Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 3, 2023
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 3, 2023
Karolina Hird, Grace Mappes, Nicole Wolkov, Layne Philipson, and Mason Clark
April 3, 8:30pm 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 maps that ISW produces daily by showing a dynamic frontline. ISW will update this time-lapse map archive monthly.
Wagner Group fighters made further advances in central Bakhmut and seized the Bakhmut City Administration Building on the night of April 2. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin raised a Russian flag with an inscription in memory of assassinated milblogger Maksim Fomin across from the Bakhmut City Administration building the night of April 2 and claimed that Wagner “legally controls” Bakhmut, though Ukrainian troops remain in the western part of the city. Russian forces made further advances on April 3, with drone footage posted on April 3 depicting Wagner Group and Russian flags planted over the rubble of the destroyed administration building. Several Russian milbloggers additionally circulated an image of a Wagner fighter standing in front of the Bakhmut City Administration building before its destruction. The Wagner Group likely will continue attempts to consolidate control of central Bakhmut and attempt to push westward through dense urban areas toward Khromove.
Russian authorities are blaming Ukrainian government entities and Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny for the April 2 assassination of Russian milblogger Maksim Fomin, also known as Vladlen Tartarsky. The Russian National Anti-Terrorism Committee claimed that Ukrainian special services collaborated with the Anti-Corruption Fund, which Navalny founded in 2011, to plan the attack against Fomin. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov claimed that the Ukrainian government may be behind Fomin’s death and claimed that Ukraine has killed others since 2014, such as Daria Dugina, which Peskov spuriously used as justification for the “special military operation.” The Russian Investigative Committee reclassified the case as a terrorist attack and claimed that it was planned in Ukrainian territory. The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) confirmed that the sculpture handed to Fomin prior to his death contained hidden explosives. The Russian Investigative Committee confirmed on April 3 that Russian authorities detained Daria Trepova in a St. Petersburg apartment on suspicion of the attack. Authorities released an excerpt of their interrogation of Trepova, in which Trepova stated that authorities questioned her about giving a sculpture to Fomin, but she did not answer on camera whether she knew the sculpture contained explosives. The range of various official responses is notably disjointed, with a lack of consensus among official Russian sources regarding Trepova’s involvement or association with either Ukrainian special services or Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund.
Official Russian responses to Fomin’s death failed to generate a single narrative in the information space and led to disjointed responses from prominent pro-war voices. Several prominent milbloggers and news aggregators fixated on the reported investigation into Daria Trepova and analyzing footage of the lead-up to and aftermath of the explosion. Other milbloggers claimed that the attack was carried out by Ukrainian special services and amplified news of the investigation without offering additional commentary into the situation. The Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) People’s Militia posted a simple message mourning Fomin without engaging with the Kremlin's informational response. Zaporizhia Oblast occupation deputy Vladimir Rogov claimed that unspecified attackers targeted Fomin because he listened to both the Russian and Ukrainian perspectives, had over 500,000 Telegram subscribers, and effectively organized donation drives for Russian forces. Russian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Kirill connected Fomin’s murder to the ongoing conflict over the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, despite no obvious connection between the two incidents.
As Russian officials try to galvanize an official narrative around the National Anti-Terrorism Committee’s investigation, Russian milbloggers will likely increasingly criticize the results and conclusions of the investigation, and Fomin’s death is likely to become a major point of information space neuralgia. One Russian milblogger and political analyst overtly criticized the official Russian response to Fomin’s death and noted that Russian officials have likely predetermined the final findings of the investigation. The absence of a coherent narrative in the pro-Russian information space is reminiscent of responses to Ukraine’s successful Kharkiv Oblast counteroffensive in fall 2022, when the Kremlin’s propaganda machine initially failed to define a rhetorical line to respond to massive Ukrainian gains and caused an information space breakdown that manifested in disjointed responses across the entire pro-war community.
Russian security services reportedly continue to confiscate the passports of senior officials and state company executives to limit flight from Russia. Financial Times reported on April 2 that the Russian security services seek to prevent senior officials, ex-officials, and state company executives from traveling abroad, indicating that the Kremlin continues to fear elites will flee Russia. Current Time TV and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty-associated investigative project “Sistema” reported on March 10 that Russian security officials told government officials and employees of state-owned companies to hand over their passports on threat of forcibly revoking an individual’s passports or forced resignation.
