Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 11, 2023
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 11, 2023
Riley Bailey, Karolina Hird, George Barros, Nicole Wolkov, Angela Howard, and Frederick W. Kagan
March 11, 3:30pm ET
Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.
Click here to access ISW’s archive of interactive time-lapse maps of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These maps complement the static control-of-terrain maps that ISW produces daily by showing a dynamic frontline. ISW will update this time-lapse map archive monthly.
Russian forces did not make any confirmed advances within Bakhmut on March 11. Ukrainian and Russian sources continue to report heavy fighting in the city, but Wagner Group fighters are likely becoming increasingly pinned in urban areas, such as the AZOM industrial complex, and are therefore finding it difficult to make significant advances. ISW will continue to monitor and report on the situation in Bakhmut as it unfolds.
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova confirmed that there is infighting in the Kremlin inner circle, that the Kremlin has ceded centralized control over the Russian information space, and that Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently cannot readily fix it. Kremlin journalists, academics, and Novorossiya supporters held a forum on the “practical and technological aspects of information and cognitive warfare in modern realities” in Moscow on March 11. During a panel discussion Zakharova stated that the Kremlin cannot replicate the Stalinist approach of establishing a modern equivalent to the Soviet Information Bureau to centrally control Russia’s internal information space due to fighting among unspecified Kremlin “elites.”
Zakharova’s statement is noteworthy and supports several of ISW’s longstanding assessments about deteriorating Kremlin regime and information space control dynamics. The statement supports several assessments: that there is Kremlin infighting between key members of Putin’s inner circle; that Putin has largely ceded the Russian information space over time to a variety of quasi-independent actors; and that Putin is apparently unable to take decisive action to regain control over the Russian information space. It is unclear why Zakharova — a seasoned senior spokesperson — would have openly acknowledged these problems in a public setting. Zakharova may have directly discussed these problems for the first time to temper Russian nationalist milbloggers’ expectations regarding the current capabilities of the Kremlin to cohere around a unified narrative — or possibly even a unified policy.
Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin said that he would transform the Wagner Group into a hardline ideological elite parallel military organization after the Battle of Bakhmut. Prigozhin stated on March 11 that the Wagner Group will start a new wave of recruitment after the envisioned capture of Bakhmut and reform itself into an army with an ideological component. The Wagner Group has recently been expanding recruitment centers throughout Russia, including centers and programs focused on recruiting youth. A Russian regional news source stated on March 11 that the Wagner Group has opened six recruitment centers in schools and youth sports clubs in Altai, Zabaykalsky, and Krasnoyarsk krais and Irkutsk Oblast. A Russian opposition news source reported on March 11 that the Ministry of Education in Apatity, Murmansk Oblast included Wagner personnel at a career guidance lesson to tell “heroic stories” and promote the Wagneryonok [“little Wagner”] youth group and summer camp in Crimea. The Wagner Group likely aims to recruit more impressionable recruits through these youth-focused campaigns and instill in them Prigozhin’s extremist ideological brand of Russian ultranationalism. Prigozhin may be attempting to restructure the Wagner Group into a hardline ideological elite parallel military organization to carve out a specialized role among Russian forces in Ukraine as its former role in solely securing tactical gains dissipates with the Wagner Group’s likely culmination around Bakhmut.
- Russian forces did not make any confirmed advances within Bakhmut on March 11.
- Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova confirmed that there is infighting in the Kremlin inner circle, that the Kremlin has ceded centralized control over the Russian information space, and implicitly that Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot fix it.
- Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin said that he would transform the Wagner Group into a hardline ideological elite parallel military organization after the Battle of Bakhmut.
- Ukrainian sources report that Ukrainian forces advanced toward Svatove.
- Russian forces continue to establish fortifications in Zaporizhia Oblast.
- Russian mobilized soldiers continue to publicize complaints that commanders treat them poorly and used them as expendable manpower to patch holes in existent formations.
- Russian occupation officials use children’s healthcare to generate dependency on the Russian healthcare system.
We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.
- Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of two subordinate main efforts)
- Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1—Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and push westward into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and encircle northern Donetsk Oblast
- Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2—Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
- Russian Supporting Effort—Southern Axis
- Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
- Activities in Russian-occupied Areas
Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine
Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1— Luhansk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and continue offensive operations into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and northern Donetsk Oblast)
Russian forces continued offensive operations northeast of Kupyansk on March 11. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Hryanykivka (18km northeast of Kupyansk) and Masyutivka (15km northeast of Kupyansk). Geolocated footage published on March 11 indicates that Russian forces likely control Pershotravneve (22km east of Kupyansk). The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces are maintaining a significant military presence in areas along the Russian border with Kharkiv Oblast to fix Ukrainian forces in the Kupyansk direction to prevent Ukrainian forces from transferring personnel to other areas in Ukraine.
