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Russo-Ukraine War - March 2023

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A number of claims and counterclaims are being made on the Ukraine-Russia conflict on the ground and online. While GlobalSecurity.org takes utmost care to accurately report this news story, we cannot independently verify the authenticity of all statements, photos and videos.

On 24 February 2022, Ukraine was suddenly and deliberately attacked by land, naval and air forces of Russia, igniting the largest European war since the Great Patriotic War. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a "special military operation" (SVO - spetsialnaya voennaya operatsiya) in Ukraine in response to the appeal of the leaders of the "Donbass republics" for help. That attack is a blatant violation of the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. Putin stressed that Moscow's goal is the demilitarization and denazification of the country. The military buildup in preceeding months makes it obvious that the unprovoked and dastardly Russian attack was deliberately planned long in advance. During the intervening time, the Russian government had deliberately sought to deceive the world by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

"To initiate a war of aggression... is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." [Judgment of the International Military Tribunal]


The Russian winter offensive largely failed to gain ground apart from around Bakhmut. Europe emerged from its second-warmest winter on record as climate change continues to intensify. The average temperature in Europe from December to February was 1.4 degrees Celsius (2.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1991-2020 average for the Boreal winter season, according to data published by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). Europe experienced a severe winter heatwave in late December and early January, when record-high temperatures hit countries from France to Hungary, forcing ski resorts to close because of a lack of snow.

The unusually mild winter offered some short-term relief to governments struggling with high gas prices after Russia slashed fuel deliveries to Europe last year, with higher temperatures curbing gas demand for heating in many countries.

Moscow overestimated its capabilities and tried to advance in five directions at once along the front line that stretched some 1,200km (750 miles), according to Ukraine’s top military expert. “Their efforts are spread too thin,” Lt Gen Ihor Romanenko, former deputy chief of Ukraine’s General Staff of Armed Forces.

The discussion in Washington and European capitals over how far they can go without crossing Russia’s red lines and triggering a hot war between Russia and NATO was being bypassed by events. As the latest editions of prime news and discussion programs Sixty Minutes and Evening with Vladimir Solovyov indicated, Russia’s political elites consider that these lines have been crossed.

Since the war’s start in February 2022, the Kremlin had stubbornly relied on the obsolete, Soviet-era stratagem of using massive, indiscriminate artillery fire that lacks precision and destroys almost everything in its way. As a result, Russian forces were facing a dire shortage of ammunition dubbed “shell starvation”.

Wagner‘s head Yevgeny Prigozhin has angrily complained about the shortage, accusing Russia’s defence ministry of deliberately sabotaging his requests to get more. After Pyrrhic losses of manpower, Wagner no longer relied on recruits – while Russia’s top brass dodged the requests of mobilised men and volunteers to join the group, Prigozhin claimed.

A seasoned separatist strongman showered him with criticism. “It is of utmost necessity to withdraw Prigozhin from the frontline and fully forbid him from leading Wagner,” Igor Girkin, a former “defence minister” of separatists in Donetsk, wrote on Telegram. He accused Prigozhin of “political ambitions multiplied by psychopathy, organisation of war crimes, a penchant for shameless and largely false self-promotion and the spread of rotten criminal customs within the military”.

Prigozhin responded by calling Girkin a “fountain of faeces”.

Apart from the infighting, Russia’s efforts in Bakhmut involve a badly coordinated “motley crew”, Lt Gen Romanenko said. It consists of depleted Wagner units, poorly-trained mobilised men, dwindling regular forces, including paratroopers deployed from Russia’s Pacific coast, and Cossack volunteers who initially succeeded in destroying elite Ukrainian forces. These days, however, the Cossacks refuse to move forward and are being forced to fight by the Kadyrovtsy forces loyal to Chechnya’s pro-Kremlin ruler Ramzan Kadyrov, Romanenko said. Moscow is training up to 200,000 mobilised men and is scrambling for enough arms, uniforms and ammunition for them. But “they overestimated their forces [before], and did it again now”, he concluded.

Russians were desperately trying to seize the towns of Kreminna, which sits 75km (46 miles) north of Bakhmut, and Vuhledar, 150km (93 miles) to the south of it. But Kyiv’s forces simply need to hold on for just several more weeks as they expect the arrival of sophisticated Western arms, including the advanced Leopard tanks designed to fight and destroy Soviet-era armoured vehicles, and additional Ukrainian forces trained to use these weapons, he said.

It meant, however, that Russian forces will not face serious obstacles before storming Ukraine’s third line of defence, the Toretsk agglomeration that stretches for almost 100km (60 miles) west of Bakhmut. But with their current speed – considering the resistance of Ukrainian forces and the spring weather with wet and often impassable soil – Russians will lay siege to Chasiv Yar only in the next couple of weeks, Mitrokhin said.

