Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 13, 2023
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 13, 2023
Kateryna Stepanenko, Riley Bailey, George Barros, Grace Mappes, Angela Howard, and Frederick W. Kagan
April 13, 6 pm ET
Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.
Click here to access ISW’s archive of interactive time-lapse maps of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These maps complement the static control-of-terrain map that ISW produces daily by showing a dynamic frontline. ISW will update this time-lapse map archive monthly.
A senior Ukrainian official warned that Russia can reconstitute itself as a serious threat to Ukraine in the long run despite facing severe force generation problems at this time. Deputy Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Ukrainian General Staff Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov stated on April 13 that Russian crypto-mobilization efforts are stagnating due to Russians’ growing awareness that causality rates for Russian soldiers in Ukraine are high. Hromov stated that Volgograd and Saratov oblasts have only met seven percent (134 of the 7,800 recruits) and 14 percent (270 of the 7,600 recruits) of their regional recruitment quotas for the first quarter of 2023 respectively. Hromov also stated that Moscow is creating “alternative” private military companies (PMCs) to fill these gaps, but that these PMCs will not be as powerful as the Wagner Group in the near future, partially supporting previous ISW forecasts. Hromov noted that Ukraine and its allies must not underestimate Russian force generation capabilities in the long run for a protracted war of attrition. ISW has previously warned that the US and NATO should not underestimate Russian capabilities in the long run, as Russia can regenerate by leveraging its population and defense industrial base (DIB) to threaten Ukraine and NATO if Russian President Vladimir Putin decides to fundamentally change Russia’s strategic resource allocation over the long run. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced plans on January 17 to form 12 new maneuver divisions over the course of several years, for example.
The Kremlin has not yet undertaken the necessary reorganization of its war effort to effectively leverage economies of scale to support large-scale Russian force generation, however. Current Russian half-measures and decentralized recruitment efforts to regenerate forces such as crypto-mobilization, leaning on Russia’s regions to generate volunteers, relying on new small PMCs, and pressuring various Russian state-owned enterprises to sponsor and pay for recruitment campaigns seek to shift the resource burden to generate forces among different siloviki and elements of the Russian state. The Kremlin is reportedly billing the Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom for its volunteer recruitment efforts in occupied Donetsk Oblast, offering volunteers 400,000 rubles (approximately $4,900) salary per month. A Russian State Duma official proposed the institution of a new 2–3% “military tax” on Russian citizens’ income — a provision that would allow Putin to reduce the burden on existing federal funds but would likely anger more Russians. These various Russian groups’ resources are finite. The Kremlin’s currently unsustainable effort to commandeer them will exhaust itself without fundamental resource generation and resource allocation reform. These current efforts will generate some additional combat power in the short term, to be sure, but will do so with diminishing marginal returns at increasing cost. The Russian state’s current model of resource allocations and economies of scale do not synergize disjointed efforts to tap discrete resource pools. The Kremlin’s decision to continue relying on financially incentivizing voluntary recruits with both one-time payments and accrued lifetime benefits will create large long-term structural costs and will not be sustainable indefinitely.
Ukrainian assessments confirm ISW’s longstanding assessment that Russia cannot conduct multiple offensive operations simultaneously at this time. Deputy Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Ukrainian General Staff Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov stated on April 13 that Russian forces deployed unspecified Russian forces from the Avdiivka area of operations to reinforce offensive operations around Bakhmut and that Russia has lost about 4,000 Wagner and conventional personnel in Bakhmut since around March 30. Hromov’s statement supports ISW’s longstanding assessment that the Russian military — in its current form — is unable to conduct large-scale, simultaneous offensive campaigns on multiple axes.
Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly personally approved the arrest of Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich. Bloomberg reported on April 12 that Putin personally approved the arrest of Gershkovich on espionage charges before the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) arrested Gershkovich in Yekaterinburg, Sverdlovsk Oblast on March 30 for collecting information constituting a state secret about the activities of a Russian military-industrial complex enterprise. Putin’s reported personal involvement in the arrest suggests that the arrest was likely a retaliatory response to the US arrest of Russian national Sergey Cherkasov on March 24 on charges of acting as agent of a foreign power. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denied that Putin ordered Gershkovich’s arrest and stated that Russian special services independently decided to arrest Gershkovich. ISW has previously reported that the FSB has made other recent arrests in connection with information about defense enterprises in Sverdlovsk Oblast, and ISW assesses that the Kremlin may use the pretext of threats to Russia’s defense industrial base (DIB) to justify crackdowns and further conceal the activities of Russian defense industrial enterprises. Putin’s reported personal involvement in the first arrest of a US journalist since the Cold War may indicate that the Kremlin viewed the arrest as a calculated escalation that it will attempt to use as leverage for extracting concessions from the United States.
