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Ukraine Situation Report | 24 March 2023

24 March 2023

The conflict in Ukraine has continued to grind on, with fighting ramping up as Ukraine purportedly prepares a new offensive in response to Russian pushes to take more territory along the eastern frontline – where the embattled city of Bakhmut, in Donetsk, has seen fighting further intensify. Russian strikes have increased in recent weeks, targeting cities further inland, including parts of the Zaporizhzhia and Kyiv regions, which both reported major strikes in the last week. Meanwhile, several major international developments have led to Russian rhetoric growing increasingly inflammatory again – an occurrence which has previously been a precursor to the Kremlin justifying new military measures.

On the Ground

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has visited the eastern frontline, where heavy fighting has been raging for several months now. The devastated city of Bakhmut has become a focal point of the conflict in the eastern regions as Russian troops continue a bid to revive a stalled military campaign to take all of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Despite weeks of deadly clashes though, it’s believed Russian territorial progress in key areas has remained minimal. UK military intelligence recently released a statement earlier this week, assessing that a Ukrainian counter-attack to the west of Bakhmut city aimed to relieve supply route pressure following attempts by Moscow to encircle the city. The assessment also suggested that the main force of Russia's assault on the city was potentially losing momentum as fighting continues around the town centre. Nevertheless, Ukrainian defence positions to the north and south of the city still remain at risk of encirclement.

Ukraine’s top ground forces commander - Oleksandr Syrskyi – has confirmed Ukrainian forces will launch a counteroffensive after withstanding a brutal winter Russian military campaign. While Russia has reportedly been preparing troops for the anticipated new Ukrainian counteroffensive, the Ukrainian military has reported that an estimated 1,020 Russian troops are alleged to have been killed within a single 24-hour period after Russia purportedly launched a series of unsuccessful attacks on the towns of Avdiivka, Lyman, Marinka, and Shakhtarske. Elsewhere, major Russian strikes have been successful in parts of the Kyiv and Zaporizhzhia regions. Seven fatalities were reported in a Russian drone attack on student dormitories in Rzhyschiv, just south of the capital, while a Russian rocket attack also hit an apartment building in Zaporizhzhia city, killing one and injuring some 25 others. Meanwhile, in the south of the country, explosions near the northern Crimean city of Dzhankoi appear to have led to the destruction of Russian missiles being transported by rail. Although Kyiv has not explicitly claimed responsibility for the incident, it’s suspected Ukrainian forces may have been involved in the strike.

International Developments

Among the several recent major international developments surrounding the conflict in Ukraine includes the International Criminal Court (ICC) issuing an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over war crime charges. The Kremlin has denounced the ICC’s decision to issue the warrant for Putin, which relates specifically to charges of alleged involvement in the abductions of thousands of children from Ukraine. The deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, former president Dmitry Medvedev, has stood firm behind his successor, condemning the warrant as an alleged attempt by the West to break up Russia and further stoke the conflict. In response, Medvedev stated in the event that any attempt was made to arrest Putin should he travel to an ICC member state, the move would be treated as a declaration of war. In a very thinly veiled threat, Medvedev then implied Russia wouldn’t hesitate to resort to any means necessary as a response – including nuclear.

The arrest warrant has come as Chinese President Xi Jinping completed a two-day visit to Moscow this week, promoting a 12-point peace plan, which makes no specific proposals and fails to explicitly call on Russian forces to leave Ukrainian sovereign territory.  President Xi’s visit also coincided with new Russian attacks in Ukraine, prompting Kyiv to note that the use of the word ‘peace’ in Moscow had become synonymous with new attack orders, with an end to the war seemingly no closer following the Putin-Xi talks – which were interestingly paralleled in Ukraine, with a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to Kyiv. There have been growing concerns in the West that China might provide military support for Russia, and while NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance hadn’t seen any hard proof, some worrying signs that Russia may have requested weapons from Beijing had apparently been observed. Following talks with China, Russia released a statement accusing the West of deploying weapons with a “nuclear component” before warning Russia would be “forced to react”.