Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 16, 2023
Karolina Hird, Grace Mappes, Riley Bailey, Layne Philipson, Nicole Wolkov, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan
April 16, 2:30pm 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.
The Russian military command appears to be increasingly shifting responsibility for offensive operations in Ukraine to the Russian Airborne troops (VDV). The United Kingdom Ministry of Defense (UK MoD) reported on April 16 that it is highly likely that VDV commander Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky has returned to a “major” but unspecified role in Ukraine after reports that the Russian MoD replaced him on January 13. UK MoD noted that Teplinsky’s return to command in Ukraine will not be limited to just VDV units, but that it is also likely that Teplinsky will try to promote the VDV’s traditional role as an elite force. ISW previously assessed on April 1 that milblogger speculation that the Russian MoD recalled Teplinsky from ”leave“ suggests that Russia may be preparing to reshuffle senior commanders following the failed winter offensive and in preparation for a potential Ukrainian counteroffensive. The UK MoD’s apparent confirmation of Teplinsky’s reappointment to a senior command position supports ISW’s assessment, and additionally suggests that the Russian military command is likely seeking to place an increased emphasis on the role of VDV elements in Russian offensive operations. VDV units are actively engaged along critical sectors of the front in Luhansk Oblast and near Bakhmut and have recently received TOS-1A thermobaric artillery systems, further indicating that the Russian military command may seek to elevate the VDV to greater operational prominence.
News of Teplinsky’s reappointment suggests that the Russian MoD is seeking to work more closely with the Wagner Group in order to complete the capture of Bakhmut, despite obvious tensions between Prigozhin and the traditional MoD establishment. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin seemingly confirmed Teplinsky’s Wagner affiliations in a public show of support for Teplinsky following Teplinsky’s reported dismissal over a disagreement with Chief of the Russian General Staff and overall theater commander Army General Valery Gerasimov in January. Teplinsky became embroiled in the rising tensions between Prigozhin and the Russian MoD establishment (represented by Gerasimov and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu) as the Russian MoD appeared to be actively trying to cut the Wagner Group off from artillery shell supply and otherwise interfere with Wagner’s ability to operate around Bakhmut. Over the past few weeks, however, it appears that the Russian military command has been working more closely with Wagner, likely in an effort to expedite the capture of Bakhmut. The Russian MoD and Prigozhin publicly acknowledged on April 11 that VDV elements are engaged in the Bakhmut area and holding Wagner’s flanks north and south of Bakhmut while Wagner pursues the main offensive effort in the city itself. ISW has recently observed that elements of the 106th VDV division are operating in the Bakhmut area. Prigozhin has also scaled down his explicit rhetorical attacks on the MoD in recent days. Russian milbloggers have reported that Wagner forces are operating T-90 tanks within Bakhmut, suggesting that Russian leadership has allocated more modern assets to Wagner in their efforts to take the city. Teplinsky’s reappointment is therefore likely also an attempt by the Russian MoD to posture itself better to work with Wagner to finish the task of taking Bakhmut.
Teplinsky remains highly unlikely to restore the VDV to its prior status as an elite force due to widespread losses to the most elite Russian units. VDV units suffered extraordinarily high losses in the early phases of the war in 2022, and a prominent milblogger claimed on Russian state television on January 31 that VDV forces lost 40 to 50 percent of their personnel between the start of the war and September 2022. BBC Russia Service confirmed the deaths of 1,669 VDV personnel as of April 14, 2023. Widespread losses to previously elite units that are now being restaffed with poorly trained mobilized personnel are likely to have long-term impacts on the combat effectiveness of these units, and the replacement of a single commander is highly unlikely to be able to solve such pervasive damage.