But they will hardly reach the outskirts of Konstantinovka and Kramatorsk, two strategic towns that lie only 27km and 55km (17 and 35 miles) west of Bakhmut, respectively, before mid-May, he said. “And it will take them a year or more to storm the third line of defence” along the borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk region that includes hundreds of heavily-fortified sites, and a labyrinth of trenches and shelters, he said. Western military leaders also think that Ukraine’s withdrawal from Bakhmut is not going to change the war’s odds.

Reports in early March 2023 of a Ukrainian withdrawal from Bakhmut were premature. Ukraine continued to send in reinforcements to at least hold on to those parts of the town that they still control. Various Russian sources put the number of Ukrainian troops at the center of Bakhmut between 3,000 and 12,000, a wide discrepancy. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on March 6 discussed the situation in the besieged Donetsk region city with Valeriy Zaluzhniy, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and Oleksandr Syrskiy, the commander of the ground forces, where "they spoke in favor of continuing the defensive operation and further strengthening our positions in Bakhmut," according to the president's website.

Russian sources indicate that Ukraine was moving troops from the Kharkiv area to Bakhmut to set up a new defense line near Chasov Ya, the next likely target for Russian attack after the fall of Bakhmut. Those troops who were being redeployed were being replaced by reservists who were sent to Kupiansk. From Russia’s perspectrive, this was consistent with Russia’s strategy to overextend Ukraine as much as possible.

Some experts were increasingly voicing concerns that the United States was demanding a new ‘offensive’ by Ukraine’s armed forces in order to achieve the ‘turning point’ in the war which which they have been talking about for a year, regardless of the cost in Ukrainian lives. As well, Western support of Ukraine is becoming more and more expensive, and the limits of the military hardware being promised stand exposed.

Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi pledged to defend the eastern city of Bakhmut. "It is necessary to gain time to accumulate reserves and start the spring counteroffensive, which is not far off." Russian forces claimed that they had intensified their offensive and taken control of the eastern bank of a river that runs through Bakhmut. Ukrainian troops built their defensive lines on the river's western side.

Ukraine has decided to fight on in the ruined city of Bakhmut because the battle is pinning down Russia’s best units in advance of a planned Ukrainian spring counteroffensive, an aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said. The comments by Mykhailo Podolyak on 10 March 2023 were the latest signal of a shift by Kyiv this week to continue the defence of the small eastern city, where Moscow is trying to secure its first major victory in more than half a year.

Russia “has converged on Bakhmut with a large part of its trained military personnel, the remnants of its professional army, as well as the private companies,” Podolyak said in an interview published by Italy’s La Stampa newspaper. “We, therefore, have two objectives: to reduce their capable personnel as much as possible, and to fix them in a few key wearisome battles, to disrupt their offensive and concentrate our resources elsewhere, for the spring counter-offensive. So, today Bakhmut is completely effective, even exceeding its key tasks.”

The quality of the personnel of the armed forces of Ukraine has declined markedly as a result of year-long losses, The Washington Post wrote. It is noted that Zelensky's office is trying to keep the exact data on the killed or wounded soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine secret. However, work to attract new military personnel is being actively carried out throughout the country.

It is reported that many junior officers who have been trained in the US and NATO countries for the past nine years have been killed in the course of hostilities. The training of new personnel is extremely slow. “The most valuable thing in war is combat experience. A soldier who has known half a year of battles and has just arrived from the training ground is a completely different person. Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer experienced fighters,” the newspaper quoted the battalion commander of the 46th Airborne Assault Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine with the call sign “Dome”.

He noted that his battalion has changed beyond recognition. Of the 500 soldiers, about 100 were killed in action and 400 were wounded. "Turnover" in the division actually reached 100%. "Dome" says that the leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine does not give him time to train the newly arrived recruits, which is why they have to be sent into battles without training.

“They have never thrown a grenade, they are afraid of the sound of shots, they are fleeing the battlefield,” the colonel emphasizes. He also noted that the troops are experiencing an acute shortage of ammunition. In particular, there are almost no shells for the American Mk19 grenade launcher. There is a depletion of artillery stocks and, despite many statements by politicians, the United States is not able to solve the current shortage problem.

A drop in morale, as well as a shortage of personnel, mean that Zelensky's office cannot implement the counteroffensive promised to the West. The perception of aid from Washington is also changing. So, an anonymous Ukrainian official admitted that the supply of tanks from NATO are "purely symbolic." Another politician, who also declined to be named, admitted that fewer people in the leadership believe in the success of a possible offensive. There is a critical shortage of equipment and people, as well as a general difficulty in defending the positions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The publication writes that significant breakthroughs will inevitably lead to thousands of victims, which Ukraine can no longer afford in the second year of hostilities.

In Kyiv, the material caused a negative reaction. President Volodymyr Zelensky called judgments about the weakness of the Ukrainian army erroneous, while Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov said that such information undermines the situation in Ukraine and is not true.

