March 15, 2023

Russian operations decrease  along the frontline

Institute for the Study of War

The overall pace of Russian operations in Ukraine appears to have decreased compared to previous weeks. A spokesperson for the Ukrainian Joint Press Center of the Tavriisk Defense Forces, Colonel Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskyi, stated on March 15 that Russian offensive actions have decreased significantly over the last week and noted that daily Russian ground attacks have decreased from 90 to 100 attacks per day to 20 to 29 per day.[1] Dmytrashkivskyi reported that Russian forces have somewhat lost offensive potential due to significant manpower and equipment losses.[2] Dmytrashkivskyi’s statements are consistent with ISW’s general observation regarding the pace of Russian operations along the entire frontline in Ukraine. The Russian offensive operation in Luhansk Oblast is likely nearing culmination, if it has not already culminated, although Russia has committed most elements of at least three divisions to the Svatove-Kreminna line.[3] Russian forces have made only minimal tactical gains along the entire Luhansk Oblast frontline over the last week, and Ukrainian forces have likely recently managed to conduct counterattacks and regain territory in Luhansk Oblast.[4] ISW has been unable to confirm the commitment of the 2nd Motor Rifle Division (1st Guards Tank Army, Western Military District) to the offensive in Luhansk Oblast since certain unspecified elements reportedly deployed to Luhansk Oblast in January–the only large formation assessed to be operational but not yet engaged.[5] It is unclear if the 2nd Motor Rifle Division has already deployed and has not been observed or if it is waiting to deploy to either Luhansk Oblast or other areas of the front. The commitment of two or three of the 2nd Motor Rifle Division’s constituent regiments, however, is unlikely to significantly delay or reverse the culmination of the Russian offensive in Luhansk Oblast, especially considering that at least five Russian regiments have definitely been fully committed in this area, likely along with several others, but Russian forces have still been unable to make substantial gains.[6]

The overall Wagner Group offensive on Bakhmut additionally appears to be nearing culmination. Ukrainian military sources have noted a markedly decreased number of attacks in and around Bakhmut, particularly over the last few days.[7] Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin has recently emphasized the toll that a reported lack of ammunition is having on Wagner’s ability to pursue offensives on Bakhmut and stated on March 15 that due to ammunition shortages and heavy fighting, Wagner has had to expand its encirclement of Bakhmut.[8] Prigozhin notably claimed that Wagner captured Zalizianske, a tiny rural settlement 9km northwest of Bakhmut on the east side of the E40 Bakhmut-Slovyansk highway, which indicates that Wagner forces are likely conducting opportunistic localized attacks on settlements further north of Bakhmut that are small and relatively easier to seize.[9] Recent Wagner gains north of Bakhmut suggest that manpower, artillery, and equipment losses in fights for Bakhmut will likely constrain Wagner’s ability to complete a close encirclement of Bakhmut or gain substantial territory in battles for urban areas. The capture of Zalizianske and other similarly small towns north of Bakhmut and east of the E40 highway is extremely unlikely to enhance Wagner’s ability to capture Bakhmut itself or make other operationally significant gains. It therefore is likely that Wagner’s offensive on Bakhmut is increasingly nearing culmination. Russian forces would likely have to commit significant reserves to prevent this culmination. They may be able to do so, as ISW has observed elements of Russian airborne regiments in and around Bakhmut that do not seem to be heavily committed to the fighting at the moment. The Russians might also commit elements of other conventional units, including possibly the 2nd Motorized Rifle Division, or units drawn from elsewhere in the theater. But it seems that the Wagner offensive itself will not be sufficient to seize Bakhmut. Russian forces are not pursuing active or successful offensive operations elsewhere in theater, and as the pace of operations slows along critical sectors of the front, Ukrainian forces likely have an increased opportunity to regain the initiative.

Key Takeaways:

  • The overall pace of Russian operations in Ukraine appears to have decreased compared to previous weeks.
  • The overall Wagner Group offensive on Bakhmut appears to be nearing culmination.
  • International journalists reportedly obtained the Kremlin’s long-term strategy document for destabilizing and reintegrating Moldova back into the Russian sphere of influence by 2030.
  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin commented on the reports about the dismissal of the Russian Commander of the Airborne Forces Mikhail Teplinsky – likely revealing Teplinsky’s affiliation with Wagner.
  • The Russian State Duma adopted the law on punishment for “discreditation” of all participants of the “special military operation” in Ukraine on March 14 to foster self-censorship in Russian society.
  • Continued Russian efforts to portray the war in Ukraine as existential to Russian domestic security by establishing additional air defense installations in areas that will never see hostilities is reportedly sparking internal backlash.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin used his March 15 meeting with the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office to continue to bolster his reputation as an involved and effective wartime leader.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Syrian President Bashar al Assad in Moscow, Russia on March 15.
  • Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed ground attacks northwest of Svatove and conducted limited ground attacks on the Svatove-Kreminna line.
  • Russian forces continued advancing in and around Bakhmut and conducted ground attacks along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line.
  • A Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces attempted to conduct offensive actions across the Kakhovka Reservoir in Kherson Oblast.
  • The Kremlin reportedly tasked the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) to recruit 400,000 contract servicemen starting on April 1.
  • Ukrainian partisans killed a Russian collaborator in an IED attack in Melitopol, Zaporizhia Oblast.
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