The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed to have identified the individuals allegedly responsible for assassinating milblogger Maxim Fomin (known under the alias Vladlen Tatarsky) on April 13. The FSB claimed that alleged Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) agents Darya Trepova and Yuriy Denisov worked with Russian Anti-Corruption Foundation associates Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhadanov — both located abroad — to track Fomin for months and eventually assassinate him. The FSB stated that it added Denisov to the international wanted list after he fled Russia. Anti-Corruption Foundation Director Ivan Zhandov claimed on April 13 that the FSB released this version of events to justify extending Anti-Corruption Foundation founder and Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s prison sentence.
- A senior Ukrainian official warned that Russia can reconstitute itself as a serious threat to Ukraine in the long run despite facing severe force generation problems at this time.
- The Kremlin has not yet undertaken the necessary reorganization of its war effort to effectively leverage economies of scale to support large Russian force generation.
- Ukrainian assessments confirm ISW’s longstanding assessment that Russia cannot conduct multiple offensive operations simultaneously at this time.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly personally approved the arrest of Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich.
- The Russian Federal State Security Service (FSB) on April 13 identified the individuals allegedly responsible for assassinating milblogger Maxim Fomin (alias Vladlen Tatarsky).
- Russian forces continued limited ground attacks along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces continued to make gains in Bakhmut, and continued ground attacks along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line.
- Russian forces continue to reinforce and strengthen their positions in southern Ukraine in preparation for a potential Ukrainian counteroffensive.
- Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin and his supporters continue to feud with St. Petersburg authorities and advertising companies allegedly obstructing Wagner Group recruitment efforts.
- Wagner Group are reportedly training Ukrainian children to use weapons as part of the Russian Young Army Cadets National Movement (Yunarmiya) in occupied Ukraine.
We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because these activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and the Ukrainian population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.
- Russian Main Effort – Eastern Ukraine (comprised of two subordinate main efforts)
- Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1 – Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and push westward into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and encircle northern Donetsk Oblast
- Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2 – Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
- Russian Supporting Effort – Southern Axis
- Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
- Activities in Russian-occupied areas
Russian Main Effort – Eastern Ukraine
Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1 – Luhansk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and push westward into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and northern Donetsk Oblast)
Russian forces continued limited ground attacks along the Svatove-Kreminna line on April 13. Geolocated footage published on April 12 indicates that Russian forces likely advanced south of Bilohorivka (12km south of Kreminna). The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Bilohorivka on April 13. Deputy Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Ukrainian General Staff Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov reported that Russian forces deployed unspecified motorized rifle units, BARS (Russian Combat Reserve) Special Forces, and additional reconnaissance equipment to the Kreminna area, where a lack of rotations is reportedly leading to poor morale among Russian personnel. Hromov reported that Russian forces continued attempts to push Ukrainian forces to positions on the west bank of the Zherebets River near Torske (14km west of Kreminna) and Makiivka (22km northwest of Kreminna). A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces also continued offensive operations near Yampolivka (16km west of Kreminna) and Nevske (18km northwest of Kreminna), and that Ukrainian forces conducted a partially successful counterattack near Kryvoshyivka (11km northwest of Svatove) aiming to take control over a section of the N26 highway.
Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces struck Russian positions in Svatove with HIMARS rockets on April 13.
Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2 – Donetsk Oblast (Russian Objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)
Russian forces continued to make territorial gains in Bakhmut on April 13. Geolocated footage shows that Russian forces advanced further west into central Bakhmut and made marginal advances in southern and southwestern Bakhmut. Two prominent Russian milbloggers posted footage of themselves reportedly in central Bakhmut, signaling possible further Wagner Group advances in the city. Russian sources claimed that Wagner forces seized an agricultural lyceum, a rail station, and a grain elevator in northern Bakhmut. Advisor to Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Head, Yan Gagin, claimed that Wagner Group forces are close to encircling Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut, but Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin denied Gagin’s claim. Prigozhin stated that Ukrainian forces continue to defend Bakhmut and provision and reinforce their forces within the city. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian ground attacks in Bakhmut, northwest of Bakhmut near Khromove (2km west) and Bohdanivka (6km northwest), and southwest of Bakhmut near Predtechyne (13km southwest). A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian Airborne (VDV) have assumed positions on Wagner’s northern flank near Vasyukivka (15km north of Bakhmut).
