Russo Ukrainian War. Day 389: Russia targets Ukraine with 16 Shahed drones

 

Daily review

Article by: Zarina Zabrisky

Russian forces targeted Ukraine with 16 Shahed-136 drones overnight on March 17-18. Ukraine conducts a missile strike almost 100 km deep in Russia’s defense, destroying a Russian base. Russian military sends reinforcement to Vuhledar in Donetsk Oblast.

Daily overview — Summary report, March 19

The General Staff’s operational update regarding the Russian invasion as of 18.00 pm, March 19, 2023 is in the dropdown menu below:

Situation in Ukraine. March 18, 2023. Source: ISW. ~

Situation in Ukraine. March 18, 2023. Source: ISW.

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Day 389 of the russian full-scale invasion has begun.
Despite the loss of human life, the russian federation continues to wage its war of aggression. The adversary is focusing its main efforts on attempts to completely seize Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. To achieve its goals, the invaders continue offensive operations on Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Mar’inka, and Shakhtars’k axes. During the day of March 18, Ukrainian defenders repelled 83x attacks in this area of the frontline. Bakhmut remains the epicenter of the fighting.
During the day of March 18, the russian federation continued to use terror tactics against the civilians in Ukraine. By shelling settlements and critical infrastructure, the adversary completely ignores the laws and customs of war.
During the day of March 18, the enemy launched 11x missile attacks, 4x of which targeted civilian infrastructure in Zaporizhzhia. In addition, 16x air strikes and 99x MLRS attacks by the occupiers were reported.
The likelihood of further missile attacks across Ukraine remains high.
Kharkiv Battle Map. March 18, 2023. Source: ISW. ~

Kharkiv Battle Map. March 18, 2023. Source: ISW.

Volyn, Polissya, Sivershchyna, and Slobozhanshchyna axes: the operational situation remains stable. During the day of March 19, the enemy shelled the vicinities of settlements of Oleksandrivka, Klyusy (Chernihiv oblast), Kharkivka, Starykove, Volfyne (Sumy oblast), Chervona Zorya, Veterynarne, Strilecha, Starytsya, Vovchans’k, and Velykyi Burluk (Kharkiv oblast).
Donetsk Battle Map. March 18, 2023. Source: ISW. ~

Donetsk Battle Map. March 18, 2023. Source: ISW.

Kup’yans’k and Lyman axes: the adversary continues its attempts to break through the defense of Ukrainian troops. The enemy conducted unsuccessful offensive operations in the vicinities of settlements of Kreminna, Dibrova, Verkhn’okam’yans’ke, and Spirne. The invaders fired artillery at the vicinities of settlements of Putnykove, Krasne Pershe, Dvorichna, Hryanykivka, Kup’yans’k, Krokhmal’ne, Berestove (Kharkiv oblast), Novoselivs’ke, Nevs’ke, Bilohorivka (Luhansk oblast), Spirne, and Fedorivka (Donetsk oblast).
Bakhmut Battle Map. March 18, 2023. Source: ISW. ~

Bakhmut Battle Map. March 18, 2023. Source: ISW.

Bakhmut axis: Ukrainian Defense Forces repelled numerous enemy attacks in the northern part of Bakhmut, as well as in the vicinities of Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Hryhorivka, and Bohdanivka. Vasyukivka, Zaliznyans’ke, Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Hryhorivka, Bohdanivka, Bakhmut, Ivanivske, Chasiv Yar, Kurdyumivka, Ozarianivka, and Pivnichne (Donetsk oblast) came under enemy fire.
Avdiivka, Mar’inka, Shakhtars’ke axes: the adversary conducted unsuccessful offensive operations towards the settlements of Krasnohorivka, Kam’yanka, Avdiivka, Vodyane, Pervomais’ke, and Mar’inka, which the occupiers attacked 15x times. Kam’yanka, Lastochkyne, Avdiivka, Tonen’ke, Heorhiivka, Nevel’s’ke, Mar’inka, Vuhledar, and Velyka Novosilka (Donetsk oblast), among others, came under enemy fire.
Zaporizhzhia Battle Map. March 18, 2023. Source: ISW. ~

Zaporizhzhia Battle Map. March 18, 2023. Source: ISW.

