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Battles Flare Around Bakhmut, But Western Think Tank Says Russia's Drive May Be Stalling

By RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service March 12, 2023

Russian fighters said they are continuing their assault on Bakhmut, but Ukrainian military commanders claim they are inflicting heavy losses on the invading forces and at least one influential think tank says advances by Kremlin-linked mercenaries appear to have stalled around the Donetsk region city.

The Ukrainian military asserted on March 12 that the Russian side had lost more than 1,000 troops in the previous 24 hours in its offensive in eastern Ukraine and around Bakhmut, which has largely been destroyed in months of shelling and fighting as Kyiv has made a determined stand to defend the city.

Meanwhile, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in its latest update said there were no confirmed advances by Russian forces in Bakhmut over the past day. Earlier reports said a river that runs through the middle of the city has now become the front line in the battle.

"Ukrainian and Russian sources continue to report heavy fighting in the city, but [Russia-backed] Wagner Group fighters are likely becoming increasingly pinned in urban areas...and are therefore finding it difficult to make significant advances," the ISW said.

Yevgheny Prigozhin, whose Wagner mercenary troops are active in Bakhmut, was quoted by the Russian state-run TASS news agency on March 12 as saying his forces are facing a "fierce" fight and that the Ukrainian military is sending "endless reserves" to the city.

"The situation in Bakhmut is difficult, very difficult, with the enemy fighting for each meter," he was quoted as saying.

"And the closer we are approaching the city center, the fiercer fighting is growing, the more artillery and tanks being used against us.

"Ukrainians keep on supplying endless reserves. But we are moving forward and will continue to move forward and we will not cover the glory of Russian arms with shame," he added.

Prigozhin a day earlier posted a video of himself in battle gear around a kilometer from Bakhmut's city administration building in the gutted downtown of a city with a prewar population of around 70,000.

The fight for Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region, has been one of the most sustained battles of Russia's year-old invasion of Ukraine despite its questionable strategic -- as opposed to symbolic -- worth in the eyes of many Western military observers.

The Ukrainian General Staff said in a regular briefing statement on March 12 that Russian "storming operations" continued in the city.

It also cited enemy offensives particularly in Lyman, Avdiyivka, Marinka, and Shakhtarsk.

The General Staff claimed the Russians had lost 1,090 soldiers and eight tanks in the past 24 hours.

RFE/RL cannot confirm specific battlefield developments.

But a British intelligence report and other Western analysts have suggested the Russian side has suffered huge casualty levels as it works to encircle and occupy Bakhmut.

The commander of Ukraine's ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskiy, said the stubborn defense of Bakhmut helped his forces prepare for a coming counteroffensive.

"The real heroes now are the defenders who are holding the eastern front on their shoulders, and inflicting the heaviest possible losses, sparing neither themselves nor the enemy," Syrsky was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying on March 11.

"It is necessary to buy time to build reserves and launch a counteroffensive, which is not far off."

On March 12, the Ukrainian military warned that the likelihood of missile strikes across the country remained "high."

It said two people had been killed and three more injured when Russian forces shelled a civilian target in Kherson.

A day earlier, the head of the southeastern Kherson administration, Oleksandr Prokudin, had said three people were killed by a Russian bombardment on March 11.

Kherson is the administrative capital of one of the four Ukrainian regions -- along with Donetsk, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya where Europe's largest nuclear power plant lies -- that Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to have annexed in October, a move rejected by most of the rest of the world.

In the city of Slovyansk, Mayor Vadym Lyakh said the power grid and rail lines were struck by Russian shelling on March 12, but no casualties were immediately reported.

Mediazona, an independent, anti-Putin media outlet, said on March 11 that 1,638 Russian regular troops and Wagner PMC mercenaries had died in the past two weeks of fighting in Ukraine, according to its calculations, marking one of the deadliest periods for Putin's forces.

Both sides in the conflict keep their casualty figures classified.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service, Current Time, and AFP

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-bakhmut-russian- losses-counteroffensive/32314043.html

Copyright (c) 2023. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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