Russian forces continued to conduct ground attacks along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line on April 13. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian ground attacks near Sieverne (5km west of Avdiivka), Marinka (27km southwest of Avdiivka), Pobieda (5km southwest of Donetsk City), and Novomykhailivka (10km southwest of Donetsk City). Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces attacked the western, southern, and eastern approaches to Avdiivka and made advances near Krasnohorivka (3km north of Avdiivka) on April 12 and 13. Other milbloggers claimed that Russian forces conducted ground attacks southwest of Avdiivka near Pervomaiske (11km southwest of Avdiivka) and Nevelske (14km southwest of Avdiivka). Russian and Ukrainian sources reported heavy fighting in Marinka.
Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed or claimed ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast on April 13.
Russian Supporting Effort – Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)
Russian forces continue to reinforce and strengthen their positions in southern Ukraine in preparation for a potential Ukrainian counteroffensive. Deputy Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Ukrainian General Staff Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov reported on April 13 that Russian forces have reinforced unspecified areas in Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts to hinder potential Ukrainian advances. The Ukrainian Zaporizhia Oblast Administration reported on April 13 that Russian forces continue to build fortifications and mine areas along the front line in Zaporizhia Oblast.
A Russian source claimed that Ukrainian forces continued reconnaissance-in-force operations in Zaporizhia Oblast on April 13. A Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted probing attacks near Russian defenses in the vicinity of Robotyne (14km south of Orikhiv).
Russian forces continue to endanger the safety of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) as of April 13. Ukrainian state energy company Enerhoatom reported on April 13 that Russian forces continue to mine areas near the ZNPP and that one of the mines recently detonated near the control room of the fourth power unit at the facility.
Russian forces continued routine fire west of Hulyaipole and in Mykolaiv and Kherson oblasts on April 13. Ukrainian sources reported that Russian forces struck Kherson City and Ochakiv, Mykolaiv Oblast.
Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)
Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin and Wagner supporters continue to feud with St. Petersburg authorities and advertising companies who they accuse of blocking Wagner’s recruitment efforts. A pair of pro-Wagner milbloggers amplified on April 13 a complaint from League of Defenders of the Interests of Local Wars and Military Conflicts representative Andrey Troshev to St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov asking him to prevent advertising companies from refusing to advertise Wagner. Troshev claimed that all Russian regional heads except for Beglov assist Wagner recruitment efforts as much as possible. Prigozhin consistently publicly criticizes Beglov, likely in an attempt to expand his influence in St. Petersburg. Prigozhin complained to Russian State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin on April 13 that Beglov’s alleged failure to solve problems in St. Petersburg, extremely low popularity ratings, and failure to prevent social unrest are unacceptable in a time of war. Prigozhin asked the Duma to review legal amendments that would permit the termination of officials if more than 10 percent of the population vote for the dismissal of the official.
Russian forces appear unable to maintain Iranian drones without access to foreign components. Ukrainian Center for Trophy and Prospective Arms Research representative Andriy Rudik stated on April 13 that recent samples of Iranian Shahed-136 drones and Russian Zala 421-16E drones include foreign-made GSM-transceivers, 30-year-old foreign-made relays, and other key parts either devoid of Russian components or heavily dependent on foreign components. Rudik noted that these components indicate that Russian cannot independently maintain Iranian drones. Russian domestic drone manufacturers likely also rely heavily on foreign components to maintain and repair Iranian-provided drones.
Russian sources are continuing to debate the Russian legislature’s creating a unified register for military service notice distribution as the bill awaits Russian President Vladimir Putin’s signature. Transbaikalia State Duma Parliamentarian Andrei Gurulev and Russian Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matvienko noted on April 11 and 12 that the law has sparked a flurry of heated comments online and rumors of a pending wave of mobilization. Gurulev denied rumors of the impending second mobilization wave. Matvienko stated that legislators mistakenly did not explain the law to the public. The Russian Ministry of Digital Development reportedly stated that it will have a working database of all Russians eligible for military service by April 2024. State Duma Deputy Oleg Nilov asserted that Russian authorities should start using electronic summonses before the end of spring conscription.
