Ukraine: Military operations continue in southern and eastern regions as of March 16 /update 212

Event

Military operations are ongoing in Ukraine’s southern and eastern regions as of March 16. Ground combat remains focused in the eastern Donbas area. Ukrainian military authorities stated, March 15, that Russian ground attacks have declined significantly in recent days. The decrease in offensive action is from around 100 events per day to one-third of that number. The Ukrainian sources assess that this is likely caused by Russian shortages in personnel, equipment, and artillery ammunition.

Moscow’s forces continue to focus offensive efforts on Bakhmut in the Donetsk Region, where they continue to make slow, attritional gains. Russian forces are also continuing to attempt to encircle Bakhmut, intending to push southwestward from Yahidne to capture Ivanivske, from where they can push northward. As of March 15, Wagner group fighters claim to have captured the settlement of Zalizianske, 9 km (5 miles) north-west of Bakhmut. On March 11, Ukrainian political and military leaders committed to the defense of Bakhmut, despite the slow Russian advances, in order to further degrade Russian offensive capability. The wet and muddy environmental conditions expected in coming days would likely hamper any potential withdrawal operation.

Elsewhere in Donetsk Region, Russian forces continue ground offensive activity on several Ukrainian-held settlements between Avdiivka and Vuhledar, including Krasnohorivka and Marinka. The front line is stable in this area, with Russian forces gaining no significant territory in recent days.

Active combat continues in Luhansk Region, where both Ukrainian and Russian forces are conducting offensive activity along the Svatove-Kreminna line. There have been no significant changes in territorial control in recent days. The city of Kharkiv continues to be targeted in artillery fire on a near-daily basis. Similarly, artillery exchanges have continued between the opposing sides across the front lines in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, but major ground assaults are unlikely in the immediate term.

Moscow is continuing its campaign of air, missile, and drone strikes across Ukraine. The latest massed missile attack was on March 9, when Russia launched one of its largest such events: Ukrainian authorities state that 81 missiles and eight Iranian Shahed drones were launched, of which 34 missiles and four drones were shot down. Damage to civilian infrastructure was reported in Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Kirovohrad, Kyiv, Lviv, Mykolaiv, Odesa, and Vinnytsia regions. Authorities confirmed five civilians were killed in Zolochiv, Lviv Region.

The downing of a US Reaper MQ-9 UCAV by a Russian Su-27 on March 15, over the Black Sea, is likely to heighten tension in international airspace in the region. NATO countries have continued to conduct air intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) patrols over the Baltic Sea, Eastern Europe, and the Black Sea throughout the conflict. This incident will likely highlight the potential for confrontation between NATO and Russian assets and may prompt further similar events.

Context

Russian forces will likely continue their offensive operations in the Donetsk Region with the goal of taking an operationally important city such as Bakhmut or Avdiivka, which they can present as a success to a domestic audience with the aim of maintaining support for the war. However, frontal assaults in recent weeks have yielded limited progress while resulting in numerous Russian casualties. Nonetheless, Ukrainian commanders state they are coming under increased pressure as Russian attacks continue. Ukrainian forces will likely seek to attrite Moscow’s forces as much as possible before eventually withdrawing from locations subject to significant Russian pressure, should that become necessary.

Reports indicate that Russian reinforcements continue to arrive in the Luhansk Region, and Moscow will likely seek to step up counterattacks in this area to maintain the offensive initiative, particularly around Kreminna. Lacking the combat potential – particularly heavy equipment – to mount a major offensive in the short term, Russia will likely rely on amassing regular troops to overwhelm Ukrainian defensive positions. Ukrainian offensive action in the region has largely stalled northwest and west of Kreminna, as well as on approaches to Svatove, but limited ground assaults will almost certainly continue in the days to come.

Moscow has sought to escalate the conflict in alternative ways in an apparent effort to force Ukraine to capitulate and coerce its allies to reduce their support. This includes increased air, missile, and drone strikes targeting Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, as well as disrupting power, water, and heating services over the winter period. Since Jan. 1, Moscow has increasingly relied on drones to conduct these attacks, forcing Ukraine to expend costly and finite resources to repel repeated drone attacks and possibly reveal air defense battery positions. Ukrainian officials believe Russia maintains enough missiles to launch multiple barrages. Successful attacks will likely result in widespread utility outages and collateral damage to civilians.

Russian cross-border artillery strikes in the border areas of Chernihiv, Sumy, and Kharkiv regions have escalated in recent weeks. Although a major offensive does not appear imminent, limited incursions to harass Ukrainian forces and pin significant numbers of defenders in place remain possible. Artillery strikes also regularly cause utility disruptions and civilian casualties.

Advice

Avoid travel to active conflict zones in the Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson regions of Ukraine; consider leaving these areas by available ground transport if safe to do so. Exercise extreme caution if operating anywhere in Ukraine. Download the AirAlert mobile application to receive an air alert notification in your chosen city or region of Ukraine from the Civil Defense System. You should shelter in place if there is fighting or airstrikes in the area. Stay away from windows and exterior walls if officials report incoming rocket or artillery fire. Follow the instructions of local security personnel, especially when instructed to seek refuge in air-raid shelters. Maintain contact with diplomatic representations. Due to the threat of unexploded ordnance, avoid off-road travel. Travel on well-used routes only. Do not approach suspected unexploded ordnance. In areas previously occupied by Russian forces, be aware of booby traps.

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