KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- Russia's advance seems to have stalled in Moscow's campaign to capture the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, a leading think tank said in an assessment of the longest ground battle of the war.
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said there were no confirmed advances by Russian forces in Bakhmut. Russian forces and units from the Kremlin-controlled paramilitary Wagner Group continued to launch ground attacks in the city, but there was no evidence that they were able to make any progress, ISW said late Saturday.
The report cited the spokesperson of the Ukrainian Armed Forces' Eastern Group, Serhii Cherevaty, who said that fighting in the Bakhmut area had been more intense this week than the previous one. According to Cherevaty, there were 23 clashes in the city over the previous 24 hours.
The ISW's report comes following claims of Russian progress earlier this week. The U.K. Defense Ministry said Saturday that paramilitary units from the Kremlin-controlled Wagner Group had seized most of eastern Bakhmut, with a river flowing through the city now marking the front line of the fighting. The assessment highlighted that Russia's assault will be difficult to sustain without more significant personnel losses.
The mining city of Bakhmut is located in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk province, one of four regions of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed last year.
Russia's military opened the campaign to take control of Bakhmut in August, and both sides have experienced staggering casualties. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed not to retreat.
In its latest report Sunday, the U.K. Defense Ministry said Sunday that the impact of the heavy casualties Russia is continuing to suffer in Ukraine varies dramatically across the country. The ministry's intelligence update said that the major cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg remain "relatively unscathed," particularly among members of Russia's elite. In contrast, in many of Russia's eastern regions, the death rate as a percentage of the population is "30-40 times higher than in Moscow."
The report highlighted that ethnic minorities often take the biggest hit. In the southern Astrakhan region, for example, about "75% of casualties come from the minority Kazakh and Tartar populations."
Russia's mounting casualties are reflected in a loss of government control over the country's information sphere, ISW said. The think tank said that Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova confirmed "infighting in the Kremlin inner circle" and that the Kremlin has effectively ceded control over the country's information space, with Putin unable to readily regain control.
The ISW sees Zakharova's comments, made at a forum on the "practical and technological aspects of information and cognitive warfare in modern realities" in Moscow, as "noteworthy" and in line with the think tank's long standing assessments about the "deteriorating Kremlin regime and information space control dynamics."
In a separate statement, Zakharova said Sunday that the next round of talks regarding extending the Black Sea grain deal will be held on Monday in Geneva. The meeting will see a Russian delegation meet with top U.N. officials before the deal's latest extension that expires on March 18.
The wartime agreement that unblocked grain shipments from Ukraine and helped temper rising global food prices was last extended by four months in November.
The deal, which Ukraine and Russia signed in separate agreements with the U.N. and Turkey on July 22, established a safe shipping corridor in the Black Sea and inspection procedures to address concerns that cargo vessels might carry weapons or launch attacks.
Ukraine and Russia are key global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other food to countries in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia where millions of impoverished people lack enough to eat. Russia was also the world's top exporter of fertilizer before the war.
A loss of those supplies following Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 had pushed up global food prices and fueled concerns of a hunger crisis in poorer countries.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russian attacks over the previous day killed at least five people and wounded another seven across Ukraine's Donetsk and Kherson regions, local Ukrainian authorities reported on Sunday morning.
Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said that two people were killed in the region, one in the city of Kostyantynivka and one in the village of Tonenke. Four further civilians were wounded.
Also in the Donetsk province, Sloviansk Mayor Vadim Lyakh said the power grid and railway lines were damaged by Russian shelling on Sunday, but didn't report any casualties.
Local officials in the southern Kherson province confirmed that Russian forces fired 29 times on Ukrainian-controlled territory in the region on Saturday, with residential areas of the regional capital, Kherson, coming under fire three times. Three people died in the province and a further three were wounded.
A woman was wounded in Russian shelling in the village of Bilozerka on Sunday, just outside Kherson.
In Ukraine's northeastern Kharkiv province, the Kharkiv, Chuhuiv and Kupiansk districts came under fire, but no civilian casualties were reported.
The head of Ukraine's southern Mykolaiv province Gov. Vitali Kim said Sunday morning that the town of Ochakiv, set at the mouth of the Dnieper River, came under artillery fire in the early hours of Sunday. Cars were set ablaze, while private houses and high-rise buildings sustained damage. No casualties were reported.
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