Zaporizhzhia and Kherson axes: the adversary is defending. In particular, Ol’hivs’ke, Chervone, Hulyaipole, Mala Tokmachka, Novodanylivka, Novoandriivka, and Kam’yans’ke (Zaporizhzhia oblast) came under fire. The city of Kherson and Antonivka were shelled again.
Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. March 18, 2023. Source: ISW. ~

Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. March 18, 2023. Source: ISW.

Given the situation near Vuhledar, the russian military leadership is in a hurry to send reinforcements. Since March 13, the 37th separate motorized rifle brigade of the 36th army of the Eastern Military District of the russian Armed Forces has been undergoing combat coordination of the Storm unit. It is being prepared for deployment to Ukraine on March 24. The brigade is significantly undermanned, so unit commanders are recalling subordinates from treatment and rehabilitation. The servicemen complain about the low level of supplies. The level of motivation among the personnel is reported as very low with a large number of attempts to evade being sent to the combat zone.
Over the day of March 18, the Ukrainian Air Force carried out 10x air strikes on the concentrations of the occupiers. At the same time, 1x Shahed-136 UAV was shot down, while our missile and artillery troops hit 7x concentrations of personnel and military equipment of the adversary.

Military Updates

Shelling by Russian Troops. Icelandic Data Analyst. ~

Shelling by Russian Troops. Icelandic Data Analyst.

Ukraine reportedly conducted a missile strike almost 100 km deep in Russia’s defense, destroying a Russian base. Ukraine’s representative of the Kherson Oblast council Serhiy Khlan said on the TV air that Ukraine conducted a missile strike at a village in the Novotroitske district near Henichesk, located almost 100 kilometers behind the frontline. He claimed that the Russian base in a farm, equipment, and almost 90 troops were destroyed, referring to the reports from locals. So far, there have been no video or photo confirmations of the strike. Yet, if true, this would be the first Ukrainian strike reported almost 100 kilometers deep in the Russian defense.

Russian troops are pressing in an effort to encircle small Ukrainian city Avdiyivka.Avdiyivka, with a pre-war population of 30,000, is another small Ukrainian city Russian forces are trying to encircle along with Bakhmut. Ukraine’s press officer Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskyi said in the TV air Russians attacked the city 21 times yesterday and lost up to 200 troops. However, they also received reinforcement from the Russian 98 air assault brigade.

Fighting continues on the three sides of Bakhmut — General Syrskyi. Fighting continues on the three sides of Bakhmut. Russians are also trying to break through the Ukrainian defense near Bilohorivka and Kreminna, 50 km north of Bakhmut, but without success, Ukraine’s General Syrskyi, who is responsible for the direction, said. He also said Ukrainian defenders in Bakhmut have much smaller losses than the enemy.

Ukraine shoots down 11 of 16 Shahed drones in Russia’s last night’s attack. At around 21:00 on 17 March, Russian troops launched a coordinated attack of the Shahed-136/131 kamikaze drones on Ukraine from two directions – the eastern coast of the Azov Sea and Russia’s Bryansk Oblast, the Air Force Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported. The air defenses of the air commands Center, East, and West destroyed 11 Shaheds of 16 launched by Russia.

According to British Defence Intelligence, (last 48 hours): 

  • On 3 March 2023, authorities in the Russian-controlled part of Zaporizhzhia Oblast published a decree that declared occupied Melitopol as the oblast capital. The Russian-installed head of the oblast, Evgeniy Balitskiy, said that this was a temporary measure until the city of Zaporizhzhia was controlled by Russia.
  • Zaporizhzhia is one of the four oblasts President Putin claimed to have annexed as part of the Russian Federation on 30 September 2022. Russia has never occupied Zaporizhzhia city, a major industrial centre of 700,000 people, which is approximately 35km from the current front line.
  • The quiet declaration of an alternative capital is likely tacit acknowledgement within the Russian system that its forces are highly unlikely to seize previously planned major objectives in the near future.