- Wagner Group fighters made further advances in central Bakhmut and seized the Bakhmut City Administration Building on the night of April 2.
- Russian authorities are blaming Ukrainian government entities and Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny for the assassination of Russian milblogger Maksim Fomin (also known as Vladlen Tartarsky).
- Official Russian responses to Fomin’s death failed to generate a single narrative in the information space and led to disjointed responses from prominent pro-war voices.
- Russian security services reportedly continue to confiscate passports of senior officials and state company executives in an effort to limit flight from Russia.
- Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian sources reported on April 3 that Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) units received TOS-1A thermobaric artillery systems for the first time.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks in and around Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Donetsk City, and in western Donetsk Oblast.
- Russian officials likely remain concerned about a potential Ukrainian threat to Crimea amid continued fortification and logistical efforts.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree establishing a state fund to support military personnel who participate in the war in Ukraine and their families.
- Likely Ukrainian partisans used an improvised explosive device (IED) to target a former Russian occupation official in Melitopol, Zaporizhia Oblast.
We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those 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 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 continue offensive operations into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and northern Donetsk Oblast)
Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks along the Svatove-Kreminna line on April 2 and 3. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful ground attacks near Nevske (20km northwest of Kreminna), the Serebrianska forest area (10km south of Kreminna), Bilohorivka (10km south of Kreminna), and Verkhnokamianske (18km south of Kreminna). A Russian milblogger claimed that BARS-13 (Russian Combat Reserve) elements are operating near Kreminna and that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful ground attacks with artillery support near Torske, Nevske, Terny, and Makiivka (all within 14 to 21km west or northwest of Kreminna) on April 2 and 3. Geolocated footage published on April 1 shows that Ukrainian forces made a limited advance southwest of Chervonopopivka (5km northwest of Kreminna) on an unspecified date. Former Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Interior Minister Vitaly Kiselev posted footage allegedly showing elements of the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade (2nd LNR Army Corps) operating in the Kreminna direction. Ukrainian Luhansk Oblast Administration Head Oleksii Smirnov reported on April 3 that Ukrainian forces continue to repel constant attacks on Bilohorivka even though Russian forces have more troops near the settlement. Another milblogger published footage on April 3 purportedly showing elements of the Russian 98th Guards Airborne (VDV) Division operating near Kreminna.
Russian sources reported on April 3 that units of the Russian Airborne (VDV) forces received TOS-1A thermobaric MLRS for the first time. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that VDV units were issued TOS-1A “Solntsepek” thermobaric artillery systems for the first time in the VDV’s history before deploying to an unspecified section of the frontline in Ukraine. ISW has observed the commitment of elements of at least two VDV divisions (the 76thand 98thdivisions) to the Kreminna area and the deployment of a TOS-1 system near Kreminna as recently as April 1. TOS-1A thermobaric artillery systems are military district–level assets and are not tied to specific divisions, and the assignment of rare TOS-1 systems to VDV elements suggests Russian military command is likely prioritizing VDV units in pursuing offensive operations, potentially in Luhansk Oblast. The commitment of VDV units with TOS-1 support to this, or any axis, is unlikely to lend Russian troops a decisive offensive advantage, however.
Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2—Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)
Wagner Group forces continued advancing in central Bakhmut on April 2 and 3. Geolocated footage posted on April 1 shows a Ukrainian missile strike on Russian positions in the AZOM complex in northern Bakhmut, confirming that the Wagner Group likely seized the complex around March 28, as ISW previously reported. Geolocated footage taken on the night of April 2 shows Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin raising a Russian flag in front of the Bakhmut City Administration Building. Several milbloggers additionally circulated an image of a Wagner fighter standing in front of an office door in the Bakhmut City Administration building itself. Russian milbloggers claimed on April 2 and 3 that Wagner forces continued to consolidate control of streets and urban areas near central Bakhmut, and that heavy fighting continued southwest of Bakhmut near the Ivanivske sector of the T0504 Kostyantynivka-Chasiv Yar-Bakhmut highway. Several Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian troops are withdrawing to the western part of the city. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on April 2 and 3 that Ukrainian forces continued to repel Russian attacks on Bakhmut itself, northwest of Bakhmut near Orikhovo-Vasylivka (12km northwest), and southwest of Bakhmut near Ivanivske (5km southwest) and Predtechyne (15km southwest). Ukrainian military officials supported ISW’s assessment that Russian Airborne (VDV) forces are increasingly supporting Wagner operations in Bakhmut.
