ISW Policy Regarding Coverage Of Announced Upcoming Ukrainian Counter-Offensive Operations

ISW is aware of concern regarding the effect of ISW’s maps and assessments on Ukrainian operational security. Recent media coverage speculating about potential Ukrainian courses of action has used and in some cases misrepresented ISW assessments to make predictions in ways that are inconsistent with the intent of ISW’s products and do not reflect ISW’s institutional views. While our aim is indeed to enable informed reporting about the war by providing granular insights into the situation on the ground, the nature and purpose of our assessments is to evaluate the war as it unfolds and not to provide insight into Ukrainian planning. Inferring predictions of Ukrainian operations from ISW maps and assessments that do not explicitly offer such predictions is inappropriate and not in accord with their intended use.

ISW is committed to doing everything we can to avoid compromising Ukrainian operational security or telling the Russians anything they don’t already know—that is why we focus heavily on reporting what Russian sources say and show (and why we do not collect on Ukrainian forces or operations). We are also focused on ensuring that our products are accurate and reliably sourced. We prioritize both accuracy and protecting Ukrainian operational security over the rapidity of reporting. There is far more speculation about and forecasting of future Ukrainian operations by other organizations and individuals than we engage in, and we will continue to adhere to our conservative approach.

ISW will make no forecasts whatsoever about what Ukrainian forces might or might not do, let alone where or when they might do it. We will be particularly careful to avoid statements that might be construed as offering such forecasts in the coming weeks. We ask journalists and media organizations to avoid attributing such forecasts to our reports when we have not made them. We will also avoid commenting or offering assessments about whether particular Ukrainian advances or operations might or might not be part of counter-offensive efforts, with a particular eye on avoiding anything that might suggest where we think the Ukrainian main effort is or will be. Our published Russian order of battle of 23 APR explicitly stated that we do not offer any assessment at all about what parts of the front might be more or less advantageous for a Ukrainian counter-offensive, for example.

Our approach to mapping changes in control-of-terrain is inherently conservative and delayed. Our mapping of previous Ukrainian counter-offensives was regularly days behind events because of the requirements for confirmed sourcing our methodology uses. We will not, therefore, be aggressively adjusting our control of terrain maps to keep them up-to-the-minute but will rather be adjusting them as sufficient evidence emerges such that any changes we make will likely have been broadly reported. That was the case, for example, with the Kharkiv counter-offensive—media reports of Ukrainian advances were well ahead of our map changes.

ISW is committed to helping policymakers and the public understand what is occurring in Ukraine as accurately as possible without in any way compromising Ukraine’s ability to liberate its occupied lands.