Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin announced on March 8 that Russian forces captured all of eastern Bakhmut, a claim consistent with available visual evidence. ISW assessed on March 7 that Ukrainian forces completed a controlled withdrawal from eastern Bakhmut across the Bakhmutka River. A prominent Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces control between 45 to 52 percent of Bakhmut as of March 7. This figure is reasonable; ISW assesses that Russian forces now occupy at least 50 percent of Bakhmut as of March 8. Russian forces will likely intensify attacks in northwestern and southwestern Bakhmut (north from Opytne and south from Yahidne, respectively) to circumnavigate the Bakhmutka River.
Russian forces remain unlikely to rapidly exploit a breakthrough beyond Bakhmut if Russian forces capture the city. Prigozhin implied on March 8 that the Russian Ministry of Defense used the Wagner Group to bear the brunt of high-intensity attritional urban warfare in Bakhmut and may discard the Wagner Group after capturing Bakhmut so conventional Russian units can continue to attack. Prigozhin did not provide an assessment of the likelihood of success of future Russian offensive operations beyond Bakhmut. ISW has not observed any indicators that the Russian military has a well-equipped and prepared reserve force to advance beyond Bakhmut. Most observed Russian units in Donbas are already engaged in offensive operations, including Russian airborne (VDV) elements that joined the Russian offensive in Bakhmut in January 2023. ISW continues to assess that the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine will shortly culminate if Russian forces capture Bakhmut, as the Russian military does not have the combat power or reinforcements necessary to exploit a breakthrough near Bakhmut. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated on March 8 that the Russian capture of Bakhmut would not “necessarily reflect any turning point of the war.”
US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines stated on March 8 that Russian President Vladimir Putin likely recognizes the Russian military’s current limited capability to sustain a short-term offensive and may pursue a protracted war. Haines stated on March 8 that Putin is likely only temporarily focused on pursuing short-term military objectives in Ukraine and may believe that prolonging the war will increase the likelihood of achieving his strategic goals. ISW has previously assessed that Putin maintains maximalist war goals in Ukraine despite Russian forces’ currently limited capabilities to achieve these goals. Haines stated that Russia will increasingly struggle to maintain its current tempo of operations in Ukraine without conducting full mobilization and securing adequate ammunition to mitigate Russia’s current shortage. Haines noted that Russian forces are suffering high losses to take Bakhmut, which Haines characterized as “not particularly strategic,” supporting ISW’s prior assessments that a Pyrrhic tactical victory in Bakhmut would not further Russia’s operational or strategic battlefield aims. ISW previously assessed on January 15 that the Kremlin was preparing for a strategically decisive effort in 2023 while simultaneously preparing for a protracted war.
The Kremlin may be attempting to establish a new Russian government-controlled armed formation billed as a volunteer unit through the Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom. A prominent Russian milblogger stated that Gazprom subsidiary Gazprom Neft is forming a volunteer formation analogous to Russian Combat Army Reserve (BARS) units. The milblogger originally claimed that Gazprom Neft is forming a private military company (PMC) and is actively deploying unspecified elements to occupied Donetsk Oblast before later issuing a correction that the Gazprom Neft formation is a volunteer unit, not a PMC. The milblogger claimed Gazprom Neft’s recruitment campaign generated interest in Donetsk City given that the company is offering 400,000 rubles (approximately $5,260) salary per month and additional compensation for performance bonuses. The milblogger added that this offered salary is twice the amount offered by the Wagner Group, noting that a volunteer in the Gazprom Neft formation can—with bonuses—earn up to 600,000 rubles (about $7,890) per month. Gazprom Neft may be attempting to compete with Wagner for recruits from Donetsk Oblast given that Wagner is also conducting its own recruitment campaign in the area.
The Russian government previously authorized Gazprom Neft to create a private security organization (not a PMC) on February 6 to protect Russian energy infrastructure. Ukrainian intelligence previously noted that the creation of the Gazprom Neft private security company aligns with an assessed Kremlin effort to sideline Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin and mitigate the Kremlin’s dependency on Wagner Group forces. A Russian milblogger also rhetorically questioned when the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) will become “jealous” of the new Gazprom Neft formations and cut off their access to ammunition—likely referencing the Russian MoD’s conflict with Prigozhin.
A US official denied on March 8 that US intelligence assessed that a pro-Ukrainian group sabotaged the Nord Stream pipelines in September 2022. US National Security Council (NSC) spokesperson Andrienne Watson stated on March 8 that the NSC is unable to confirm the New York Times March 7 report that US officials reviewed unverified intelligence suggesting a pro-Ukrainian group conducted the attack. Watson stated that the anonymous claims in the report did not come from downgraded intelligence shared by the US government and that sources were not authorized to speak on the US government’s behalf.
German and Polish officials announced that Germany and Poland will deliver 28 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine in March 2023, which will bolster Ukraine’s capabilities to conduct a counteroffensive amidst high Russian tank losses. German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius announced on March 8 that Germany will deliver 18 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine by the end of March, and Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak announced that Poland will deliver 10 more tanks by the end of the week. These tanks, though below the quantities that the Ukrainian military needs, will augment Ukraine’s capabilities to conduct counteroffensive operations, particularly due to the degraded state of Russian armored units. Dutch open-source group Oryx reported that it verified Russian losses of over 1,000 T-72 tank variants in Ukraine as of March 8. Oryx verified 1,079 destroyed Russian tanks and 549 captured Russian tanks as of February 24, and estimated on February 9 that Russian forces had committed roughly 3,000 tanks to the war in Ukraine.
- Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin announced on March 8 that Russian forces captured all of eastern Bakhmut, a claim consistent with available visual evidence
- Russian forces remain unlikely to exploit a breakthrough beyond Bakhmut if Russian forces capture the city.
- The Kremlin may be attempting to establish a new Russian government-controlled armed formation billed as a volunteer unit through the Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom.
- A US official denied that US intelligence assessed that a pro-Ukrainian group sabotaged the Nord Stream pipelines in September 2022.
- German and Polish officials announced that Germany and Poland will deliver 28 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine in March 2023, which will bolster Ukraine’s capabilities to conduct a counteroffensive amidst high Russian tank losses.
- Russian forces continued to conduct ground attacks on the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut on March 8 but have not succeeded in completing a turning movement around the city.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations along the outskirts of Donetsk City.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces landed on the Dnipro River Delta islands for the third consecutive day.
- The Kremlin is doubling down on reviving volunteer recruitment campaigns throughout Russia and occupied Ukraine.
- Russian hospitals are continuing to form new medical centers in Russia in an effort to maximize the capacity for overfilling hospitals in occupied territories to treat wounded Russian servicemen.