Russia’s progress appears to have stalled in Moscow’s campaign to capture the East Ukrainian the 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 was no confirmed advance 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 they were making any progress, ISW said late Saturday.

The report quoted the spokesman for the Eastern Group of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Serhii Cherevaty, as saying that fighting in the Bakhmut area had been more intense this week than the previous one. According to Cherevaty, there have been 23 clashes in the city in the last 24 hours.

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ISW’s report comes after claims of Russian advances earlier this week. The British Ministry of Defense said on Saturday that paramilitary units from the Kremlin-controlled Wagner group had seized most of eastern Bakhmut, with a river running through the town now marking the frontline of the fighting. The assessment found that Russia’s assault will be difficult to sustain without more significant personnel losses.

The mining town 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 began the campaign to take control of Bakhmut in August, and both sides have suffered staggering casualties. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed not to back down.

This Maxar Technologies satellite image shows smoke from recently released munitions in southern Bakhmut, Ukraine, Monday, March 6, 2023.

Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies via AP

In its latest report on Sunday, the British Ministry of Defense said on Sunday that the impact of the heavy casualties that Russia continues to suffer in Ukraine varies dramatically across the country. The ministry’s intelligence update said the major cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg remains “relatively unscathed,” especially 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.”

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The report highlighted that ethnic minorities often take the biggest hit. In the southern Astrakhan region, for example, roughly “75% of the victims come from the Kazakh and Tatar minority population.”

Russia’s increasing casualties are reflected in a loss of government control over the country’s information sphere, ISW said. The think tank said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed “infighting in the Kremlin’s inner circle” and that the Kremlin has effectively relinquished control of the country’s information space, with Putin unable to regain control.

ISW sees Zakharova’s comments, made at a forum on the “practical and technical aspects of information and cognitive warfare in modern realities” in Moscow, as “remarkable” and in line with the think tank’s long-standing assessments of the “deteriorating Kremlin regime and dynamics of control of information space.”

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In a separate statement, Zakharova said on Sunday that the next round of talks on extending the Black Sea grain deal will be held on Monday in Geneva. The meeting will see a Russian delegation meet top UN officials ahead of the agreement’s latest extension, which expires on March 18.

The wartime deal that unblocked grain shipments from Ukraine and helped moderate rising global food prices was last extended by four months in November.

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The deal, which Ukraine and Russia signed in separate accords with the United Nations and Turkey on July 22, established a safe shipping corridor in the Black Sea and inspection procedures to deal with concerns that cargo ships could 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 poor people lack enough to eat. Russia was also the world’s largest exporter of fertilizers before the war.

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A loss of those supplies following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 had pushed up global food prices and fueled fears of a hunger crisis in poorer countries.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russian attacks in the previous day killed at least five people and wounded another seven in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Kherson regions, local Ukrainian authorities reported on Sunday morning.

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Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said two people were killed in the region, one in the town of Kostyantynivka and one in the village of Tonenke. Four more civilians were injured.

Also in Donetsk province, Sloviansk Mayor Vadim Lyakh said the power grid and railway lines were damaged by Russian shelling on Sunday, but did not report any casualties.

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Local officials in the southern Kherson province confirmed that Russian forces fired 29 times into Ukrainian-controlled territory in the region on Saturday, with residential areas in the regional capital Kherson coming under fire three times. Three people died in the province and another three were injured.

A woman was injured in Russian shelling in the village of Bilozerka on Sunday, just outside Kherson.

In Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv province, Kharkiv, Chuhuiv and Kupiansk districts came under fire, but no civilian casualties were reported.

The head of Ukraine’s southern Mykolaiv province governor Vitali Kim said Sunday morning that the city of Ochakiv, located at the mouth of the Dnieper River, came under artillery fire early Sunday. Cars were set on fire, while private houses and high-rise buildings were damaged. No injuries were reported.

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