A large Russian force has advanced hundreds of metres in a major new assault on a Ukrainian-held bastion in southeastern Ukraine this week.
Russian officials claimed the advance had secured a foothold in the coal-mining town of Vuhledar. Kyiv has acknowledged heavy fighting there but says it has repelled the push so far while inflicting heavy losses on the attackers.
In an intelligence update offering rare battlefield detail, the British ministry said Russia was attacking the town with a force at least the size of a brigade, a unit normally comprising several thousand troops with a full range of capabilities.
So far, the Russians had likely advanced from the south several hundred metres beyond the Kashlahach River, which it said had marked the front line for months. The small river flows on the edge of the town of Pavlivka, about two kilometres south of Vuhledar.
“There is a realistic possibility that Russia will continue to make local gains in the sector. However, it is unlikely that Russia has sufficient uncommitted troops in the area to achieve an operationally significant breakthrough.”
It said Russian commanders were probably trying to develop a new axis of advance, as well as to divert Ukrainian forces from Bakhmut, a city further north that has been the main focus of Russia’s offensive for months.
Vuhledar lies at the southern-most end of the eastern front in Ukraine, overlooking railway lines that supply Russian forces on the adjacent southern front. Ukraine has repelled several Russian attacks on the town since the start of the war eleven months ago.
The Russian assault there comes after Moscow made significant advances around Bakhmut over the past two weeks, its biggest gains since Ukraine took back large chunks of territory in the second half of 2022. Momentum has swung towards Russia in recent weeks after front lines were frozen in place since November.
Military experts say Moscow is determined to make gains in Ukraine in the coming months, before Kyiv receives hundreds of newly pledged Western tanks and armoured vehicles for a counter-attack to recapture occupied territory this year.
Bakhmut, a city which once held 100,000 people, looks increasingly vulnerable after Russia captured the salt-mining town of Soledar to its north around a week ago.
Moscow says it has made substantial further gains both on the northern and southern outskirts of Bakhmut; Kyiv says the city itself is not yet in danger of falling, but the fighting there is hard.