Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova reiterated on March 18 that the Kremlin has not abandoned its maximalist goals in Ukraine. Zakharova stated that Russia is ready to hear Western and Ukrainian proposals for the diplomatic settlement of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but noted that the West will need to remove all sanctions and lawsuits from Russia. Zakharova continued to reject Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s conditions for peace talks by noting that the removal of Russian forces from occupied Ukrainian territories, reparation obligations, and attendance at international tribunals are “unrelated” to the establishment of peace in Ukraine. Zakharova instead claimed that peace in Ukraine depends on the West ceasing its weapon deliveries to Ukraine, the international recognition “of new territorial realities,” and the demilitarization and “denazification” of Ukraine. Zakharova's demands mirror Russian President Vladimir Putin’s maximalist objectives announced on February 24, 2022, and are a continuation of the Kremlin's ongoing information operation to prompt the West to offer preemptive concessions and coerce Ukraine into negotiations on conditions more favorable to Russia.
BBC and Russian opposition news outlet Mediazona reported on March 17 that Russian forces (excluding Donetsk People’s Republic [DNR] and Luhansk People’s Republic [LNR] militiamen) have suffered a confirmed 17,375 deaths, a conservative estimate of 35,000 total deaths, and 157,000 casualties. BBC claimed that total pro-Russia forces’ casualties may exceed 211,500 people. BBC noted that 1,304 of the dead it has confirmed perished within the past two weeks, indicating that recent casualties are significantly higher than the 2022 average. The majority of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine reportedly come from outside of Russia’s major urban centers. Moscow—which comprises 9% of the entire Russian population—has suffered only 107 confirmed deaths while Krasnodar Krai has suffered 714, Sverdlovsk Oblast has suffered 664, and Buryatia has suffered 567.
- Russian forces targeted Ukraine with 16 Shahed-136 drones overnight on March 17-18.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin continued his crackdown against anti-war dissent and misappropriation of military assets within Russia.
- Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin is likely attempting to set informational conditions for the Wagner Group’s culmination around Bakhmut.
- Russian regional authorities may be severing their connections with Prigozhin.
- Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova reiterated that the Kremlin has not abandoned its maximalist goals in Ukraine.
BBC and Russian opposition news outlet Mediazona estimated that Russian forces have suffered at least 35,000 total deaths and 157,000 total casualties.
- Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations in and around Bakhmut and on the outskirts of Donetsk City.
- Russian forces continue to erect defensive fortifications along ground lines of communication (GLOCs) in and near occupied Crimea.
- Conventional Russian authorities and the Wagner Group continue to invest significant resources in efforts to involve youth in the war effort and ready them mentally and physically for military service.
- Russian occupation authorities continue efforts russify Ukrainians in occupied territories.
Russian strikes killed two people and wounded eight in Kramatorsk on Saturday, mayor Oleksandr Goncharenko said, accusing Moscow of having used cluster bombs in the attack on the eastern Ukrainian city. Agence France-Presse reporters heard about 10 explosions go off nearly simultaneously and saw smoke above a park in the city’s south. A woman died at the scene from her wounds, they said. Soon after, another round of explosions was heard in a neighbourhood 2km away.
Russia launched a series of attacks on Friday, according to the Ukrainian armed forces. Seven homes in the village of Veletenske in the Kherson region were destroyed and a nursery was damaged on Friday, but no one was injured, it said. The update, which the Guardian has not verified, also said 10 Iranian-made Shahed drones had been shot down, and that Ukrainian forces had “repelled more than 100 enemy attacks”.
Ukraine said some of the overnight drone attacks hit the relatively peaceful western region of Lviv. Dnipro was also targeted, as was Kyiv, where air defences shot down all attacking drones. Ukraine’s air force said 11 out of 16 drones were destroyed.
The Black Sea grain deal was renewed, according to parties to the agreement. Turkey and the UN announced the initiative was extended, but did not say for how long. A spokesperson for Russia’s defence ministry said it had notified other parties that the deal was extended for 60 days, while a Ukrainian minister said the deal was extended for 120 days.