Russian milbloggers seized on an opportunity to denigrate St. Petersburg Mayor Alexander Beglov in a manner that indicates that Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s anti-Beglov campaign has permeated the Russian ultra-nationalist information space. Russian milbloggers criticized Beglov for standing in front of a Ukrainian flag at a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Interparliamentary Assembly in St. Petersburg on April 13. The milblogger-amplified image shows Beglov standing on the left side of the podium as another official speaks, and the angle of the image shows Beglov standing directly in front of the Ukrainian flag—a perspective likely not indicative of Beglov’s actual location relative to the flag. The milbloggers claimed that a “high-ranking Russian official” such as Beglov should not stand in front of the Ukrainian flag, with one even claiming that the act was analogous to a Leningrad City head standing in front of the flag of Nazi Germany during World War II. The milbloggers also criticized Beglov for standing in front of the flag just a few weeks after the assassination of Russian milblogger Maxim Fomin (Vladlen Tartarsky) in St. Petersburg. Prigozhin himself claimed that the Russian “deep state” is responsible for the flag’s presence, implying that Beglov is part of this deep state. Other milbloggers claimed that the inclusion of the Ukrainian flag at the meeting suggests that Russia has failed to put itself on a wartime footing. One milblogger claimed that CIS protocol required the inclusion of the Ukrainian flag but noted the strangeness of the protocol given the current conflict. Ukraine ended its affiliation with the CIS in 2018 and has never been a full CIS member state.
Russian officials may have included the Ukrainian flag in an attempt to convey the fact that the Kremlin does not recognize Ukraine’s withdrawal from the CIS and refusal to conform to Kremlin-controlled international structures, falsely anticipating that the Russian information space would praise this underlying message. The Russian information space appears to be so poisoned against Beglov, however, that milbloggers jumped at the chance to criticize him regardless of the subtle Kremlin messaging. This attack against Beglov also suggests that Prigozhin’s Russian “deep state” narrative, about which also he notably warned in an April 14 essay, has the potential to similarly permeate the Russian information space.
The Wagner Group returned 130 Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) on April 16, suggesting that Wagner may have engaged in the exchange independent of the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD). Ukrainian sources confirmed that 130 Ukrainian POWs returned to Ukraine but did not specify how many Russian POWs were exchanged in turn. The Russian MoD deviated from its normal routine and did not confirm the prisoner exchange at all. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin posted a video showing Wagner forces preparing Ukrainian POWs for the exchange. The lack of Russian MoD confirmation contrasted with Prigozhin’s engagement with the exchange may suggest that the Wagner Group maintains a level of autonomy from the Russian MoD and was able to negotiate the exchange with the Ukrainian government independent from the Russian MoD. In the posted video, Prigozhin claimed that he ordered Wagner forces to provide Ukrainian POWs with food and water before their release and personally wished them good luck and health. A Wagner-affiliated milblogger noted that Wagner’s kindness to Ukrainian prisoners is particularly uncharacteristic for a unilateral prisoner exchange that was purportedly not coordinated with the Russian MoD or another entity. Wagner is notorious for the mistreatment of POWs, engaging in several high-profile and widely circulated executions of both returned Wagner POWs and Ukrainian POWs under Wagner’s control. The milblogger also criticized Prigozhin‘s decision to release such a large number of Ukrainian servicemen ahead of the anticipated large-scale Ukrainian counteroffensive. Prigozhin’s decision to release so many Ukrainian POWs at such a time likely suggests that the exchange returned high-value Wagner members whom he intends to redeploy on the battlefield. Prigozhin has previously accused Wagner POWs of being traitors and supported their execution, but the conditions of the April 16 prisoner exchange likely imply that he is prioritizing replenishing diminished Wagner units over his continued effort to project Soviet brutalist strength and appeal to Russian ultranationalists.
Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov also commented on the prisoner exchange on April 16. Kadyrov reported that five Chechens returned as part of the prisoner exchange but that he refused to meet them upon their arrival in Grozny. Kadyrov claimed that the five Chechen fighters should prove their honor by returning to the frontlines, stating that Chechens do not interpret capture as an excuse to lay down arms but instead as an action forced upon them. Kadyrov is likely using the POW exchange to fortify his own reputation as a capable and brutal silovik.
