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balakliya and Kupyansk,” he said.
His comments come days after Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprise trip to the Donetsk region battlefront, and will raise hopes in the West that Kiev’s controversial decision to keep troops in Bakhmut will bear fruit. .
Russian troops have launched more than 200 attacks in the area in the past 24 hours alone, but are losing hundreds of men every day in their efforts, the spokesman for the armed forces’ Eastern Grouping said later on Thursday. CNN cannot verify those figures.
“In the direction of Bakhmut, there is only Wagner, when there is a lack of forces, they are being reinforced by Russian airborne troops, sometimes by infantry,” Serhii Cherevatyi said. “We knocked them out. In fact, there won’t be any more Wagner fighters any time soon if they continue with the same dynamic.”
Cherevatyi said another area seeing heavy fire was northeast of Bakhmut, on the front line running north from the city of Kreminna. He stated that Russia “carries out several hundred attacks a day, usually more than 300, sometimes more than 400. There were 344 attacks and 17 combat engagements in the last day.”
A counter-offensive seemed an unlikely prospect for several weeks, as troops from Russia’s Wagner mercenary group shelled Bakhmut and closed in on taking control of the city.
But that effort has come at a considerable cost in manpower and resources, and now appears to have slowed down.
Syrskyi said that Russian forces continue to try to take the city “at any cost, despite losses in both manpower and equipment.”
“Under continuous fire from enemy artillery and aircraft, our soldiers on the front lines display superhuman stamina, courage and bravery,” he said. “In particular, the units of Brigades 93, 10, 57 and 5 that are now defending our homeland in the eastern part of the country.”
His optimism reflected a Wednesday update from the Ukrainian Army General Staff, which said in a statement that while Bakhmut is expected to see heavy fighting, Russia’s “offensive potential is waning” there.
“The enemy is still trying to take the city, losing a significant amount of manpower, weapons and military equipment,” he said Wednesday.
Western intelligence takes a similar tone. “The pace of Russian operations around Bakhmut appears to be slowing down,” the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think tank wrote in its Wednesday update on the conflict.
But that change may also signal a shift in Russia’s priorities. “There is a realistic possibility that the Russian assault on the city is losing the limited momentum it has gained, partly because some Russian Defense Ministry units have been redeployed to other sectors,” Britain’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.
Zelensky handed out awards to troops who defended Bakhmut during a morale-boosting drive on Wednesday. “It is an honor for me to support our warriors defending the country in the toughest conditions on the front lines,” he said later in his evening address.
Protracted resistance by Ukrainian troops could still vindicate their decision to ignore some Western calls to tactically withdraw from Bakhmut as the Russian offensive neared.
“This is tactical for us,” Zelensky told CNN earlier this month, exposing his decision-making and insisting that kyiv’s top military commanders were united in prolonging their defense of the city.
“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 said.
CNN’s Tim Lister and Victoria Butenko contributed reporting.