Ukrainian sources reported that Ukrainian forces advanced towards Svatove. A Ukrainian media source reported on March 11 that Ukrainian forces entered Kuzemivka (14km northwest of Svatove) on an unspecified date and now hold positions 11km away from Svatove.
Russian forces continued offensive operations in the Kreminna area on March 11. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Kreminna, Nevske (18km northwest of Kreminna), and within 31km south of Kreminna near Bilohorivka, Spirne, and Fedorivka. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces conducted assaults in the direction of Terny (17km west of Kreminna) and that elements of the 331st Guards Airborne Regiment of the 98th Guards Airborne Division are operating along the Svatove-Kreminna line, likely in forest areas near Kreminna itself. A Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces counterattacked near Chervonopopivka (6km north of Kreminna).
Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2—Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)
Russian forces continued ground attacks in and around Bakhmut but did not make any confirmed advances within the city on March 11. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks on Bakhmut itself; northeast of Bakhmut near Paraskoviivka (3km northeast); northwest of Bakhmut near Zalizianske (10km northwest), Dubovo-Vasylivka (6km northwest), and Bohdanivka (6km northwest); and west of Bakhmut near Ivanivske (5km west). Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty noted on March 11 that fighting in Bakhmut was more intense this week than in the previous week and that there were 23 combat clashes in Bakhmut over the past day alone. Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner Group forces crossed the Bakhmutka River in eastern Bakhmut and are moving towards the city center. Geolocated footage of Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin shows that he was about 1.5 kilometers away from Bakhmut’s administrative center. Several Russian milbloggers notably claimed that Ukrainian forces are preparing for a counteroffensive in Bakhmut.
Russian forces continued ground attacks along the Avdiivka–Donetsk City frontline on March 11. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensives towards Avdiivka itself; in the Avdiivka area near Kamianka (5km northeast of Avdiivka), Severne (5km west of Avdiivka), and Tonenke (6km west of Avdiivka); on the northwestern outskirts of Donetsk City near Pervomaiske, Nevelske, Vodyane, and Krasnohorivka; and on the southwestern outskirts of Donetsk City near Marinka and Novomykhailivka. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian troops are attacking Severne and Kamianka, advanced near Pervomaiske, and are fighting against stiff Ukrainian defenses within Marinka.
Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast on March 11. Russian milbloggers amplified footage of personnel of the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade claiming that they are still engaged in fierce fighting near Vuhledar despite recent claims of massive losses suffered to the brigade during attacks on Vuhledar. A Russian milblogger posted footage reportedly of Russian forces using incendiary ammunition to target Ukrainian positions in Vuhledar.
Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)
Russian forces continue to establish fortifications in Zaporizhia Oblast. Satellite imagery published on March 9 shows that Russian forces have significantly expanded fortifications north of Chystopillia, Zaporizhia Oblast between December 2022 and March 9, 2023. Russian forces are likely expanding fortifications in this area to defend the N30 and T0408 highways into Tokmak, a major Russian rear area logistics node that is within 15km of Melitopol along the T0401 highway. Russian forces likely seek to secure major ground lines of communication (GLOCs) into Melitopol in the event of a potential future Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Ukrainian forces continue to target Russian logistics and force concentration areas in southern Ukraine. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported on March 10 that Ukrainian forces struck three Russian ammunition warehouses, air defenses, and four manpower and equipment concentration areas on the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast on March 9 and 10. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command also reported that Ukrainian forces struck Russian positions on the Kinburn Spit in Mykolaiv Oblast. Ukrainian sources implied on March 11 that Ukrainian forces struck Russian positions near Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast, but Russian sources denied that Ukrainian forces conducted strikes in the area.
Russian forces continued routine fire west of Hulyaipole and in Kherson Oblast on March 11. Ukrainian sources reported that Russian forces struck civilian infrastructure in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia cities.
Significant numbers of Russian mobilized soldiers and their loved ones continue to publicize complaints that Russian and Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) commanders treat them poorly and use them as expendable manpower to patch holes in combat formations. Formations from at least 17 Russian federal subjects have released video complaints appealing to various Russian leaders in February and March alone. The increasing rate of public complaints about commanders, lack of equipment, and unit structure — despite ongoing censorship and punishment of scapegoats — indicate that many soldiers feel the threat of war and their present conditions are more hazardous than the consequences of speaking out.
