Russian forces appear to have secured a sufficient positional advantage to conduct a turning movement against certain parts of Bakhmut but have not yet forced Ukrainian forces to withdraw and will likely not be able to encircle the city soon. Russian forces made one limited confirmed advance near Bakhmut on March 4. As ISW reported on March 3, Ukrainian forces are likely setting conditions for a controlled fighting withdrawal out of particularly difficult sectors of eastern Bakhmut, although it is not clear that Ukrainian commanders have decided to withdraw at this time. Russian sources claim that Wagner Group elements have made gains in northeastern and eastern Bakhmut over the past few days, creating a tactically challenging turning movement in urban areas in northern Bakhmut. Ukrainian officials have recently reiterated that Ukrainian forces still control the situation in Bakhmut but have noted that circumstances are increasingly complicated and that the Wagner Group has committed its most advanced and prepared elements to assault operations in the area.
Russian advances in Bakhmut have been slow and gradual and do not suggest that Russian forces will be able to encircle Bakhmut soon, much less that they will be able to take the city by frontal assaults. The Russians have, rather, managed to push close enough to critical ground lines of communication from the northeast to threaten Ukrainian withdrawal routes in a classical envelopment maneuver. The purpose of a turning movement is to force the enemy to abandon prepared defensive positions and is different from the aim of an encirclement, which is to trap and destroy enemy forces. The Russians may have intended to encircle Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut, but the Ukrainian command has signaled that it will likely withdraw rather than risk an encirclement. ISW assesses that Ukrainian forces are far more likely to withdraw than to become encircled and that the Ukrainians might still be able to hold their positions in Bakhmut if they choose to try. Russian forces have been suffering high casualties in these advances, and Ukrainian commanders’ assessments of the likelihood that they can force Russian attacks to culminate near or behind their current positions balanced against the risk of losing access to essential withdrawal routes will likely guide the Ukrainian decision to stay or pull back.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met with Eastern Military District (EMD) Commander Colonel General Rustam Muradov in western Donetsk Oblast, likely to assess the extent of Russian losses around Vuhledar and the possibility of further offensives in this direction. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) published a video on March 4 purporting to show Shoigu visiting Muradov in an unspecified area of western Donetsk Oblast and claimed that Muradov delivered a report on the current situation and actions of Russian forces in his area of responsibility. Russian forces suffered catastrophic losses in a recent three-week offensive near Vuhledar, and severe personnel and equipment constraints are likely preventing Russian forces from making even marginal advances in this direction. The Russian MoD may be considering whether transferring reserves of manpower and equipment to the Vuhledar area for renewed offensive operations is a worthwhile effort. The Russian MoD recently confirmed that Muradov is the EMD commander, and the substantial losses around Vuhledar have likely already caused Muradov significant reputational damage. Shoigu may have therefore visited western Donetsk Oblast also to assess Muradov’s continued suitability for the position of EMD commander. Shoigu’s visit to Ukraine may suggest that the Russian MoD lacks confidence in Chief of the General Staff and theater commander of all Russian forces in Ukraine Army General Valery Gerasimov, who likely should have been the officer making this frontline visit or at least accompanying Shoigu. Russia’s military district commanders report to Gerasimov on operational matters, and Shoigu’s publicized solo visit to western Donetsk appears to undermine Gerasimov.
- Russian forces appear to have secured a sufficient positional advantage to conduct a turning action against certain parts of Bakhmut but have not yet forced Ukrainian forces to withdraw and will not likely be able to encircle the city soon.
- Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met with Eastern Military District Commander Colonel General Rustam Muradov in western Donetsk Oblast, likely to assess the extent of Russian losses around Vuhledar and the possibility of a further offensive in this direction.
- The Chinese government is reportedly angry with the Kremlin over the publicization of arms sales discussions.
- Russian State Duma Defense Committee Head Andrey Kartapalov encouraged Russian companies to purchase their own air defense systems to defend against drones.
- The Wagner Group reportedly opened at least three new recruitment centers at Russian sports clubs between March 2-4, possibly to augment Wagner’s recruitment base after losing access to prisoner recruits.
- Russian forces conducted offensive actions along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces continued efforts to encircle Bakhmut and conduct ground attacks along the Donetsk Oblast front line.
- Ukrainian sources continue to report that Russian forces are trying to set conditions for offensive operations in southern Ukraine.
- Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov continues apparent efforts to increase Chechen influence within Russia through promoting Chechnya’s Special Forces (SPETSNAZ) and youth policy efforts.
- Russian occupation administrations are strengthening law enforcement measures in occupied territories.