While Ukrainian forces are likely conducting a limited tactical withdrawal in Bakhmut, it is too early to tell if Ukraine is considering a complete withdrawal from the city, the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest update.
Recent geolocated footage of a destroyed railway bridge in northeastern Bakhmut on March 3 may indicate that Ukrainian forces are withdrawing from their positions on the eastern bank of the Bakhmuta River, the ISW said.
Other footage shows that the Kremlin-backed private mercenary Wagner Group has continued to make advances in northeastern Bakhmut and near the Stupky railway, the update said.
The city of Bakhmut in Ukraine's Donetsk Oblast has been the site of intense fighting over the past seven months as Russia attempts to capture the city in order to increase its grip over the entirety of the oblast, around half of which it currently occupies.
The think-tank cited a Ukrainian serviceman in its update as saying that Russian forces had yet to cross the Bakhmuta River into central Bakhmut as of March 4. Russian military bloggers claimed the Wagner Group had pushed Ukrainian positions back to central Bakhmut, the ISW reported.
According to the ISW, it is unclear if Ukraine is planning to hold its positions on the western bank of the Bakhmuta River.
The update also said that "Ukrainian forces are unlikely to withdraw from Bakhmut all at once and may pursue a gradual fighting withdrawal to exhaust Russian forces through continued urban warfare."
"The Bakhmut city center is located on the western bank of the Bakhmutka River, and Russian forces will need to fight through the area if they are unable to advance directly north or south of Bakhmut to the west of the city center."
The urban conditions and river may benefit Ukraine in a similar way to the urban fighting and withdrawal that occurred in Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk in Luhansk Oblast, which effectively ended Russia's offensives in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts in the summer of last year, the ISW wrote.