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Ukraine’s mud likely hampering its own resupply efforts in Bakhmut

Ukraine’s infamous muddy season has started and is expected to peak in the next week — and it’s already likely proving a nuisance for its forces trying to resupply their units in the besieged city of Bakhmut in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense noted Tuesday that the Ukrainian defense of Bakhmut “continues to degrade forces on both sides” and that, over the weekend, Ukrainian forces likely stabilized “their defensive perimeter following previous Russian advances into the north of the town.”

However, the ministry noted that a Russian strike destroyed a bridge over the only paved supply road into Bakhmut that was still under Ukrainian control around March 2.

Now muddy conditions along that route are therefore “likely hampering Ukrainian resupply efforts as they increasingly resort to using unpaved tracks.”

A soldier from a Ukrainian assault brigade walks along a muddy road used to transport and position British-made L118 105mm Howitzers, on March 4, 2023, near Bakhmut, Ukraine.

John Moore | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Russian forces and mercenary fighters belonging to the Wagner Group are encountering problems over ammunition shortages. The Wagner Group’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin had a public spat with the Russian Defense Ministry, which he has repeatedly criticized.

“Public disagreements between the Wagner Group and Russian Ministry of Defence over the allocation of munitions highlights the difficulty in sustaining the high levels of personnel and ammunition required to advance with their current tactics.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Kyiv vows to fight on in Bakhmut, defying expectations of a withdrawal

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday that he had spoken to his army commanders about the situation in Bakhmut and said they’d insisted the city should be defended rather than abandoned.

Zelenskyy said in his nightly address that he had asked Ukraine’s ground forces commander, General Oleksandr Syrskyi, and the Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, Valeriy Zaluzhnyy, about their view on continuing to defend Bakhmut, saying the options were either “withdrawal or continuation of defense and reinforcement of the city.”

The president said “both generals replied: do not withdraw and reinforce. And this opinion was unanimously backed by the Staff. There were no other opinions. I told the Commander-in-Chief to find the appropriate forces to help the guys in Bakhmut.”

“There is no part of Ukraine about which one can say that it can be abandoned,” Zelenskyy noted.

Ukrainian servicemen load a 152 mm shell into a Msta-B howitzer to fire toward Russian positions, near the front-line town of Bakhmut on March 2, 2023.

Dimitar Dilkoff | AFP | Getty Images

Ukraine is keen to show its allies that it can fight on in Ukraine, although some analysis and reports from Bakhmut suggest some kind of withdrawal is taking place. And there are signs that its international partners would not view a tactical withdrawal from the city in a bad light in any case. On Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Bakhmut had more symbolic importance than strategic and operational value.

Defense analysts have noted, however, that Ukraine continuing to fight in Bakhmut has another added advantage, saying a significant number of Russian fighters have been brought into what has been described (by the head of Russia’s mercenary forces) as a “meat grinder.”

Zelenskyy said Monday that defending Bakhmut meant destroying more of Russia’s invading forces.

“We are destroying the occupier everywhere – wherever it yields results for Ukraine. Bakhmut has yielded and is yielding one of the greatest results during this war, during the entire battle for Donbas.”

— Holly Ellyatt

China’s foreign minister says country’s Russia relations are not a threat to any country

China’s new foreign minister Qin Gang said the country’s relations with Russia are not a threat to any country and also not subject to interference by any third country.

“The more unstable the world becomes the more imperative it is for China and Russia to steadily advance relations,” said Qin, speaking at his first press conference since becoming foreign minister.

He added that “major countries” need to consider whether they are pursuing “exclusive political blocs” or “fostering friendship.”

Qin’s comments come after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week warned China against supporting the Russian war effort.

“China can’t have it both ways when it comes to the Russian aggression in Ukraine. It can’t be putting forward peace proposals on the one hand while actually feeding the flames of the fire that Russia has started with the other hand,” Blinken said at a press conference in Kazakhstan.

— Audrey Wan, Evelyn Cheng

New interactive map tracks changes in force posture on the frontlines of the war in Ukraine

The Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, published a new interactive map of the battlefield in Ukraine.

The map, which was produced by the Washington-based think-tank’s Transnational Threats Project, shows a timeline of how the force disposition and front lines have changed over the past year.

Take a look at the new tool here.

— Amanda Macias

Ukraine’s army chief says the defense of Bakhmut should continue

A Ukrainian sniper with the 28th Brigade looks towards a Russian position from a frontline trench on March 05, 2023 outside of Bakhmut, Ukraine.

John Moore | Getty Images

The head of Ukraine’s armed forces told President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that the defense of Bakhmut, a besieged city in Donetsk that Russia claims to have effectively surrounded, should continue.

Zelenskyy held a meeting with the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valery Zaluzhny and Oleksandr Syrsky, the commander of forces in Bakhmut, specifically focused on the situation and “they spoke in favor of continuing the defensive operation and further strengthening our positions in Bakhmut,” the president’s office said in a statement Monday.

Russia has been slowly advancing on, and surrounding, Bakhmut for weeks although fighting near and around the city has been going on for around seven months with both sides determined to capture and defend the industrial city, respectively.

Russia is seen to want to capture Bakhmut, which has been severely destroyed in the fighting, as a way to cut Ukrainian supply lines in the east, and sees it as a launchpad on to bigger cities like Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

Ukrainian analysts have downplayed the significance of Bakhmut, saying that even if the city falls into Russian hands the course of the war won’t be changed. Both sides have committed so much manpower to the fight there, however, that neither side wants to capitulate.