Russian forces continued ground attacks along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City frontline on April 2 and 3. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces continued unsuccessful offensive actions near Avdiivka itself; in the Avdiivka area near Severne (5km west of Avdiivka) and Novokalynove (12km north of Avdiivka); on the northwestern outskirts of Donetsk City near Pervomaiske and Vodyane; and on the southwestern outskirts of Donetsk City near Marinka. Ukrainian Tavriisk Direction Forces Joint Press Center Spokesperson Colonel Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskyi stated on April 2 that Russian forces in the Donetsk City direction retreated from unspecified positions and that Ukrainian forces are reoccupying those newly captured positions. Dmytrashkivskyi also reported on April 3 that unspecified Russian special forces elements have recently deployed in the Donetsk City area and that the 200th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade (14th Army Corps, Northern Fleet) recently withdrew from the Avdiivka area for recovery. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces continued attacking Avdiivka from the south and northeast on April 2 and 3. The Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) People’s Militia posted footage on April 2 and 3 reportedly depicting elements of the 87th and 9th regiments of the 1st DNR Army Corps operating in the Avdiivka area. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that unspecified motorized rifle formations of the Southern Grouping of Forces (Southern Military District) repelled Ukrainian attacks near Marinka on April 2 and 3.
Russian forces continued offensive operations in western Donetsk Oblast on April 2. Dmytrashkivskyi stated on April 3 that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful assaults towards Vuhledar (30km southwest of Donetsk City) on April 2, and the Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces did not conduct offensive operations in the Vuhledar area on April 3. Russian Eastern Group of Forces (Eastern Military District) Spokesperson Aleksandr Gordeev stated that Russian troops repelled Ukrainian reconnaissance-in-force operations in unspecified locations southwest of Donetsk City on April 2 and 3. Geolocated footage posted on April 2 shows that Russian forces likely hold positions in Dorozhnianka, eastern Zaporizhia Oblast, about 100km southwest of Donetsk City.
Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)
Russian officials likely remain concerned about a potential Ukrainian threat to occupied Crimea amid continued defensive and logistical preparations on the peninsula. Satellite imagery posted on April 1 shows that Russian forces have erected defensive lines along key ground lines of communication (GLOCs) and logistics nodes in Crimea, including near Armyansk, along the E105 south of Chonhar (34km northeast of Dzhankoy), along the E97 highway near Filativka (8km southeast of Armyansk), near Vorontsivka (20km south of Armyansk), and along the beaches of Yevpatoria in western Crimea. The Washington Post reported that Russian authorities have focused on erecting new defenses in Crimea in the past few weeks amid rumors of a Ukrainian counteroffensive, including near Vitino on Crimea’s western coast (15km west of Yevpatoria), Medvedivka (22km northeast of Dzhankoy), Armyansk, Maslove (9km north of Dzhankoy), and Novoivanivka (32km northwest of Dzhankoy). The Washington Post also reported that Russian forces have established extensive fortifications along the approach to Crimea from occupied Kherson Oblast.
Russian authorities also continue to struggle with the reconstruction of the Kerch Strait Bridge. Satellite imagery posted on April 3 shows that Russian authorities continue efforts to restore the Kerch Strait Bridge rail track. Krasnodar Krai local news outlet Krasnodarskye Izvestia reported on April 1 that the Kerch Strait road bridge has faced traffic jams of 1.7 to 2km long on both sides of the bridge due to security checkpoints, and that 128 heavy trucks waited in line to ferry across the Kerch Strait that morning.
Ukrainian sources conducted a HIMARS strike against a Russian railway depot in occupied Melitopol, Zaporizhia Oblast for the third time in the past seven days on April 2. Russian sources noted that Ukrainian forces conducted strikes against rear logistics elements during the Kherson Oblast counteroffensive in fall 2022 and expressed concern about Ukrainian forces conducting these strikes against Melitopol to prepare for an upcoming counteroffensive.