The Wagner Group may be attempting to force mobilized Russian personnel to sign contracts with Wagner, possibly in an effort to offset Wagner’s losses in Ukraine. Mobilized personnel from Moscow and Ivanovo oblasts alleged in a public complaint released on April 16 that the Wagner Group forced 170 mobilized personnel to sign contracts with Wagner. Russian sources previously claimed that 100 mobilized personnel in Luhansk Oblast disappeared as of April 7 after refusing to sign contracts with the Wagner Group, and geolocated footage published on April 11 shows Wagner personnel detaining the mobilized personnel in Kadiivka before escorting the personnel to an unspecified training ground. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) may allow mobilized personnel to fulfill their service obligations by signing contracts with Wagner, although the status of mobilized personnel initially assigned to conventional Russian units who have signed contracts with Wagner is unclear. Wagner’s reported impressment of poorly trained mobilized personnel, in addition to its change in approach to prisoner exchanges, suggests that Wagner is increasingly desperate for manpower as it continues to conduct highly attritional offensive operations in and around Bakhmut.
- The Russian military command appears to be increasingly shifting responsibility for offensive operations in Ukraine to the Russian Airborne (VDV) troops.
- News of Teplinsky’s reappointment suggests that the Russian MoD is seeking to work more closely with the Wagner Group in order to complete the capture of Bakhmut, despite obvious tensions between Prigozhin and the traditional MoD establishment.
- Russian milbloggers seized on an opportunity to denigrate St. Petersburg Mayor Alexander Beglov in a manner that indicates that Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s anti-Beglov campaign has permeated the Russian ultra-nationalist information space.
- The Wagner Group returned 130 Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) on April 16, suggesting that Wagner may have engaged in the exchange independent of the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD).
- The Wagner Group may be attempting to force mobilized Russian personnel to sign contracts with Wagner, possibly in an effort to offset Wagner’s losses in Ukraine.
- Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks south of Kreminna.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks in and around Bakhmut and along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line.
- Russian forces reportedly intensified the rate of artillery strikes in southern Ukraine.
- Russian mobilized personnel continue to publish public complaints against Russian commanders alleging mistreatment.
- A Russian source stated that the Wagner Group is involved in the removal of Ukrainian children from Bakhmut.
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 conducted limited ground attacks south of Kreminna on April 16. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive actions near Dibrova (5km southwest of Kreminna), Hryhorivka (9km south of Kreminna), Bilohorivka (10km south of Kreminna), and Spirne (25km south of Kreminna). A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful ground attacks near Torske (14km west of Kreminna) and Nevske (18km northwest of Kreminna) and that Ukrainian forces partially recaptured positions near Bilohorivka. Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov claimed that Chechen ”Akhmat” special forces elements repelled Ukrainian counterattacks near Bilohorivka for five unspecified days and then ”escaped encirclement.“ Another milblogger claimed that positional battles occurred near the Serebrianska forest area (10km south of Kreminna) on April 15. Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty reported on April 16 that Russian forces use the most armored vehicles in the Kupyansk-Lyman direction and that Russian conventional forces mostly comprised of mobilized personnel operate along this line. Cherevaty also reported that Ukrainian forces destroyed three T-72 tanks, one BTR-80 armored personnel carrier, one BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle, one BREM-1 armored repair and recovery vehicle, and one Su-25 aircraft. The United Kingdom Ministry of Defense (UK MoD) reported that Russian Airborne (VDV) forces have likely integrated TOS-1A thermobaric artillery into operations near Kreminna. A Russian milblogger claimed on April 15 that the BARS (Russian Combat Reserve) “Kaskad” formation is operating along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
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 ground attacks in and around Bakhmut on April 16. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted attacks in Bakhmut and that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian forces west of Bakhmut near Khromove (immediately west) and Ivanivske (6km west). Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty reported that Russian forces are throwing penal recruits at the front while conventional forces are more cautious. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces advanced in northern, central, and southern Bakhmut, including south of the AZOM plant in central Bakhmut, on April 15. Another milblogger claimed on April 16 that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful attacks in northern, western, and southern Bakhmut. One milblogger tried to justify the delay of capturing Bakhmut as a deliberate operation to attrit Ukrainian forces for as long as Ukraine is willing to defend Bakhmut. The milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces have withdrawn to three microraions in western Bakhmut. Geolocated footage shows that the Russian 132nd Motorized Rifle Brigade (1st Army Corps) was recently active south of Bakhmut near Mayorsk.