Defense analysts at the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War believe Ukraine is beginning to conduct some kind of “limited tactical withdrawal” in Bakhmut, however, and is looking to inflict as many losses on Russian forces as it can during the process

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia’s defense minister visits occupied port city of Mariupol

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu attends an annual meeting of the Defence Ministry Board in Moscow, Russia, December 21, 2022. 

Mikhail Klimentyev | Sputnik | Reuters

Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu visited the Russian-occupied port city of Mariupol Monday, according to the country’s Ministry of Defense.

Shoigu traveled to Mariupol, which is located on the Sea of Azov, to inspect what the ministry said was reconstructed infrastructure. Russia has occupied Mariupol since last May following a prolonged and bloody siege and bombing campaign that destroyed much of the city’s buildings and infrastructure, and killed at least a thousand civilians, according to a conservative estimate by the UN.

The defense ministry said Shoigu visited a medical center as well as a new residential area composed of 12 five-story buildings and added that schools and kindergartens were also under construction.

Images released by the ministry showed Shoigu dressed in camouflage as he inspected the new facilities.

Reports suggest Russia has been trying to erase evidence of war crimes in Mariupol that took place during several months of bombing on the city, as well as erasing any signs of Ukrainian history and culture —changing street names, for example, and introducing the Russian curriculum in schools.

— Holly Ellyatt

Wagner Group chief says army HQ has barred his representative

Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman and close ally of Vladimir Putin, is the head Russia’s Wagner mercenary group and a series of other companies.

Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s mercenary force the Wagner Group, said Monday that one of his representatives was denied access to the headquarters of Russia’s “special military operation.”

Prigozhin said on his business’ Telegram channel that he’d written to the commander of the “special military operation,” as Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine, about the “urgent need to allocate ammunition” to Wagner units fighting in Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

Then, Prigozhin said, on Monday morning “my representative at the headquarters had his pass canceled and was denied access to the group’s headquarters,” according to a Google translation of his comment.

The Wagner Group founder said his units “continue to smash the Armed Forces of Ukraine near Bakhmut.” But at the weekend, Prigozhin claimed that his fighters were being deprived of ammunition and that if they had to retreat from Bakhmut, the whole front line would collapse.

Wagner forces, made up of mercenary fighters and men recruited from Russian prisons who are fighting in return for an early release from jail, have made slow but steady progress in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. Fighting is particularly intense in Bakhmut, with Prigozhin claiming last Friday that his forces have “practically surrounded” the city.

Prigozhin has previously openly criticized Russia’s military leaders, however, creating a significant rift between Wagner and the Russian Defense Ministry and Kremlin.

— Holly Ellyatt

Fall of Bakhmut would not mean Russia has changed tide of war, Pentagon chief says

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Monday that the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut was of more than symbolic importance than an operational one and it would not necessarily mean that Moscow had regained the momentum in its year long war effort.

A destroyed residential building in Bakhmut, Ukraine, on Feb. 24, 2023.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

“I think it is more of a symbolic value than it is strategic and operational value,” Austin told reporters while visiting Jordan, adding that he would not predict if or when Bakhmut would be taken by Russian forces.

“The fall of Bakhmut won’t necessarily mean that the Russians have changed the tide of this fight,” Austin added.

— Reuters

Status of besieged Bakhmut unknown as ‘tactical withdrawal’ could be taking place

Ukrainian infantrymen with the 28th Brigade view damaged buildings while driving to a frontline position facing Russian troops on March 05, 2023 outside of Bakhmut, Ukraine.

John Moore | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The status of Bakhmut is unclear after conflicting reports at the weekend over how much of the city was controlled by Russian forces, and whether Ukrainain forces were starting to withdraw from parts of the city.

Volodymyr Nazarenko, a commander of Ukrainian troops in Bakhmut, said on Telegram Sunday that there were “no decisions or orders regarding retreat” and that “the defense is holding” in the city but also characterized the situation in Bakhmut and its outskirts as “very much like hell, as it is on the entire eastern front.”

But analysts at the Institute for the Study of War think tank said Sunday that Ukrainian forces appear to be conducting a “limited tactical withdrawal” in Bakhmut, although they noted that “it is still too early to assess Ukrainian intentions concerning a complete withdrawal from the city.”

The ISW said Ukrainian forces may be withdrawing from their positions on the eastern bank of the Bakhmutka River that dissects the city’s eastern flank. But it added that while Russian sources claim their forces have captured eastern, northern, and southern parts of Bakhmut, and claim to be reporting from positions in eastern Bakhmut, it could not independently verify those claims.

The think tank noted, in any case, that it believes the “Ukrainian defense of Bakhmut remains strategically sound as it continues to consume Russian manpower and equipment as long as Ukrainian forces do not suffer excessive casualties.”

“Ukrainian forces are unlikely to withdraw from Bakhmut all at once and may pursue a gradual fighting withdrawal to exhaust Russian forces through continued urban warfare,” the ISW added.

Last Friday, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s mercenary force the Wagner Group, claimed his fighters had “practically surrounded Bakhmut” but also called for more ammunition for his units, saying “if Wagner retreats from Bakhmut now, the whole front will collapse,” signalling Wagner was experiencing more tensions with Russia’s defense ministry following criticism of defense officials by Prigozhin.

— Holly Ellyatt

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