Losses of the Russian army 

Losses of Russian Army. Source: Euromaidan Press. ~

Losses of Russian Army. Source: Euromaidan Press.

Humanitarian 

One of paintings stolen by Russians from Ukraine’s Kherson ended up in occupied Crimea — Suspilne. A painting by an unknown artist, “Seascape near the coast of Greece,” painted in 1907, was one of the artworks stolen by Russian occupiers from Ukraine’s Kherson museum. The painting was taken to Russia-occupied Crimea, museum workers identified by a photo, where the painting fragment is visible, told Supilne head of the information department of the Kherson regional art museum named after O. Shovkunenko, Larisa Zharkyh. At the beginning of November, the Russian occupiers stole the painting together with more than 10,000 museum exhibits from Kherson. 

Two killed, 14 civilians injured by Russian artillery shelling of central square and park in Ukraine’s cities in Donbas. At least two people died & eight were injured as a result of the Russian shelling of Ukraine’s city of Kramatorsk in Donetsk Oblast. Russians used cluster munitions targeting the city’s park, Oblast head Pavlo Kyrylenko said.Also, the shelling of Kostiantynivka by MLRS wounded six civilians. The Russians shelled the central market without military facilities, Kyrylenko said.

Environmental

“Grain agreement” on the export of Ukraine’s food by sea was extended for another 120 days. Black Sea Grain agreement was extended for 120 days, Ukraine’s Minister of Infrastructure Oleksandr Kubrakov informed. The agreement of Ukraine with the UN allows Ukraine’s food export by sea while Russia can inspect ships.

https://twitter.com/OlKubrakov/status/1637088670317412353

Ukraine to produce nuclear fuel that will replace Russian fuel on European market. Ukraine’s Energy Minister Halushchenko visited the plant that will produce nuclear fuel for domestic nuclear power units and later for export to other countries. Today, 17 VVER-440 units are operating in Europe; for them, there is currently no alternative to Russian fuel. Ukraine, for its part, has already started production of components for VVER-1000 fuel units and will subsequently start production of fuel for VVER-440 units. The project is implemented by Energoatom in cooperation with the American company Westinghouse.

Legal 

Putin, Lvova-Belova responsible for deportation of “at least hundreds” of Ukrainian children to Russia – Hague Prosecutor Khan. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, stated that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that President Putin and Ms Lvova-Belova bear criminal responsibility for the unlawful deportation and transfer of Ukrainian children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation on the basis of evidence collected and analysed by his Office.” He told about “the deportation of at least hundreds of children taken from orphanages and children’s care homes.”

Support

Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs urged allies to accelerate the supply of artillery ammunition. Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba urged allies to accelerate the artillery ammunition supply. In his interview for BBC, he said about this, adding that “if one delivery is postponed for one day, it means that someone is going to die on the frontline.” The shortage of artillery ammunition is especially visible in the eastern city of Bakhmut, where the fierce battles continue.

Ukraine, US top officials held talks about further military aid and the situation on the battlefield. Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, Head of the Office of the President Andriy Yermak, and Minister of Defence Oleksii Reznikov spoke with the US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley. They “discussed steadfast US support for Ukraine’s armed forces as they defend themselves against Russia’s brutal invasion” via a video link, the White House press service reported, adding that president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy joined the call at the conclusion.

