Russian forces are unlikely to encircle Bakhmut any time soon, US-based military analysts have said, days after the Wagner Group claimed to have pushed into the centre of the eastern Ukrainian city.
Fighters loyal to Kyiv may be considering a “controlled” withdrawal from the city, analysts say.
The battle for the city in the Donetsk region continued on Sunday after UK observers suggested the Russians had advanced in the northern suburbs.
But days after the head of the Wagner Group of Russian mercenaries claimed his men had “practically surrounded Bakhmut”, intelligence from an American group suggested otherwise.
"Russian forces appear to have secured a sufficient positional advantage to conduct a turning movement against parts of Bakhmut but have not yet forced Ukrainian forces to withdraw and will not likely be able to encircle the city soon," the Institute for the Study of War tweeted.
The ISW said forces loyal to Moscow had not yet forced Ukrainian troops to abandon Bakhmut and were unlikely to encircle the city, let alone take it by frontal assault.
Moscow’s progress in the Donetsk city remains incremental, the ISW said in an update, with some of parts of the city under threat, while Ukrainian forces may be setting conditions for a controlled fighting withdrawal out of particularly difficult areas.
Bakhmut, which had a prewar population of about 70,000, has been the scene of some of the war’s most intense fighting in recent weeks and months.
If taken by Russia, it would represent the invaders’ first major battleground gain in more than six months.
Ukraine’s armed forces said Russian troops were focussed on cutting off the besieged city.
The UK Ministry of Defence on Saturday said two key bridges in Bakhmut were destroyed within a 36-hour period, and that Ukrainian-held resupply routes out of the city were becoming increasingly limited.
One of those bridges had connected Bakhmut to the Ukrainian-held town of Chasiv Yar, about 13km to the west, it said.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner Group, had earlier appeared in a video claiming fighters had surrounded Bakhmut.
The mercenary force published a video showing what Mr Prigozhin said were coffins containing bodies of Ukrainian soldiers being repatriated to territory held by Kyiv.
Meanwhile, Sergei Shoigu, the Russian Defence Minister, made a rare visit to Russian troops in Donetsk, according to a video released by his ministry.
Mr Shoigu “paid special attention to the creation of necessary conditions for the safe accommodation of personnel in field conditions”, the ministry said.
Top commanders of the invasion of Ukraine, which Russia refers to as a "special military operation", had briefed Mr Shoigu on the current situation and action plans, his ministry said on Sunday.
The conversation around western nations' aid for Ukraine has shifted from conventional weaponry to fighter jets in recent weeks.
During an address to the UK Parliament last month, Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed to Britain to "give us wings".
The US is working with two Ukrainian pilots at a base in Arizona to determine how long it would take to train them to fly F-16 fighter jets, CNN reported, citing people briefed on the matter.
Washington announced $400 million (£332 million) in ammunition and supplies for Ukraine in its latest package.