Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 16
Mason Clark, George Barros, and Kateryna Stepanenko
March 16, 5:30 pm ET
Russian forces face mounting difficulties replacing combat losses in Ukraine, including the possible death of the commander of the 150th Motor Rifle Division near Mariupol. Russian efforts to deploy forces from Armenia, its proxy states in Georgia, and reserve units in the Eastern Military District will not provide Russian forces around Kyiv with the combat power necessary to complete the encirclement of the city in the near term. Russian forces made limited, unsuccessful attacks northwest of Kyiv and did not conduct offensive operations in northeastern Ukraine, toward Kharkiv, or toward Mykolayiv. Russian forces did make limited territorial gains in Donetsk Oblast and around Mariupol and continued to target civilian infrastructure in the city. Russian forces will likely continue to reduce the Mariupol pocket in the coming days, but Russian forces likely remain unable to conduct simultaneous attacks along multiple axes of advance.
- Russia is deploying reserves from Armenia and South Ossetia and cohering new battalion tactical groups (BTGs) from the remnants of units lost early in the invasion. These reinforcements will likely face equal or greater command and logistics difficulties to current frontline Russian units.
- President Zelensky created a new joint military-civilian headquarters responsible for the defense of Kyiv on March 15.
- Russian forces conducted several failed attacks northwest of Kyiv and no offensive operations northeast of Kyiv on March 16.
- Russian forces continue to shell civilian areas of Kharkiv, but will be unlikely to force the city to surrender without encircling it—which Russian forces appear unable to achieve.
- Russian forces continued to reduce the Mariupol pocket on March 16. Russian forces continue to commit war crimes in the city, targeting refugees and civilian infrastructure.
- Ukrainian Forces claimed to have killed the commander of the 8th Combined Arms Army’s 150th Motor Rifle Division near Mariupol on March 15. If confirmed, Miyaev would be the fourth Russian general officer killed in Ukraine; his death would be a major blow to the 150th Motor Rifle Division, Russia’s principal maneuver unit in Donbas.
- Russian warships shelled areas of Odesa Oblast on March 16 but Russian Naval Infantry remain unlikely to conduct an unsupported amphibious landing.
Russia is increasingly pulling forces from its international bases and redeploying damaged units that were rotated out early in the invasion of Ukraine to replace mounting casualties. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces are deploying additional Eastern Military District (EMD) reserves to Ukraine as of March 16. The Ukrainian General Staff additionally reported that Russian command “refused” to deploy elements of the 5th Combined Arms Army (CAA) to the Kyiv advance “due to heavy losses in the south.” It is unclear if the Ukrainian General Staff means Ukraine intercepted a request by Russian commanders around Kyiv for reinforcements from the 5th CAA that was denied, or if they are only assessing that Russian casualties in the south are draining reinforcements initially intended for Kyiv. Social media users observed elements of Russia’s 58th Combined Arms Army based in Russia‘s proxy republic in Georgia, South Ossetia, redeploying in likely transit to Ukraine on March 15. Russia has already pulled forces from its base in Armenia and will likely soon redeploy forces from its base in Tajikistan. The Ukrainian General Staff additionally reported that Russia is forming additional battalion tactical groups (BTGs) by consolidating units that suffered losses in the first 10 days of the Russian invasion and graduating cadets from military higher education early to replace officer losses. Russian forces will likely face further difficulties integrating these units into its command and logistics structures.
Russian forces are engaged in four primary efforts at this time:
- Main effort—Kyiv (comprised of three subordinate supporting efforts);
- Supporting effort 1—Kharkiv;
- Supporting effort 1a—Luhansk Oblast;
- Supporting effort 2—Mariupol and Donetsk Oblast; and
- Supporting effort 3—Kherson and advances westward.
Main effort—Kyiv axis: Russian operations on the Kyiv axis are aimed at encircling the city from the northwest, west, and east.
Ukraine established a new military headquarters responsible for the defense of Kyiv on March 15. Ukrainian President Zelensky appointed acting Commander of the Joint Forces Oleksandr Pavlyuk as head of the “Kyiv Regional Military Administration,” a new position, and appointed Eduard Koskalov the new Commander of the Joint Forces. Zelensky announced that Pavlyuk will take over unified control of Ukrainian actions around Kyiv “to further strengthen the defense of the capital” and will be supported by Kyiv‘s civilian regional governor, Oleksiy Kuleba. Zelensky likely established this command structure to place an experienced general in charge of all efforts to defend the Kyiv region. Russian forces again conducted only limited attacks northwest of Kyiv and no attacks northeast of the city on March 16.
Subordinate main effort along the west bank of the Dnipro
The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled limited Russian attacks toward Vyshhorod, along the western bank of the Dnipro River, on March 16. Kremlin-run media claimed Russian paratroopers crossed the Irpin River at an unspecified location on March 16, but these claims are likely false. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces continued to regroup and restore combat capabilities and used Orlan-10 drones to reconnoiter Ukrainian positions.
Subordinate supporting effort—Chernihiv and Sumy axis
Russian forces did not conduct offensive operations toward northeastern Kyiv on March 16. The Ukrainian General Staff again reported Russian troops around Chernihiv concentrated on organizing logistical support “without success.” Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attempts to encircle Sumy city from the south on March 15-16.