Russian authorities continue to prosecute individuals involved in alleged domestic resistance. A popular Russian news aggregator claimed on April 13 that the Russian State Duma introduced amendments to Russia’s Criminal Code that would punish individuals implementing international organizations’ decisions that contradict Russian law. An independent Russian media outlet reported on April 12 that Russian authorities detained a 61-year-old woman for attempting an arson attack against a military enlistment office in Komi Republic. Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov claimed on April 13 that a group combining four different Russian police services neutralized an unidentified individual from an unspecified “illegal formation.” A prominent Russian milblogger and nationalist Russian news source on April 12 accused Russian authorities of failing to do enough to crack down on two bars in central Moscow that supposedly collect funds to support Ukrainian forces.
Activities in Russian-occupied areas (Russian objective: Consolidate administrative control of annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)
Wagner Group members reportedly are training Ukrainian children to use weapons as part of the Russian Young Army Cadets National Movement (Yunarmiya) in occupied Ukraine. Mariupol Mayor Advisor Petro Andryushenko amplified footage on April 13 reportedly showing Wagner forces training Ukrainian children in Mariupol to use guns and fight.
Russian occupation officials continue to restrict civilian movements and strengthen counter-intelligence measures in occupied territories to improve Russia’s operational security ahead of an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive. Ukrainian officials reported that Russian occupation officials tightened regulations for taxi operators and now require them to present passes at checkpoints in Tokmak, Zaporizhia Oblast. Russian authorities reportedly banned Russian forces from accepting food from locals or communicating with locals. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces are increasing the patrol quantity, seizing locals’ phones, and banning civilians from leaving localities in Troitske Raion, Luhansk Oblast. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian forces increased roadblocks and patrols in Hrafske, Donetsk Oblast and are undertaking filtration measures in Blahodatne, Donetsk Oblast. Russian outlets reported that occupation authorities detained a Berdyansk, Zaporizhia Oblast resident on suspicion of transferring information on Russian military movements to Ukrainian forces. Ukrainian Kherson Oblast Administration Advisor Serhiy Khlan stated that Russian forces arrested Ukrainian collaborator Pavel Filipchuk in Kakhovka, Kherson Oblast. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar stated that Russian occupation officials are coercing civilians to evacuate to Russian and occupied Crimea by amplifying claims that Ukrainian counteroffensives will harm the livelihoods of residents in occupied territories.
Russian occupation officials and authorities in Russian regions bordering Ukraine are canceling traditional May 9 Victory Day parades likely due to security concerns. Head of the Kherson Oblast Occupation Administration Vladimir Saldo claimed that his administration cancelled Victory Day celebrations due to active martial law in occupied Kherson Oblast. The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) assessed that these cancellations highlight a disparity between Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to present the “special military operation” as the spirit of World War II and the battlefield realities of his war in Ukraine.
Russian occupation officials continue to nationalize Ukrainian property and are announcing plans to expand infrastructure projects on the Arabat Spit. Saldo stated that Russian officials will nationalize property belonging to Ukrainian oligarchs who did not register their properties under the Russian federal system. Saldo also announced that Putin has instructed occupation officials to construct main gas pipelines from Dzhankoi to Henichesk.
Significant activity in Belarus (ISW assesses that a Russian or Belarusian attack into northern Ukraine in early 2023 is extraordinarily unlikely and has thus restructured this section of the update. It will no longer include counter-indicators for such an offensive.)
ISW will continue to report daily observed Russian and Belarusian military activity in Belarus, but these are not indicators that Russian and Belarusian forces are preparing for an imminent attack on Ukraine from Belarus. ISW will revise this text and its assessment if it observes any unambiguous indicators that Russia or Belarus is preparing to attack northern Ukraine.
Belarusian maneuver elements continue conducting exercises in Belarus. A battalion of the Belarusian 38th Air Assault Brigade completed battalion tactical exercises at the Brest Training Ground in Brest, Belarus on April 13.
Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update.
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