The front line
Russian forces are making little headway in Bakhmut and are unlikely to resume their offensive on Vuhledar, the US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in its latest report. The ISW quoted Ukrainian army spokesman Serhiy Cherevaty as saying that the Russian military has made 42 ground attacks near Bakhmut over the last day.
“The relatively slower pace of Russian attacks on and around Bakhmut on March 16, coupled with relatively fewer Russian claims on advances in this area, supports ISW’s March 15 assessment that the Wagner Group offensive on Bakhmut is likely nearing culmination.” the institute's experts said.
The briefing also noted that Russian forces continue limited operations in the western part of the Donetsk region near the town of Vuhledar, located 30 km from Donetsk.
The daily British military intelligence update said that in recent days, Russian military and Wagner PMC mercenaries had managed to gain a foothold on the western bank of the Bakhmutka river, which runs through the city centre. During the previous week, the river had marked the front line. The Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) are continuing to defend the western part of the city.
Overall, along the front line, the level of local advances is now at its lowest since early January 2023, according to the report. Apparently, Russian troops have temporarily depleted the combat capabilities of their units, which are now insufficient even for small offensive operations.
British military intelligence believes that the Russian command will seek to restore offensive capabilities as soon as personnel and ammunition are replenished. Until then, commanders will have to choose between conducting offensive operations and providing a credible defense along the front line.
The pro-Russian Telegram channel Dva Maiora (“Two Majors”) wrote that northwest of Bakhmut the Wagner PMC is “building on its success after taking Zaliznianske.”
Meanwhile, Estonian intelligence reported that the Wagner PMC cannot recruit enough new mercenaries, which has led to the Russian military leadership having begun to replace them with regular units on the southern flank of its grouping near Bakhmut. Estonian intelligence also noted a decrease in the intensity of Russian assault activity in this direction compared to the winter period due to weather conditions and the rotation of units, but warned that their activity may increase again by April.
A report from the AFU said that the Russian army had unsuccessfully attacked in the direction of Kamianka, Nevelske, Avdiivka and Marinka in the Donetsk region. The Russians also unsuccessfully tried to break the defenses of the Ukrainian army in the Kupiansk and Lyman directions, according to a report from the Ukrainian General Staff.
The situation remains unchanged in the Volyn, Poliske, Siversk and Slobozhansk directions. The Russians continue to engineer the terrain in the border areas of the Bryansk and Kursk regions, the Ukrainian General Staff said in its most recent report. The Russian army is on the defensive in the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson directions, according to reports from the AFU.
Earlier, the Russian-appointed “interim governor” of the Zaporizhzhia region, Yevgeny Balitskiy, said that Kyiv was preparing its troops to step up combat operations in the Zaporizhzhia section of the front. In an interview with The Insider, defense expert Roman Svitan commented that preparations in this direction were indeed under way, but it was too early to talk about an offensive. However, there are also signs of Russian retreat from this direction, according to Svitan:
“In the Zaporizhzhia section of the front, as in other sections, there is a rotation of troops, meaning there’s a changeover, one part leaves to be re-staffed and another goes in. After the troops come in, that’s followed by so-called ‘reconnaissance-in-force’ to determine the boundaries of the enemy fortifications.
What we are seeing now is post-rotation warfare conducted by our troops entering the front line. This could be considered trivial reconnaissance-in-force, but any offensive action begins with it. Everything here will depend on the command.
New units entering the front line are being prepared for offensive action. When will they be? That's another question, but preparations are going on all the time. It's commonplace for any recently deployed unit. This is not the offensive they’re talking about, but the preparations may be taking place.
On March 16, the Ukrainian General Staff gave information that Russian trucks carrying ammunition to the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia directions are coming back loaded with washing machines from the left bank [of the Dnipro river]. This suggests that the Russians are preparing to withdraw from the left bank and from the Zaporizhzhia front. Such preparations are always noticeable when the rats from the rear know how the events are going to unfold and prepare to leave: they steal and begin removing the loot.
This is a good signal, when there are lines of trucks coming back, laden with [electric] appliances from abandoned homes, [on their way] to Crimea. They are preparing for our offensive and their retreat. All armies do this, that's the way this world works. This is not the case in Donbas and Luhansk, empty cars go back there, but from Zaporizhzhia and Kherson directions, the cars are full.”