The Ural regional branch of a Russian state-owned news agency claimed on March 10 that Russia is preparing a large-scale recruitment campaign set to launch April 1 aimed at bringing in about 400,000 new contract soldiers. Federal subject governors reportedly have begun preparations for the coming campaign. It is extremely unlikely that Russian recruitment efforts could succeed in recruiting a significant number of soldiers, much less the very high target of recruiting 400,000 soldiers.
Russian authorities continue to struggle to crack down on desertion and resistance to forcible extension of military contracts. A Russian regional news source reported on March 10 that a military court in Moscow will try eight mobilized soldiers from Kaliningrad Oblast for desertion, a charge that reportedly carries a prison term of up to 15 years. A Russian news outlet stated on March 10 that volunteers from Tatarstan with expired contracts are attempting to return home but face criminal prosecution under desertion articles. A Russian opposition exposé source on March 10 amplified a written complaint from military unit 24314, currently located in Rostov Oblast, addressed to Russia’s Southern Military District military prosecutor wherein soldiers complained that their commanders prevent them from leaving, call them deserters, and threaten attritional deployments for attempting to leave once their contracts expire.
Russian authorities continue to prosecute limited domestic resistance to mobilization and the war in Ukraine. A Russian opposition exposé source claimed on March 10 that Russian authorities detained and obtained a confession from a 22-year-old Bashkir resident suspected of committing an arson attack that set fire to a relay cabinet on a stretch of a railway line connecting Sibay and Almukhametovo, Bashkortostan. A Russian opposition source stated on March 10 that a Makhachkala, Dagestan district court on February 10 sentenced a man to 1.5 years in prison for nonviolently protesting mobilization. Russian opposition news source Dozhd reported on March 10 that a Petrozavodsk, Karelia Republic court sentenced the vice chairman of youth activist organization “The Civil Alliance of Russia” for allegedly attempting to sabotage a railway in Petrozavodsk.
Activity in Russian-occupied Areas (Russian objective: consolidate administrative control of and annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)
Russian occupation officials continue to use pediatric healthcare services to generate dependency on the Russian healthcare system. Donetsk People’s Republic Head Denis Pushilin claimed that as of March 11, 13 brigades of Russian doctors have conducted medical examinations on almost 70,000 children aged 2 to 17 in occupied territories of Ukraine. Pushilin claimed that the Kremlin allocated over 1.4 billion rubles (about $18.4 million) for children’s medical examinations in occupied areas. ISW has previously reported that Russian occupation officials may be using medical infrastructure in order to identify and deport Ukrainian children to Russia under the guise of needing more advanced medical care.
The Kremlin continues to attempt to shift the financial burden of integrating Russian occupied territories onto Russian regional authorities. St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov met with Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Head Denis Pushilin in Mariupol where they claim that St. Petersburg authorities are updating medical equipment in a Mariupol hospital and helping to restore residences, schools, and intracity transit. Ukrainian Mariupol Mayor Advisor Petro Andryushchenko claimed that Beglov promised Mariupol construction workers their salary arrears (paying employees for work completed during a previous pay period instead of the current one) by March 13, noting that workers are receiving pay for past pay periods but not receiving pay for current work and that occupation officials may be embezzling that money from the current period. Mari El Republic Head Yuri Zaitsev reportedly visited Russian occupation officials in six cities in occupied Luhansk Oblast and met with Russian military personnel promising to address their concerns.
Russian occupation authorities may be attempting to coerce civilians in occupied territories away from the frontline. Ukrainian Luhansk Oblast Administration Head Serhiy Haidai stated that Russian forces cut off mobile communications in settlements near the frontline forcing civilians to move deeper into occupied Luhansk Oblast in order to communicate with their families.
Significant activity in Belarus (ISW assesses that a Russian or Belarusian attack into northern Ukraine in early 2023 is extraordinarily unlikely and has thus restructured this section of the update. It will no longer include counter-indicators for such an offensive.
ISW will continue to report daily observed Russian and Belarusian military activity in Belarus, but these are not indicators that Russian and Belarusian forces are preparing for an imminent attack on Ukraine from Belarus. ISW will revise this text and its assessment if it observes any unambiguous indicators that Russia or Belarus is preparing to attack northern Ukraine.
Belarusian elements continue conducting exercises in Belarus. Artillery batteries of an unspecified Belarusian air assault artillery battalion – possibly of the Belarusian 38th Separate Guards Air Assault Brigade – conducted live fire and field exercises at the Brest Training Ground in Brest, Belarus, on March 11.
Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update.
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