Ukraine RileySENTINEL 24 MAR 2023 Update

RileySENTINEL Country Security Risk Update

Ukraine independence day dramatic concept photography of Ukrainian flag yellow and blue color near government building on cloudy and stormy sky background symbolism of hard times in European country


Russian forces have continued their assault on Ukrainian forces in the East and South of the country. Heavy fighting has been concentrated around the city of Bakhmut with Wagner Group forces leading the assault supported by Regular Russian Forces . Reports indicate that Russian forces now control the areas immediately to the North, South and East of the city with Wagner Group forces reportedly having captured the entire east of the city as far as the Bakhmutska River. Ukrainian forces continue to defend the city having withdrawn to the western banks of the river and their lines are reported to be holding firm despite relentless waves of Russian attacks. Ukrainian defenders remain optimistic with supply lines still open from the West of the city. Fighting elsewhere along the East and Southern Fronts has seen no significant advances for the Russians as all efforts appear to have been concentrated around Bakhmut and the towns and villages within the immediate vicinity.

On 9th March Russia launched a series of missile attacks aimed at critical infrastructure in Ukraine. Attacks were recorded against numerous targets from Kharkiv to Odessa resulting in power outages and resulting in the deaths of at least 11 civilians. Russia claims the attacks are in retaliation for Ukrainian operations in Bryansk on 2 March, Russian Defence spokesman Igor Konashinkov confirmed that 81 missiles and 8 drones had been launched against what he described as Ukraine's Military Infrastructure. He confirmed the use of Kinzhal hypersonic missiles in the raid which is their first recorded use since January. Ukrainian defence sources claim that 34 Cruise Missiles were intercepted and 4 drones however they were incapable of intercepting hypersonic missiles nor defending against some of the older missiles used in the attacks. British Intelligence believes the attacks and renewed use of hypersonic missiles points towards a shortfall in Russia's production capabilities with attacks only being possible when stockpiles have been replenished. The use of numerous weapon systems is believed to be a new strategy aimed at overwhelming Ukrainian air defences.

Wagner Group Leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has announced that Putin and the Kremlin has cut all direct lines of communication with him over his repeated calls for resupply of Ammunition and Arms to support the assault on Bakhmut. This week Prigozhin made allegations that his troops had been forced to fight with small arms and shovels as the struggle for the city intensified and the Kremlin has cut off any assistance for the PMC from other Russian agencies. Milbloggers have been reporting the forming of a new private army Gazprom Nest which is allegedly recruiting in Donetsk to support Russian efforts in the region.

The impact on International businesses in the region remains unchanged. Businesses are still highly likely to be exposed to corrupt practices in their daily operations. This is despite a new government effort to tackle institutional corruption. Despite Ukraine removing a number of high level officials from office on suspicion of corruption, it remains an ongoing issue . Corruption continues to be deeply embedded in Ukrainian society, and efforts to address it will continue to be slow.

Critical Context

President Putin remains fixated on achieving a victory during the winter offensive, the concentration of fighting around Bakhmut is an example of the need for a win despite overwhelming losses of Russian personnel. NATO leaders have suggested that despite spirited defence, Bakhmut will probably fall in a matter of days, nevertheless victory in the city would likely be only symbolic as it is deemed unlikely Russia has the reserves and supplies necessary to regain any momentum and push troops further West.

The need to concentrate offensive efforts around Bakhmut has seen a drop in the use of artillery and troop advances across almost every other major region on the front. This is indication that Russian supply lines are stretched and stockpiles are depleted as production rates of munitions are strained by the rate of consumption during the current offensive. It is likely that Russia will suspend major advances in the aftermath of the Bakhmut offensive to allow ammunition and supplies to reach the front lines.