Russian forces conducted ground attacks along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line on April 16. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian ground attacks near Avdiivka, Novokalynove (8km north of Avdiivka), Sieverne (5km west of Avdiivka), Vodyane (8km southwest of Avdiivka), Pervomaiske (11km southwest of Avdiivka), and Marinka (27km southwest of Avdiivka). A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces advanced near Stepove (3km northwest of Avdiivka), Sieverne, and Pervomaiske, and attacked near Novomykhailivka (10km southwest of Donetsk City), Pobieda (5km southwest of Donetsk City), and in western Marinka on April 15. Another milblogger claimed on April 16 that Russian forces attacked towards Keramik (7km north of Avdiivka) and Pervomaiske and advanced along the H-20 Kostyantynivka-Donetsk City highway east of Avdiivka.
Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed or claimed ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast on April 16. Geolocated footage shows that Ukrainian forces made marginal gains southeast of Novosilka, Donetsk Oblast (36km northeast of Hulyaipole, Zaporizhia Oblast) on an unspecified date.
Russian Supporting Effort – Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)
Russian forces reportedly intensified the rate of artillery strikes in southern Ukraine on April 16. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported that Russian forces have increased artillery fire on the west (right) bank of Kherson Oblast and are continuing to use guided aerial bombs to strike civilian infrastructure. Southern Operational Command also noted that Russian forces have resumed the practice of using S-300 surface-to-air missiles to strike ground targets deep in the Ukrainian rear and stated that Russian forces conducted an S-300 strike on the Bashtanskyi raion of Mykolaiv Oblast from positions on the east (left) bank. The Ukrainian General Staff stated that Russian forces conducted 25 S-300 strikes on Zaporizhia and Mykolaiv oblasts throughout the day. S-300 surface-to-air missiles are notably a low precision system. Russian forces additionally conducted routine shelling along the frontline in southern Ukraine on April 16.
Russian and Ukrainian sources reported on April 16 that Russian forces are preparing for Ukrainian counteroffensive actions in southern Ukraine. Ukrainian Mayor of Enerhodar Dmytro Orlov stated that Russian forces are digging trenches, mining territory, and evacuating residents from Enerhodar and intensifying the practice of looting private property as they leave. A Russian milblogger warned that Ukrainian forces are concentrating in settlements along the west (right) bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast for a possible attempt to cross the river. Head of the Department of the Navy of the Ukrainian National Defense University, Stepan Yakymyak, suggested that the Russian Black Sea Fleet may be evacuating from the occupied Crimean Peninsula to prepare for the eventuality of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)
Russian mobilized personnel continue to publish public complaints against Russian commanders alleging mistreatment. Russian mobilized personnel from Moscow and Ivanovo oblasts, some of whom are a part of the 27th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade (1st Guards Tank Army, Western Military District), released a video compliant on April 16 in which they accused Russian commanders of deploying the personnel to an unspecified area in Luhansk Oblast on April 5 after initially telling them they would be transferring to a Southern Military District (SMD) formation in Rostov-on-Don, Rostov Oblast. The mobilized personnel claimed that they do not know where in Luhansk Oblast they are and that they are subordinated under the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) 136th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the 1st Army Corps. ISW has previously assessed that the Russian MoD is attempting to integrate DNR and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) formations into the Russian Armed Forces by subordinating mobilized personnel under these formations.
The Wagner Group likely continues to suffer heavy casualties in attritional offensive operations in Ukraine. Russian sources reported on April 16 that the Wagner Group’s cemetery in Bakinskaya, Krasnodar Krai grew by 60 graves since April 1. A Russian milblogger amplified footage on April 15 of Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin unveiling a new section of a cemetery for Wagner fighters near Nikolaevka, Samara Oblast.
The Ukrainian General Staff reported that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) postponed the start date for officer training in some higher educational institutions from September 1 to December 1. The reported postponement may suggest that ongoing Russian force generation efforts are significantly taxing Russian training capacities and impeding the Russian MoD’s ability to train officers.
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)
A Russian source stated on April 14 that the Wagner Group is involved in the removal of Ukrainian children from Bakhmut. The Russian source claimed that Wagner forces “evacuated” a group of civilians, including two children, from the center of Bakhmut to an unspecified location on April 16. ISW continues to assess that Wagner forces are likely facilitating the removal of Ukrainian children further into Russian occupied territory or deporting them to Russia and using humanitarian aid as justification.
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.
Nothing significant to report.
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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