Ukraine war latest: As Wagner's offensive in Bakhmut likely ‘nears culmination,’ Kyiv set to receive first MiG-29 jets

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Key developments on March 16:

The Russian state-backed mercenary company Wagner Group’s offensive on Bakhmut “appears to be nearing culmination,” the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest assessment on March 16.

Wagner’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has recently criticized the Russian Defense Ministry for not providing his fighters with enough ammunition, which has taken a toll on Wagner’s ability to pursue offensives on Bakhmut. Prigozhin claimed on March 15 that Wagner has had to expand its encirclement of Bakhmut, an embattled city in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk Oblast.

Meanwhile, Prigozhin claimed that Wagner captured Zaliznianske, a small village about nine kilometers north of Bakhmut. Ukraine hasn’t confirmed the village’s capture.

However, the ISW, a U.S. think-tank analyzing the war in Ukraine, emphasized that “the capture of Zaliznianske and other similarly small towns north of Bakhmut is unlikely to enhance Wagner’s ability to capture Bakhmut itself or make other operationally significant gains.”

“Recent Wagner gains north of Bakhmut suggest that manpower, artillery, and equipment losses in fights for Bakhmut will likely constrain Wagner’s ability to complete a close encirclement of Bakhmut or gain substantial territory in battles for urban areas.“

According to the ISW, the Wagner offensive “will not be sufficient enough” to seize Bakhmut. 

“Russian forces are not pursuing active or successful offensive operations elsewhere in theater, and as the pace of operations slows along critical sectors of the front, Ukrainian forces likely have an increased opportunity to regain the initiative,” the think-tank said.

At the same time, U.K. military advisor, Ian Stubbs, during his March 15 speech in Vienna, said that "Russia is suffering extremely heavy casualty rates."

“Since May last year, between 20,000–30,000 Wagner and regular Russian forces have been killed and wounded in the area around Bakhmut alone,” Stubbs said.

The U.K. estimated that the vast majority of casualties are suffered by Wagner.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Defense Ministry continues to insist on capturing Vuhledar, another city in Donetsk Oblast, partially due to its competition with Wagner Group, which achieved tactical success in the Bakhmut sector, the U.K. Defense Ministry reported on March 16.

According to the ministry’s daily intelligence report, Russian attempts to storm Vuhledar “almost certainly” slowed in the past week, following recurrent, extremely expensive failed attacks.

The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said on March 17 that Russian troops are preparing to resume their offensive on Vuhledar.

Earlier on March 1, the New York Times reported that the Ukrainian forces have destroyed at least 130 Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers over a three-week “epic” fight in Vuhledar.