Russian advance stalls in key city, report says

By Karl Ritter | The Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine >> Russia’s advance seems to have stalled in Moscow’s campaign to capture the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, a leading think tank said in an assessment of the longest ground battle of the war.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said there were no confirmed advances by Russian forces in Bakhmut. Russian forces and units from the Kremlin-controlled paramilitary Wagner Group continued to launch ground attacks in the city, but there was no evidence that they were able to make any progress, the ISW said.

Ukrainian paratroopers of 80 Air Assault brigade rest inside a dugout at the front line near Bakhmut, Ukraine, on Friday. EVGENIY MALOLETKA — The Associated Press

The founder of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said Sunday on the Telegram messaging app that the situation in Bakhmut was “difficult, very difficult, with the enemy fighting for each meter.”

The ISW report issued Saturday cited the spokesperson of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ Eastern Group, Serhii Cherevaty, who said that fighting in the Bakhmut area had been more intense this week than the previous one. According to Cherevaty, there were 23 clashes in the city over the previous 24 hours.

The ISW’s report comes following claims of Russian progress earlier this week. The U.K. Defense Ministry said Saturday that paramilitary units from the Kremlin-controlled Wagner Group had seized most of eastern Bakhmut, with a river flowing through the city now marking the front line of the fighting. The assessment highlighted that Russia’s assault will be difficult to sustain without more significant personnel losses.

The mining city of Bakhmut is in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk province, one of four regions of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed last year. Russia’s military opened the campaign to take control of Bakhmut in August, and both sides have experienced staggering casualties. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed not to retreat.

In its latest report, the U.K. Defense Ministry said Sunday that the impact of heavy Russian military casualties in Ukraine varies dramatically across Russia. The British military’s intelligence update said Moscow and St. Petersburg remained “relatively unscathed,” particularly among members of Russia’s elite.

In many of Russia’s eastern regions, however, the death rate as a percentage of the population is “30-40 times higher than in Moscow,” the U.K. ministry said. It added that ethnic minorities often take the biggest hit. In the southern Astrakhan region, for example, about “75% of casualties come from the minority Kazakh and Tartar populations.”

Russia’s mounting casualties are reflected in a loss of government control over the country’s information sphere, the Institute for the Study of War said. The think tank said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova confirmed “infighting in the Kremlin inner circle” and that the Kremlin has effectively ceded control over the country’s information space, with Putin unable to readily regain control.

The ISW saw Zakharova’s comments, made at a forum on the “practical and technological aspects of information and cognitive warfare in modern realities” in Moscow, as “noteworthy” and in line with the think tank’s long-standing assessments about the “deteriorating Kremlin regime and information space control dynamics.”

In a separate statement, Zakharova said Sunday that the next round of talks regarding extending the Black Sea grain deal would take place Monday in Geneva. A Russian delegation is expected to meet with top U.N. officials. The deal currently is set to expire on March 18.

The wartime agreement that unblocked grain shipments from Ukraine and helped temper rising global food prices was last extended by four months in November.

The deal, which Ukraine and Russia signed in separate agreements with the U.N. and Turkey on July 22, established a safe shipping corridor in the Black Sea and inspection procedures to address concerns that cargo vessels might carry weapons or launch attacks.

Ukraine and Russia are key global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other food to countries in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia where millions of impoverished people lack enough to eat. Russia was also the world’s top exporter of fertilizer before the war.

A loss of those supplies following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 had pushed up global food prices and fueled concerns of a hunger crisis in poorer countries.

Zelenskyy said Sunday that he posthumously conferred the highest national title, Hero of Ukraine, on a soldier who is thought to have been killed by Russian-speakers. Zelenskyy identified him as Oleksandr Matsiyevsky, although the Ukrainian military previously gave a different name for the soldier pending final confirmation.

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