Russian forces continued routine fire west of Hulyaipole and in Kherson Oblast on April 2 and 3. Ukrainian Head of the Southern Operational Command Press Center Nataliya Humenyuk stated that the pace of Russian shelling in Kherson Oblast has decreased from 90 to 100 rounds per day the prior week to 50 to 60 in the current week. Humenyuk also stated that Russian forces may have limited their usage of guided aerial bombs in Kherson Oblast on April 1 due to poor weather conditions. A Russian source claimed on April 3 that Russian forces conducted an airstrike against a Ukrainian force concentration near Orikhiv, Zaporizhia Oblast (35km northeast of Tokmak).
Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on April 3 establishing a state fund to support military personnel serving in Ukraine and their families. The decree includes all personnel who served in occupied Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts since February 24, 2022, and in occupied Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts since September 20, 2022. Russian sources reported that the fund’s leadership will include Russian Presidential Administration First Deputy Head Sergey Kiriyenko as Chairperson of the Supervisory Board and wife of the head of Kemerovo Oblast Anna Tsivileva as Chairperson of the Fund. A Russian milblogger criticized this leadership composition, claiming that Putin appointed Tsivileva to head the fund because she is also Putin’s cousin and the head of the Kolmar Group, a large coalmining company.
Russian authorities continue to struggle with internal resistance to the war in Ukraine. Russian sources reported at least four cases of alleged sabotage against Russian railways and arson attempts against military registration and enlistment offices in Russia on April 1 and 2.
Activity in Russian-occupied Areas (Russian objective: consolidate administrative control of annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)
Likely Ukrainian partisans targeted a former Russian occupation official with an improved explosive device (IED) in Melitopol, Zaporizhia Oblast, on April 3. Official Ukrainian sources reported that a car carrying Maksim Zubarev, former occupation head of Yakymivka (15km southwest of Melitopol), exploded in the center of Melitopol on April 3. Russian occupation authorities claimed that unspecified terrorists conducted the attack and that Zubarev is in severe condition. Zaporizhia Occupation Administration Council Member Vladimir Rogov claimed that Melitopol has become the center for terrorist activity in “Novorossiya,” and advocated for the reestablishment of the death penalty to particularly target “terrorist” activities in occupied territories.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a package of eight laws on April 3 on establishing courts in occupied territories. The laws create regional and arbitration courts in occupied territories and define the procedure for selecting the courts’ initial judicial composition. The laws dictate that existing courts in occupied territories may continue operations in accordance with Russian legal standards until the new laws come into force on April 20.
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 President Alexander Lukashenko ordered a combat readiness check for Belarusian forces on April 3. The Belarusian MoD stated that one unspecified formation will conduct the combat readiness check, which will focus on the ability of commanders to manage subordinate units and subunits. Belarusian Defense Minister Lieutenant General Viktor Khrenin announced the appointment of Colonel Vladimir Bely as Commander of Belarus’ Western Operational Command.
Belarusian authorities continue to advance Russia’s false narrative of nuclear escalation, likely to intimidate NATO states from providing military aid to Ukraine. The Belarusian Ambassador to Russia claimed on April 2 that Russian tactical nuclear weapons will be deployed on Belarus’ western border with NATO countries and that the weapons would expand Belarusian defensive capabilities. ISW previously assessed that Putin attempts to exploit Western fears of nuclear escalation while the risk of Russia using nuclear weapons remains extremely low. Russia has long fielded nuclear-capable weapons with the ability to strike any targets that tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus could hit.
Independent Belarusian monitoring group The Hajun Project reported on March 30 that four Russian An-124 military transport aircraft arrived at the Gomel airport purportedly carrying a large payload, possibly S-300 or S-400 missiles, since March 25. Belarusian human rights organization Charter 97 amplified reports that seven Russian military transport aircraft allegedly carrying large payloads landed at the Gomel airport since March 25.
The Belarusian State Security Committee announced on April 3 that detainees suspected of the Machulishchy Airfield sabotage attack could face the death penalty.
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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