Russia is making daily tactical gains in eastern Ukraine, as criticism grows of Ukrainian military reporting

Vladimir Putin’s forces have made further gains in at least three locations along the eastern front in Ukraine – including for the first time in several months an advance in the northern Kharkiv region – highlighting again Kyiv’s need for ammunition and weapons from the United States and other allies.

The latest developments reflect the new tempo on the battlefield since the fall of the industrial town of Avdiivka in February.

Russia’s tactical advances are now daily. They are generally modest -– from a few hundred meters of territory to perhaps a kilometer at most – but they are usually taking place in several locations at once.

From the Ukrainian perspective, the losses are also being accompanied by more public expressions of criticism of the armed forces over the military’s official battlefield updates.

Among the areas continuing to witness some of the greatest Russian pressure are a handful of small settlements to the northeast, and to the south, of Ocheretyne, a large village on a ridge about 16 kms (10 miles) west of Avdiivka, in the Donetsk region.

Ukraine’s DeepState monitoring group, which updates daily changes in frontline positions, shows Russian forces pushing forward in eight different locations along 20-25 kms of frontline in one 24-hour period.

Military bloggers on both sides broadly agree that Russian forces have crossed a water course and taken control of the settlements of Semenivka and Berdychi. A few kilometers to the north, Soloviove is now also reported to be in Russian hands, and the tiny settlement of Keramik at least partially so as well.

“The withdrawal in the Donetsk operational zone continues,” the Ukrainian military blogger Myroshnykov writes, expressing concerns that Russian troops could soon move south towards Karlivka – where they could cross the Vovcha River – joining up with other Russian units pushing westwards from recently-captured Pervomaiske.

Criticism of military communications

Myroshnykov and the DeepState site both take aim at official Ukrainian communications, accusing the armed forces of unrealistic updates from the battlefield.

DeepState, in a post on Telegram, published a graphic video of a Russian soldier being killed in a drone strike in the village of Soloviove – but used the clip to argue that isolated incidents can mask the bigger picture, which it accused the military of doing as well.

“You can watch with pleasure forever the video of a Russian (soldier) being torn to pieces,” DeepState wrote, “but nearby there is another location that requires attention: Muscovites calmly moving around the village, keeping it under control. The (Ukrainian) Defense Forces inflict fire damage on them, and one can repeat at least a billion times (on national television) that two-thirds of the village is under the control of the Ukrainian military, but the picture of reality is completely different.”

That assessment – that two-thirds of Soloviove village was under Ukrainian control – was made by Nazar Voloshyn, spokesperson of the Khortytsia operational-strategic group, on Ukrainian TV on Saturday. Nearby Ocheretyne was also still two-thirds controlled by Ukraine, which had things in hand, he said.

“The part of the settlement into which the enemy broke through, is under our fire control. The enemy is blocked and measures are being taken to knock (Russian troops) out. Heavy fighting continues there, but the situation is under the control of the (Ukrainian) Armed Forces,” he said.

For its part, DeepState sees it differently, assessing that Russian troops have been in control of the center of Ocheretyne village, including the railway station, for at least three days. Last week, the monitoring site made a similar complaint against the military accusing “some spokespersons” of incompetence.

As part of his interview on Ukrainian television, Voloshyn also addressed the situation further north, along that part of the frontline that cuts into Kharkiv region, describing Russian forces there as having become “significantly more active” over the past day.

Russia last made small gains in the region in late January and early February, but DeepState assesses a new advance of between one and two kilometers into the village of Kyslivka. Overall, the frontlines in this region have been relatively stable since Ukraine recaptured a large swath of territory in Kharkiv region in late summer of 2022.

Russian forces are also making headway west of Donetsk city, entering the industrial town of Krasnohorivka from the south and the east.

Fierce fighting has been reported around a large brick factory. One Russian military blogger wrote of the battle’s importance: “The liberation (sic) of the refractory plant would actually mean the fall of the Krasnohorivka fortification, as the northern outskirts of the settlement are private buildings, which will be too difficult to defend if the plant is lost.”

More short-term setbacks

Many Western analysts, along with Ukrainian officials, see Russia’s current stepped-up tempo as a precursor to a major offensive attempt later this spring. It is also assumed Moscow wants to take advantage of its significant advantage in ammunition before US supplies – greenlit last week after six months of political stasis – get to the frontlines.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) assesses that there will be more short-term setbacks for Ukraine, though without major strategic defeats.

“Russian forces will likely make significant tactical gains in the coming weeks as Ukraine waits for US security assistance to arrive at the front but remain unlikely to overwhelm Ukrainian defenses,” it writes.

Ukraine’s other major quantitative weakness, which also helps explain recent battlefield trajectories, is manpower. A new mobilization law comes into effect next month, which is expected to improve conscription processes. But Kyiv has proved highly reluctant to say clearly how many more soldiers it needs, while Moscow keeps increasing numbers.

“The quality (of Russian fighters) of course varies, but the quantitative advantage is a serious problem, Rob Lee of Foreign Policy Research Institute, writes on X.

“Without (its) manpower advantage, Russia’s artillery and airpower advantage would not be sufficient for Russia to make gains on the battlefield. The relative manpower situation is likely the most important factor that will determine the war’s trajectory, particularly if Russia can sustain recruiting 20-30k a month,” Lee adds.

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