New Developments

Ukraine’s Education Minister accused of plagiarism to resign; educator with military background among replacement candidates. Ukrainian media wrote that Ukraine’s Minister of Education, Serhiy Shkarlet, will be dismissed from his office, referring to the information they received from Ukraine’s Cabinet. Shkarlet was among the most criticized minister in the 2020 government appointed by Zelenskyy’s party, given that he was accused of plagiarism while preparing his thesis. Ukrainian students held numerous demonstrations for his resignation before the full-scale war started.

Ukraine’s new ministers of Education and Strategic Industries named: manager of Minor Academy of Sciences and Head of Railways — PM. Oksen Lisovyi, manager of Ukraine’s Minor Academy of Sciences (for high school pupils), who voluntarily joined Ukraine’s military during the war, will become new Ukraine’s Minister of Education, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said. He will replace current minister Serhiy Shkarlet, against whom Ukrainian students protested before the war. Shkarlet was accused of plagiarism and links to former Ukrainian president Yanukovych. Also, the head of Ukrzaliznytsia, Ukraine’s State Railway Company, Oleksandr Kamyshin, will become the new Minister of Strategic Industries, Prime Minister Shmyhal said. He added that these changes were already agreed upon with the parliament and are expected to be officially adopted next week.

US govt sources confirm use of Chinese ammunition in Ukraine – Kyodo News. The United States has confirmed that rounds of Chinese ammunition have been used in battlefields in Ukraine and suspects they were fired by Russian forces, government sources said on 17 March, Kyodo News reports. According to Kyodo News, the US administration sources said:

  • It remains unclear whether China supplied the ammunition.
  • Washington is poised to take action if it is verified Beijing made the shipments.
  • After analyzing its composition and other factors, the US government has determined that the ammunition found in Ukraine was produced in China.
  • Sources did not disclose what kind of ammunition was found.

Media unveil strategy of Putin’s fifth reelection campaign. The Russian Presidential Administration’s political bloc has reportedly formulated preliminary “ideological guidelines” for the upcoming 2024 presidential campaign in Russia. The Kremlin plans to promote an “ideology of conservatism” and position Vladimir Putin as the “guardian of traditional values” in the election. According to Meduza, who talked with a source close to the Kremlin, the Kremlin’s ideologists will rely on the rhetoric of Russia’s “moral superiority” over other countries and present Russia as a “state within itself,” preserving traditions and interacting relatively little with the outside world. The “Russian world” theme is to become part of the “state-in-itself” concept.

https://twitter.com/EuromaidanPress/status/1637176678756626432

Assessment 

  1. On the war. 

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of  March 18, 2022:

Russian forces targeted Ukraine with 16 Shahed-136 drones overnight on March 17-18. Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat stated that Ukrainian forces shot down 11 of the 16 drones and noted that it is difficult for Ukrainian mobile fire groups to shoot down drones at night due to the lack of visibility.[1] The drones targeted facilities in Kyiv, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk, and Lviv oblasts, reportedly including a Ukrainian fuel warehouse in Novomoskovsk, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast.[2] Russian sources claimed that Russian drone strikes also targeted Kyiv Thermal Power Plant 5, which Russian forces reportedly targeted in a strike campaign on March 9.[3]

Russian President Vladimir Putin continued his campaign against anti-war dissent and the misappropriation of military assets within Russia. Putin signed two bills into law on March 18 that significantly increase the fines and jail time for discrediting Russian forces in Ukraine and for selling Russian arms to foreign actors.[4] Russian sources reported that Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) personnel detained over 40 people in raids against two Moscow bars for suspicion of financing Ukrainian forces and made patrons participate in pro-war activities on March 17.[5] Russian sources have increasingly reported on FSB detaining Russian civilians under suspicion of financially assisting Ukrainian forces since February 28 after Putin instructed the FSB to intensify counterintelligence measures and crackdown against the spread of pro-Ukrainian ideology.[6] 

Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigohzin is likely attempting to set informational conditions to explain the Wagner Group’s culmination around Bakhmut. Prigozhin-affiliated outlet RIA FAN published an interview with Prigozhin on March 17 in which he asserted that Ukrainian forces are preparing to launch counteroffensives in five separate directions: into Belgorod Oblast, in the Kreminna area, in the Bakhmut area, towards Donetsk City, and in Zaporizhzhia Oblast.[7] Prigozhin stated that Ukrainian forces will launch these operations starting in mid-April and urged Russian forces to prepare for these counteroffensives by preserving ammunition and equipment.[8] Prigozhin likely depicted Ukrainian forces as having enough combat power to launch a massive theater-wide counteroffensive to justify the Wagner Group’s inability to complete an envelopment or encirclement of Bakhmut. Prigozhin stated that Ukrainian forces are preparing to counterattack Wagner’s flanks in the Bakhmut area and that Wagner fighters are preparing for these counterattacks.[9] ISW previously assessed that Wagner fighters are likely conducting opportunistic attacks on easier-to-seize settlements further north and northwest of Bakhmut as their ability to make tactical gains in Bakhmut itself diminishes, and Prigozhin likely seeks to frame these activities as securing flanks in preparation for Ukrainian counteroffensives.[10] A prominent Wagner-affiliated milblogger similarly argued that Wagner fighters are conducting offensive operations northwest of Bakhmut to spoil Ukrainian counterattacks and asserted that Wagner fighters are focused on advancing towards the Siverskyi Donets Canal west of Bakhmut to complete the envelopment of the city.[11] The milblogger likely tried to rationalize the Wagner Group’s failure to envelop Bakhmut by setting the necessary conditions for the envelopment further away and farther out of the Wagner Group’s current operational capabilities. Prigozhin also claimed that Ukrainian forces have at least 19,000 personnel deployed within Bakhmut, likely an attempt to justify Wagner’s lack of progress within the city.[12]

Prigozhin may be implying that the overall Russian offensive in Ukraine is nearing culmination by calling for Russian forces to preserve resources for Ukrainian counteroffensives. Prigozhin’s forecast about five separate Ukrainian counteroffensives is mirror-imaging—Russian forces have specialized in conducting multiple simultaneous advances along diverging axes that are not mutually supporting, which is one of the reasons for Russian failures in the war so far. Prigozhin may have forecasted a Ukrainian counteroffensive in five directions to amplify the relevance of his calls for Russian forces to preserve ammunition and equipment and out of concerns that widespread ammunition and equipment shortages are constraining the Wagner Group’s and the Russian military’s ability to maintain offensive operations in Ukraine. Prigozhin’s depiction of imminent Ukrainian counteroffensives also implies that he believes that Russian forces will lose the initiative to Ukraine soon and be forced onto the defensive rather than continuing stalled or unsuccessful offensives in the Kreminna, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, or Vuhledar areas.

Russian regional authorities may be severing their connections with Prigozhin. Prigozhin claimed that the Goryachiy Klyuch, Krasnodar Krai authorities reneged on a prior agreement to bury Wagner Group deceased mercenaries in the town.[13] Goryachiy Klyuch Head Sergey Belopolskyi claimed that locals do not think that the resort town Goryachiy Klyuch is an appropriate place to bury Wagner fighters.[14] Prigozhin also released a phone call in which a Goryachiy Klyuch official told a Wagner representative that Krasnodar Krai Governor Veniamin Kondratyev stripped him of authority to cooperate with Wagner.[15] Wagner servicemen also released a threatening video appeal to the local administration claiming that they will “personally solve the issue” with the administration if they do not respond to the appeals.[16] The Wagner Group has used training and burial grounds in Krasnodar Krai in the past, indicating that Prigozhin likely has extensive, long-term connections to regional authorities that may now be weakening.[17] Prigozhin previously fought with St. Petersburg officials over their refusal to bury deceased Wagner mercenaries in the same burial ground as conventional Russian soldiers, as ISW has previously reported.[18]

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.[19] 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.[20]

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.[21]

Key Takeaways

  • 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.

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