Two people died as a result of Russian shelling in the Donetsk region. According to the regional administration, 19 residential buildings, a prison, a school and a business were also damaged. The morning rocket attack on Avdiivka did not cause any casualties. The image below shows the aftermath of the strike on Avdiivka:
French Armed Forces Minister Sebastien Lecornieu told the Defence Commission of the French National Assembly that the AMX-10 RC armoured fighting vehicles, whose planned transfer to Ukraine France announced in early January, “have just arrived in Ukraine.”
“Some have already arrived at the front line,” Lecornue said, without specifying the number of vehicles delivered. “I am now considering how we can produce a second wave of deliveries,” Le Figaro quoted the official as saying.
According to reports from French media outlets, France was planning to hand over 40 AMX-10 RC vehicles from its stock, including 20 in the first delivery. The French army was in possession of 247 AMX-10 RC vehicles as of 2021.
Politico reported that China is supplying Russia with weapons and military and dual-use products. One of China's largest defence contractors sent 1,000 CQ-A rifles in June to the Russian company Tekhkrim, which cooperates with the Russian Defence Ministry. The CQ-A rifles, which are modelled on the M16, are designated as “civilian hunting rifles.” Politico noted that the weapons are also used by military police in China and armed forces from the Philippines to Paraguay.
Da-Jiang Innovations Science & Technology Co. (DJI) sent drone parts to a small Russian distributor last year through the UAE. Batteries and cameras for drones were shipped through the UAE, with 12 such shipments on record. More than 12 tonnes of body armor worth about $10m were also sent to Russia via Turkey in 2022. The publication noted that the goods are dual-use products, meaning that Russia could potentially use them in the war in Ukraine. There is no confirmation of the use of Chinese rifles on the battlefield – Chinese-made commercial drones, however, have already been spotted in Ukraine.
The Swedish Defence Ministry said that a decision had been approved to transfer eight units of the FH77BW L52 Archer 155-mm artillery system to the AFU. Ukrainian forces are expected to receive the Swedish system within a few months. The Archer will be equipped with a computerized fire control system, after which the Ukrainian military will receive the necessary training to man the system. There are also reported plans to establish a logistics hub near Ukraine, where repairs will be carried out.
Slovakia's cabinet has approved the transfer of 13 MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, Prime Minister Eduard Heger said. “Promises must be kept, and when [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky asked for more weapons, including fighter jets, I said we would do our best,” Heger tweeted.
Belgium will also hand 240 military trucks to the AFU, according to a report from Ukrainska Pravda citing De Standaard. A batch of 240 trucks including the Volvo Cargo, Volvo Shelter, Volvo Fassi and Volvo Manumat will make its way to Ukraine next week. The Belgian Ministry of Defence noted that logistics in wartime are no less important than armaments, and added that the trucks are in good condition, despite the fact that they have been in service since the early 1990s.
Possible end to the war
In an interview with T-Online, Markus Keupp, an expert at the military academy of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETH Zürich), claimed that the war may end by October as Russia will not be able to replenish its weapons stocks. The interview was earlier cited by independent Russian investigative outlet Agentstvo (“The Agency”).
“The war will probably end in October. I come to this conclusion based on simple calculations, correlating Russia's stockpiles of tanks and other combat equipment before the war with its losses. I also have the impression that Russian stockpiles are extremely overstated: a lot of weapons date back to the 1950s and 1960s, which looks good on paper but has no practical value,” said Keupp.
According to the expert, the Ukrainian leadership is doing the right thing by continuing to defend Bakhmut. Keupp believes that fighting for the city ties up a large number of Russian troops, while Ukraine manages to protect its reserves needed for a future offensive.
International Criminal Court issues arrest warrant for Putin
The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova. Both officials have been charged with war crimes relating to the forced deportation of children from Ukraine.
Putin will now be unable to visit the 123 countries that have ratified the Rome Statute and recognise the jurisdiction of the ICC in The Hague. These include almost all countries in Europe, South America, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Brazil, South Africa, the Central African Republic and Nigeria.
Russia, the US, China, India, Israel and Turkey are among the countries that have not ratified the Rome Statute or have withdrawn their signature from the agreement.