The US could get directly involved in the Ukraine conflict if it sees that Kiev’s forces are on the back foot, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Seymour Hersh suggested on 14 March 2023. Speaking at an event in Washington, DC hosted by the Committee for the Republic, a non-profit organization, Hersh noted that the US “did stupid things” during the Vietnam War, and suggested that Washington could “start doing something else” in the Ukraine conflict. “I’m told the game is going to be: this is NATO, we are supporting NATO in offensive operations against the Russians, which is not going to fool the world… It’s us fighting Russia,” Hersh stressed,

Hersh argued that “we just may be kidding ourselves what’s going on there and what the results are going to be”. He recalled the battle of Stalingrad during WWII, when Soviet troops suffered heavy losses but still emerged victorious. “Come on. Do we really want to mix up with those guys? I don’t think so,” the journalist said, adding that the Russian leader “has not put in his main force yet” in the conflict.

“Upwards of 100,000 Ukrainian forces have been killed or wounded in the year-long war, U.S. officials estimate, including the most experienced soldiers,” Politico wrote 15 March 2023 [previous version of this story misrepresented the number of Ukrainians killed since Russia’s full-scale invasion last year]. “Many of these losses are taking place in Bakhmut,” it added. On 13 March 2023, the Washington Post reported: “US and European officials have estimated that as many as 120,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed or wounded since the start of Russia’s invasion early last year.” Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced that Ukraine has lost at least 11,000 troops during the fighting in February. The number of killed and wounded on the Ukrainian side had risen by more than 40% since January when it stood at 6,500, he added.

The actions of Western countries to change the civilizational orientation of Ukraine as a country of the Russian world are a transgender operation, said Georgy Muradov, Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Crimea, Permanent Representative of the Republic under the President of the Russian Federation. “The new territories (DNR, LNR, - ed.) are our people, our compatriots, this is the Russian world, which has risen against being enslaved by Western civilizers, who are doing everything to ensure that this anti-Russian slogan “Ukraine is tse Europe “turn it into a powerful tool against our country. I would even say that this entire operation that the West is conducting is, by and large, a transgender operation – changing the essence of Ukraine,” Muradov said.

“Tear off, cut off everything that is possible for her (Ukraine – ed.) and put on, maybe, lace panties. It will not work out - we will not give up our sister, we will not give part of our people to the enslavement of the West. And the "West" in this sense has the most disgusting connotation, because they are the preachers of this whole non-traditional orientation ... new forms of colonialism."

The Eisenhower Media Network (EMN) is a project run by the People’s Power Initiative, a group that counts Ben Cohen as its president and a major backer. The ice-cream mogul and long-time Bernie Sanders campaigner has given more than $1 million to the People’s Power Initiative via the Ben Cohen Charitable Trust. The EMN project promotes a group of U.S. military veterans as experts and pundits willing to talk about the war in Ukraine.

EMN has been reaching out to reporters to push claims that the U.S. is spending too much money trying to help Ukraine fight off Vladimir Putin’s invasion. EMN’s associate director, Matthew Hoh, a former State Department staffer and Marine Corps captain, said: “The outrageous federal spending on the Ukraine war is missing from the discussion on the national debt… It’s time to think about pausing funding for Ukraine if we cannot afford it.” Matthew has been a Senior Fellow with the Center for International Policy since 2010. In 2009, Matthew resigned in protest from his post in Afghanistan with the State Department over the American escalation of the war.

The director of EMN, Dennis Fritz, who rose to be Command Chief Master Sergeant in the United States Air Force after nearly half a century serving in the armed services, said “Ukraine cannot win this war. The bottom line is: It’s done. They are against a mad man and his ego — he will not lose. Whether we like it or not, we have to give Putin something.”

By late March 2023 there was a growing view that Russian troops were losing momentum in their attack on the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. Ukraine's Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi said he talked over the telephone with Britain's Chief of Defence Staff Tony Radakin on 24 March 2023. Zaluzhnyi acknowledged during the talks that the situation is the "toughest in the Bakhmut direction" but said Ukraine is managing to stabilize the situation due to the efforts of its defense forces.

Britain's defense ministry said on 25 March 2023 that Russia's assault on Bakhmut has "largely stalled," citing "extreme attrition" of the Russian forces as a cause. The ministry added that the Russian situation in Bakhmut was likely worsened by tensions between the paramilitary Wagner group and the Russian defense ministry. It pointed to the possibility that Moscow is shifting its operational focus to Avdiivka, to the south of Bakhmut, and Kreminna to its north. It suggested Russia may have begun pivoting from massive offensives to defensive operations since January as a result of failing to clinch decisive results.

The Institute for the Study of War, a US think tank, stated on 24 March 2023 that "the Russian information space appears to be responding to the slow-down of Russian operations and potential for Ukraine to regain the initiative with substantial anxiety." The institute said Russia's military command will need to commit a significant number of forces to the frontline to reverse the situation, but that it is unlikely that such forces exist at sufficient scale.

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Page last modified: 22-04-2023 18:02:50 ZULU