Russia’s Wagner mercenary group plans to recruit about 30,000 new fighters by the middle of May, its founder has said. In an audio message on Telegram on Saturday, Yevgeny Prigozhin said that Wagner recruitment centres, which he said last week had opened in 42 Russian cities, were hiring an average of 500-800 people a day.
Russia would probably introduce wider conscription to boost its military requirements, the UK Ministry of Defence said. In its latest intelligence update, it said Russian Duma deputies introduced a bill to change the conscription age for men from the current 18-27 to 21-30. The law would probably be passed, it said, and come into force in January 2024.
Senior Ukrainian and US security officials met via video link on Saturday, with representatives of Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government asking for further assistance, including more equipment, weapons and ammunition. Zelenskiy joined the call at the end of the meeting and discussed his forces’ hopes to retake areas Russia has captured.
The US president, Joe Biden, said the international criminal court’s (ICC’s) arrest warrant for Russian leader Vladimir Putin was “justified”. “But the question is – it’s not recognised internationally by us either,” Biden said, referring to the US not being a member of the ICC. “But I think it makes a very strong point.”
The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, also welcomed the ICC’s decision, saying: “The international criminal court is the right institution to investigate war crimes … The fact is nobody is above the law and that’s what’s becoming clear right now.”
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, visited the annexed peninsula of Crimea to mark nine years since Russia seized it. Russian state news agency RIA Novosti said Putin visited an art school and a children’s centre. These locations appear to have been chosen in response to the ICC’s arrest warrant, which accuses Putin of being responsible for the abduction of children.
The Biden administration has quietly resumed deportations to Russia, an apparent reversal of the position adopted after Russia invaded Ukraine just over a year ago, when such removals were suspended, the Guardian has learned
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 offensive operations in and around Bakhmut on March 18. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian offensive operations near Bakhmut, within 11km northwest of Bakhmut near Orikhovo-Vasylikva and Hryhorivka, and within 6km southwest of Bakhmut near Ivanivske and Klishchiivka. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces also conducted assaults near Khromove (2km west of Bakhmut) and Bohdanivka (6km northwest of Bakhmut). The Ukrainian General Staff specified that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults in the northern part of Bakhmut, likely suggesting that Russian forces are concentrating offensive operations on the northern part of the city. Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner Group fighters captured unspecified industrial facilities in the AZOM complex in northern Bakhmut and have cleared most of the complex of Ukrainian forces. ISW has not observed any visual confirmation that Russian forces have advanced into the territory of the AZOM complex. Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner fighters continued assaults in the southern and southwestern parts of Bakhmut, and Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that Wagner fighters hold positions within 600 to 700 meters of the Bakhmut Administrative Center. A Russian milblogger claimed that Wagner fighters secured positions on the west (left) bank of the Bakhmutka River near Bakhmut’s central market area, although ISW has not observed visual confirmation of these claims. A Russian source claimed that Wagner fighters control 70 percent of Bakhmut as of March 18. ISW assessed that Russian forces occupied roughly 50 percent of Bakhmut as of March 8, and ISW has not observed a pace of advance since then that corresponds with this significantly higher claim about Wagner’s control over Bakhmut. Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner fighters also advanced near Kurdyumivka (13km southwest of Bakhmut).
Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)
Russian forces continued to conduct routine fire west of Hulyaipole and in Kherson and Mykolaiv oblasts on March 18. Head of the Ukrainian Joint Coordination Press Center of the Southern Forces Nataliya Humenyuk reported that Russian forces decreased their rate of artillery fire across the Dnipro River. Humenyuk also stated that Russian forces must constantly change positions in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast due to Ukrainian artillery fire.
Russian forces continue to erect defensive fortifications along ground lines of communication (GLOCs) in and near occupied Crimea. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces are building fortifications between Ishun and Voinka in northern Crimea, and social media footage shows large piles of wooden pallets reportedly near the Chatarluk River bridge between Ishun and Vorontsivka on the N05 Armiansk-Dzhankoy-Simferopol highway. A Ukrainian source posted images of piles of timber and stated that Russian forces are using the timber to construct trenches and other fortifications in Chonhar, Kherson Oblast (4km from the Kherson Oblast-Crimean administrative border on the M-18 Melitopol-Dzhankoy highway).
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