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Likely imminent culmination of Russian offensive around Bakhmut setting robust conditions for Ukrainian counteroffensive operations – ISW

KYIV. March 6 (Interfax-Ukraine) – The Russian offensive to capture Bakhmut will likely culminate whether Russian forces capture the city or not, and the Russian military will likely struggle to maintain any subsequent offensive operations for some months, according to a report of the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) for March 5.

“Ukrainian forces will likely have a window of opportunity to seize the battlefield initiative and launch a counteroffensive when the Russian effort around Bakhmut culminates either before or after taking the city,” the report reads.

The analysts note that it is not clear if Russian forces intend to resume offensives near Vuhledar, and it is “highly unlikely” that Russian forces would advance far enough in this direction to support operations elsewhere in any case.

The ISW says that Ukrainian forces are likely conducting a limited tactical withdrawal in Bakhmut, “although it is still too early to assess Ukrainian intentions concerning a complete withdrawal from the city.”

“The Ukrainian defense of Bakhmut remains strategically sound as it continues to consume Russian manpower and equipment as long as Ukrainian forces do not suffer excessive casualties. Ukrainian forces are unlikely to withdraw from Bakhmut all at once and may pursue a gradual fighting withdrawal to exhaust Russian forces through continued urban warfare,” the analysts note.

It is noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been delaying announcing the second mobilization wave since January and is reportedly doubling down on “quiet mobilization” to avoid generating possible unrest in Russia. At the same time, the Russian Armed Forces will continue to rely on irregular formations in further offensive operations in the coming months, in particular, the private military company Wagner, which, after losing a significant part of its forces, began to use its elite elements and may require a protracted recovery.

According to analysts, the Russian Federation continues to experience a shortage of ammunition, and the Russian military-industrial complex cannot eliminate this deficit in the near future.

The ISW also notes that the conflict between Russia‘s top military commanders will likely compound the effects of catastrophic personnel and manpower losses.

“The likely imminent culmination of the Russian offensive around Bakhmut before or after its fall, the already culminated Russian offensive around Vuhledar, and the stalling Russian offensive in Luhansk Oblast are likely setting robust conditions for a future Ukrainian counteroffensive. ISW previously assessed that Russian forces had regained the initiative in Ukraine as of February 8, but Russian forces have since failed to capitalize on that initiative to secure any operationally significant gains. Russian forces will likely lose the initiative in Ukraine within the coming months due to the likely culmination of their three main offensive efforts. The culmination of Russia’s current three offensive efforts will likely allow Ukrainian forces to launch counteroffensives anywhere along the frontline that they deem best suited for such operations,” the report reads.