The Kremlin-linked Wagner Group has helped Russia make some of it first tactical advances in the Donbas region since July, defense officials said Friday.
The United Kingdom defense ministry said that over the last three days pro-Russian forces have advanced towards the city center of Bakhmut in Donetsk, where its mercenary group remains “heavily involved” in fighting.
Some strategic advancements have also reportedly been achieved in Luhansk by regional forces in the towns of Opytine and Ivangrad.
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“There have been few, if any, other settlements seized by regular Russian or separatist forces since early July,” defense officials said.
The ministry said pro-Russian forces are likely looking to take Bakhmut as a “preliminary” win before attempting to seize the Kramatorsk-Sloviansk area, which it described as the “most significant center of Donetsk” that Ukraine still holds.
Despite Russia’s apparent gains, the ministry said, “its overall operational design is undermined by the Ukrainian pressure against its northern and southern flanks, and by severe shortages of munitions and manpower.”
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The news comes as Ukrainian forces continue to make gains in its counter-offensive in the southern region of Kherson, where Moscow has urged pro-Russian citizens to flee, particularly around Kherson City.
Last month, Russia attempted to lay claim over four Ukrainian regions including Kherson – a vitally strategic region that Moscow has been unable to secure since launching its invasion in February despite its proximity to occupied Crimea.
Moscow has apparently also offered free accommodations to Ukrainian citizens who wish to flee to Russia as Kherson City gears up to be the latest front line city – though reports have surfaced since the onslaught of the invasion that show forced deportations to Russia.
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On Thursday, Crimea was listed by Moscow as one of the regions civilians in Kherson should flee to, along with the Russian regions of Rostov, Krasnodar and Stavropol.
However, Crimea, occupied since 2014, could be next in Ukraine’s crosshairs as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed not to stop his forces until all regions are restored to Kyiv.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.