The rift between Wagner Group leaders and the Kremlin is becoming deeper and it is likely Putin is looking at alternative PMCs to join the war in an effort to reduce his reliance upon Wagner Group. The formation of new PMCs in Donetsk and Belarus and the alleged failure by the Kremlin to resupply Wagner forces may indicate a change in policy once the battle for Bakhmut is completed. Public criticism of the Kremlin and Russian military generals by Prigozhin will not have gone unnoticed by Putin who has shown no hesitation in withdrawing his support from political allies in the past.

The use of multiple missile systems in the attacks on 9th March against targets across Ukraine is believed to be a new tactic aimed at defeating Ukrainian air defences. The Ukrainian air force has confirmed that it does not have the capacity to deal with hypersonic missiles and it struggled to cope against the variety of weapons and numbers of missiles used in the attacks. It is likely Russia will continue with large scale missile attacks aimed at overwhelming the Ukrainian defence capabilities.

Assessment Updates

Russia will continue with the Winter Offensive in the coming weeks. As previously anticipated the offensive will continue to be supported by increased use of long to medium range artillery supporting ground troops and missile and drone attacks striking critical infrastructure deeper into Ukraine.

Significantly Russia has changed tactics by reintroducing hypersonic missiles into the attacks along with numerous other missile systems in attempts to overwhelm Ukrainian defensive capabilities. Whilst the attacks are likely to continue in a similar manner it is believed that Russia lacks the stockpiles necessary to make regular attacks of this nature.

On the Eastern front lines Russia will concentrate its efforts into capturing Bakhmut, advances have been slow in the city and surrounding areas meaning that any overall Russian victory is likely to result in a halt to any further significant offenses in the west.

Notable Headlines

  • Ukrainian Forces withdraw from positions in the east of Bakhmut to positions across the Bakhmutska River in the city, Russian advances have ceased on 10 March as reinforcements are brought to the area in preparation for a renewed offensive.

  • Ukraine’s Airforce claims to have intercepted 34 missiles and shot down 4 drones during attacks on Ukraine on 9 March.

  • Interruptions to electricity and water supplies will continue as Russian attacks against critical infrastructure are likely to be resumed in coming days.

  • Russian advances on the Eastern and Southern Front are reported to have made no significant gains as efforts and ammunition are redirected to the Bakhmut front.

  • NATO leaders believe Bakhmut will fall within days as Russian forces continue to encircle the city.

  • Russian forces have advanced towards towns situated to the North of Bakhmut.

  • Attacks against the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has prompted International leaders to call for a safe zone to be created around the plant

  • The EU has confirmed it is increasing aid by 1 Billion Euro and upgrading procurement and production processes. EU Defence leaders agreed the deal ahead of the summit on 20 March in the face of ammunition shortages being faced by Ukrainian defenders.

  • Transnistria leaders have called on the UN to probe an alleged assassination attempt by Ukrainian assets against the leader of the breakaway region.

  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has announced that Vladimir Putin is showing no willingness to enter peace negotiations with Ukraine.

  • Demonstrations are continuing in Georgia against introduction of proposed Foreign Agent Laws. Russia has condemned the EU for its stance on the situation accusing the EU of lacking decency

  • Negotiations are set to resume on the Black Sea Grain Deal in Geneva. Russia is describing the deal as 'complicated', claiming Western countries have failed to honor a parallel deal allowing Russia to export food and fertilizer. 

Mapping Updates

ISW Threat Mapping Picture 22 MAR 2023

ISW Mapping update 22 MAR 2023

Ongoing Safety & Security Guidance

  • Defer all non-mission essential travel to Ukraine due to the current security environment.

  • Be prepared for air raids, artillery shelling and other emergency situations if staying or traveling in Ukraine.

  • During and following reports of impact after air raids in the area, initiate accountability and status checks with team members.

  • Intercity overland movement poses significant risks; monitor route status before leaving.

  • If unable to relocate from areas with active fighting, prepare for extended periods with limited support and risks of indiscriminate military targeting.

  • Remain informed of developments through verified source alerts and diplomatic agency communications.

  • Be aware of immediate locations of safe shelters and monitor for air raid alerts and other public emergency broadcasts.


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