Supporting Effort #1—Kharkiv:
Russian forces did not conduct major offensive operations toward Kharkiv on March 16. Russian forces continued to regroup troops and replenish their stocks of ammunition and fuel, and the Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russia is actively concentrating reserves in Russia to support the Kharkiv axis. Ukrainian forced repelled continued Russian efforts to surround the city of Izyum, southeast of Kharkiv, on March 15-16. The Ukrainian Border Guard reported detaining two Russian saboteurs in Kharkiv on March 16; Russian conventional forces remain unsuccessful in their frontal assaults on the city. Russian forces continue to shell civilian areas of Kharkiv, but will be unlikely to force the city to surrender without encircling it—which Russian forces appear unable to achieve. Russian forces are additionally unlikely to successfully bypass Kharkiv from the southeast to advance toward Dnipro and Zaporizhia in the near term.
Supporting Effort #1a—Luhansk Oblast:
Ukrainian forces repelled several Russian assaults on Rubizne, Severodonetsk, and Lysychansk on March 15-16. The Ukrainian General Staff reported inflicting heavy casualties on Russian forces. The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed on March 16 that Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) forces are conducting an offensive on Severodonetsk.
Supporting Effort #2—Mariupol and Donetsk Oblast:
Russian forces continued assaults on Mariupol from the east and west on March 15-16. The Ukrainian General Staff said that Ukraine’s worst military situation remains Mariupol but that Russian forces are taking heavy casualties and introduced reinforcements from the 810th Separate Naval Infantry Brigade late on March 15.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces additionally claimed to have killed Russian Major General Oleg Mityaev, commander of the 8th Combined Arms Army’s 150th Motor Rifle Division, on March 15. Ukrainian President Zelensky announced that Ukrainian forces had killed a Russian general in a video address on March 15 without naming the deceased; independent Ukrainian sources have reported Mityaev’s death and circulated photos of his alleged body. ISW cannot independently confirm Mityaev’s death. If confirmed, Miyaev would be the fourth Russian general officer killed in Ukraine; his death would be a major blow to the 150th Motor Rifle Division, Russia’s principal maneuver unit in Donbas.
Russian forces continue to commit war crimes and target civilian infrastructure in Mariupol in a likely effort to force the city to capitulate. Russian forces reportedly seized the Mariupol Regional Intensive Care Hospital on March 15 and are holding its patients hostage. Mariupol’s City Council additionally reported Russian aircraft purposely destroyed Mariupol’s Drama Theater on March 16. Hundreds of civilians were sheltering in the building at the time, though the number of casualties is currently unknown.
Russian and proxy forces likely secured further territory north of Mariupol in Donetsk Oblast on March 16. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed DNR forces took control of Mikhaylovka, Stavka, Botmanka, and Vasilevka on March 16. The Ukrainian General Staff reported at noon local time on March 16 that Russian forces are conducting an offensive toward Velyka Novosilka without stating (as they do for Russian attacks near Kyiv) that Ukrainian forces halted the attacks—likely indicating Russian forces made some territorial gains, though ISW cannot verify the full extent of Russian MoD claims, which have repeatedly been false in previous days.
Supporting Effort #3—Kherson and west:
Ukrainian forces halted continued Russian attacks northeast of Kherson on March 16, and Russian forces did not conduct any operations toward Mykolayiv and Odesa in the past 24 hours. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces halted Russian advances toward Velyka Kostroma, Mala Kostroma, and Kryvyi Rih as of noon local time on March 16. The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed it seized a large depot of rocket and artillery weapons in Kherson on March 16. The Ukrainian General Staff reported a Ukrainian air strike on an airfield near Kherson destroyed at least seven helicopters. Ukrainian aircraft previously struck this airfield on March 8, and the continued failure of Russian forces to ground the Ukrainian air force is likely slowing Russian operations toward Mykolayiv. Russian forces continued to shell Mykolayiv’s outskirts but did not conduct any ground attacks.
The Ukrainian General Staff stated that unspecified Russian warships shelled the coastal settlements of Lebedivka, Sanzheika, Zatoka, and Bilenke in Odesa Oblast on March 16. Satellite imagery previously depicted 14 Russian warships operating off the coast of Odesa on March 15. Russian Naval Infantry likely retain the capability to conduct an amphibious landing along the Black Sea coast. However, Russia is unlikely to launch an unsupported amphibious operation against Odesa until Russian forces secure a ground line of communication to the city—which they are unlikely to do in the next week.
Immediate items to watch
- Russian forces will likely capture Mariupol or force the city to capitulate within the coming weeks.
- The Ukrainian General Staff continued to report that there is a high probability of Russian provocations aimed at involving Belarus in the war in Ukraine, though ISW continues to assess Belarus is unlikely to open a new line of advance into Ukraine.
- Ukrainian counterattacks and operations by Territorial Defense Forces in northeastern Ukraine threaten Russia’s exposed line of communicating, requiring Russia to redeploy forces away from the offensive toward eastern Kyiv.
- Company and battalion-level attacks northwest of Kyiv likely represent the largest scale of offensive operations Russian forces can currently undertake to complete the encirclement of the city.
- Russian troops may drive on Zaporizhya City itself within the next 48-72 hours, likely attempting to block it on both banks of the Dnipro River and set conditions for subsequent operations after Russian forces take Mariupol, which they are currently besieging.
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