Russia’s ‘Great Spring Offensive’ nearing culmination, ISW reports

20 March, 06:20 PM
Servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine conduct mortar fire near Bakhmut (Photo:REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura)

Servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine conduct mortar fire near Bakhmut (Photo:REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura)

Russia’s offensive in Ukraine is nearing its peak, as the pace of Russian military operations has slowed in recent weeks, the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War or ISW said in its report for March 19.

ISW’s analysts believe that Ukraine has an opportunity to regain the initiative and launch a counter-offensive in critical areas along the front line, while the Russians are becoming increasingly concerned about such an offensive by the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

The Ukrainian military may already have launched a localized counterattack southwest of Bakhmut, ISW wrote.

Video of day

Geo-located footage released on March 19 shows that Ukrainian forces launched a successful counterattack southwest of Ivanivske (6 kilometers west of Bakhmut) and drove Russian forces off the T0504 road in the area.

On March 18, Russian sources released footage showing a column of Ukrainian armored vehicles allegedly along the T0504 road southwest of Kostiantynivka (22 km southwest of Bakhmut) and suggested that Ukrainian forces were preparing to launch a counter-offensive southwest of Bakhmut.

ISW experts state that discussions about a possible Ukrainian counter-offensive in the Bakhmut area are growing in the pro-war circles in Russia, which indicates that Russian sources are becoming less and less confident of the ability of the Russian military to hold the initiative near Bakhmut.

ISW analysts suggest that Russia's entire spring offensive is approaching its culmination.

They base this assessment on statements by the Ukrainian military, including the spokesman for the Eastern Group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Serhiy Cherevatyi. He said that Russia had failed to gather enough forces for the expected major offensive in Donbas, and its current offensive could not be considered a "major strategic operation."

Cherevatyi also confirmed that Russian troops are currently unable to complete the tactical capture or encirclement of Bakhmut.

In the first few months of 2023, Russian offensives have brought only minor tactical gains.

With 300,000 Russian soldiers unable to provide decisive results during the offensive in Ukraine, the ISW believes it is unlikely that additional forces will lead to radically different outcomes in 2023. Therefore, Ukraine is well-positioned to regain the initiative and launch a counteroffensive in critical areas of the front line.

The ISW also analyzed Russian dictator Vladimir Putin's recent visit to Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Mariupol, suggesting that it was intended to create an image of invulnerability and demonstrate his active role in the war.

Putin's visit to Mariupol could also be a response to an arrest warrant issued for him by the International Criminal Court on March 17 on war crimes charges, and an attempt to address fears in Russia about a possible counter-offensive by the Ukrainian Armed Forces in southern Ukraine.

On March 19, Russian military bloggers en masse announced a limited localized counterattack by the Ukrainian Armed Forces near Novodanylivka, Zaporizhzhya Oblast. This led hawks in Russia to speculate about a possible Ukrainian counter-offensive in Zaporizhzhiya Oblast, saying that a surrender in southern Ukraine “would be Putin’s personal defeat.”

Meanwhile, posts by Russian military blogger and convicted MH17 mass murderer Igor Girkin, in which he published a sarcastic 12-point “essay” on a “sure-fire way (for Russia) to lose the war,” indicate deepening discord within the highest levels of the Russian military leadership, including the Defense Ministry and General Staff, the Foreign Intelligence Service, the Foreign Ministry, and the 5th Directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB).

“Girkin's acerbic commentary highlights growing inner circle frictions,” ISW states.

Battle map: the battle for Bakhmut

Other conclusions of ISW analysts over the past day:

—  Russian forces continued limited offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line.

—  Russian forces likely secured marginal gains near Bohdanivka (6 kilometers northwest of Bakhmut) amidst continued Russian offensive operations in and around Bakhmut.

—  Russian forces continued offensive operations along the outskirts of Donetsk City and may have advanced towards Berdychi, about 10 kilometers northwest of Avdiyivka.

—  Russian forces continued erecting defensive fortifications throughout southern Ukraine.

—  Unknown actors killed a Russian occupation Ministry of Internal Affairs Patrol Service platoon commander with a car bomb in occupied Kherson Oblast. Ukrainian media hypothesized that the attack may have been a partisan attack or a result of Russian infighting.

—  Russian federal communication supervisor Roskomnadzor blocked a website that helped Russians escape mobilization in continued crackdowns against resistance to mobilization.

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—  Maps of hostilities: fighting in Donbas and Zaporizhzhya Oblast, situation in the south and northeast of Ukraine.

Maps of hostilities: battles in Donbas and Zaporizhzhya Oblast, the situation in the south and northeast of Ukraine

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