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As the brutal battle for Bakhmut rages on, Ukraine this week has claimed that it has made significant advances around the ruined city in the Donetsk region, while Russia's Wagner paramilitary group has said that its fighters have made gains as well.
Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin said, "Today Wagner's units advanced 200 meters and occupied an area 113,000 m2. Only 1.46 square kilometers remain under enemy control in Bakhmout."
Meanwhile, drone footage of an area that is reportedly the last Ukrainian holdout in Bakhmut has been circulating on social media in recent days.
In a previous video post, Prigozhin said that "The pincers are closing."
The New York Times, however, reported that things were not going quite as well for the Russians and Wagner as Prigozhin would have observers believe. "Moscow's troops still hold most of Bakhmut itself, Ukraine's recent gains around the city are not large, and there is no guarantee that they will last. But for the first time in months, Ukrainian soldiers are on the offensive and the momentum in the longest and bloodiest battle of the war appears to have shifted their way - at least for now," The Times reported.
While Moscow has long claimed to hold at least 90% of the war-torn city, Russian efforts have been slow at best with the frontlines of Bakhmut having been best described as a "meat grinder." Some observers have said that the Ukrainians are using Bakhmut as a means to lure Russian forces into expending as much artillery, ammo, and troops as possible as a way to thin out Russian forces and resources.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials have said recently that their forces have made substantial gains in the city of rubble. "In recent days, our troops have liberated about 20 square kilometers north and south" of Bakhmut, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Maliar said on Wednesday.
However, as Zerohedge notes, with no journalists on the frontlines or near Bakhmut at all, efforts to verify the various accounts and information have been minimally successful at best.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Ukraine recently, Russian missile and drone strikes have continued at an alarming rate. According to a U.S. official familiar with the matter, Russian forces have increased their expenditure of munitions in an effort to confuse and overwhelm Ukrainian anti-air defense systems. Moscow has been targeting command and control centers in Kyiv and other key cities and has been launching aerial attacks from several different locations simultaneously to confuse Ukraine's air defense systems.
Thus far, Ukraine has been able to survive the heightened attacks with the layered anti-air defense systems provided by the country's Western allies working in tandem to intercept the majority of the projectiles being launched into its air space.
There have, however, been reports that a U.S.-made Patriot anti-air defense system was at least heavily damaged, if not destroyed, during a Russian attack earlier this week. U.S. officials have not been able to confirm the condition of the Patriot system.
The Russians appear to have turned their attention southward as the week progressed with Odessa now being heavily targeted.
The heightened Russian attacks have called into question whether or not Ukraine's much-anticipated spring offensive has finally kicked off with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan saying on Wednesday, "Whether a counter-offensive has begun is up to the one who conducts it, and I will not proclaim it. I will let the Ukrainians characterize what they are doing."
Regardless, of whether or not Ukraine has launched its spring offensive, one thing is certain, Russian forces show no signs of backing down any time soon.
The Ukraine doesn't have any air defenses left, and only one of them is telling the truth when it comes to gains. Bakhmut is a rubble pile and Russia has moved on to more important targets.