Ukrainian troops on Thursday advanced near Bakhmut as part of its counteroffensive, according to the latest assessment by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
The U.S.-based think tank said that “Ukrainian forces have seized the tactical initiative and made tactically significant gains” around Bakhmut, a city in eastern Ukraine in the Donetsk region and the site of a months-long battle between Ukrainian and Russian troops.
Russian military bloggers, cited by ISW, said that Ukrainian troops “drove through” the Russian defensive lines south and southwest of Ivanivske and northwest of Klischiivka. They also said Russian forces withdrew from north of Sakko i Vantsetti, around nine miles north of Bakhmut. The forces moved to new positions south of the settlement.
“These operations are a continuation of the localized counterattacks Ukrainian forces have been conducting for some days and do not reflect the start of a major new operation,” the ISW said of Ukraine’s recent advancements.
Russia also acknowledged that Ukrainian troops made territorial gains in Bakhmut. The Russian defense ministry said on Wednesday that Ukraine continued its counteroffensive near Bohdanivka, three miles northwest of the city and Ivanivske.
Ukraine has been preparing for a spring counteroffensive for months and it was bolstered by military aid from the West that included heavy artillery, advanced equipment and tanks.
“Ukrainian Eastern Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty stated that Ukrainian forces advanced up to 1,700 meters in the past day, and the Ukrainian 3rd Separate Assault Brigade stated that the brigade’s counterattacks expanded the Ukrainian salient in the Bakhmut area to 2,000 meters wide by 700 meters deep,” ISW reported in its assessment.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the mercenary Wagner Group, denied claims of Ukrainian advances in the city, but he said Russian forces yielded 570 meters of territory north of Bakhmut, according to the ISW. His claim is consistent with Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar’s statement that Ukrainian troops advanced 500 meters north of Bakhmut and 1,000 meters south of it.
Wagner Group, the private military company assisting Russian operations in Ukraine, has slowed its offensives in Bakhmut, according to the ISW.
“The limited nature of Wagner’s offensive operations in Bakhmut compared to the localized Ukrainian counterattacks underscores the loss of Russian initiative in the area,” said the think tank.
Prigozhin, who heavily criticized Russian military capabilities and its defense ministry, said on Thursday that his forces were unable to encircle Ukrainian troops in Bakhmut because of losing stable flanks north and south of Bakhmut, according to the ISW’s assessment. The Wagner leader previously threatened to withdraw his fighters from Bakhmut, citing a lack of ammunition and support from the Russian defense ministry.
Newsweek has reached out via email to the Russian defense ministry for comment.