Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, August 3
Kateryna Stepanenko, Katherine Lawlor, Karolina Hird, Angela Howard, and Frederick W. Kagan
August 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.
Russian forces are likely using Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in Enerhodar to play on Western fears of a nuclear disaster in Ukraine, likely in an effort to degrade Western will to provide military support to a Ukrainian counteroffensive. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi said on August 3 that Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), which is currently occupied by Russian forces, is “completely out of control” and that “every principle of nuclear safety has been violated” at the plant. He warned that Russian forces are not respecting the physical integrity of the plant and pleaded with Russia and Ukraine to quickly facilitate a visit of IAEA monitors to the complex. Russian Zaporizhia Occupation Administration Head Evgeniy Balitskyi responded that the IAEA was welcome at the plant: “We are ready to show how the Russian military guards it today, and how Ukraine, which receives weapons from the West, uses these weapons, including drones, to attack the nuclear plant, acting like a monkey with a grenade.” Russian officials are framing Ukraine as irresponsibly using Western-provided weapons and risking nuclear disaster to dissuade Western and other allied states from providing additional military support to Ukraine’s looming southern counteroffensive.
Russian forces based around the NPP have attacked Ukrainian positions in Nikopol and elsewhere in recent weeks, intentionally putting Ukraine in a difficult position—either Ukraine returns fire, risking international condemnation and a nuclear incident (which Ukrainian forces are unlikely to do), or Ukrainian forces allow Russian forces to continue firing on Ukrainian positions from an effective “safe zone.” Ukrainian Mayor of Enerhodar Dmytro Orlov reported on August 3 that Russian forces launched rockets on Enerhodar from neighboring villages to falsely accuse Ukrainian forces of shelling Enerhodar and endangering the NPP. ISW assessed on July 21 that Russian forces may be storing heavy military equipment in the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in Enerhodar to protect it from Ukrainian strikes. Russian forces have also likely staged false flag attacks around Enerhodar since early July, as ISW previously reported.
Russian forces likely set fire to the prison complex holding Ukrainian POWs in occupied Donetsk Oblast but blamed Ukraine for an alleged precision strike using Western-supplied military equipment, likely to deter additional Western military support to Ukraine. The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that it has determined that the Wagner Group deliberately set fire to the prison complex on July 28. This report is consistent with the damage observable in Russian-provided video of the site. The GUR reported that Wagner forces "mined” the building with unspecified flammable substances, which led to a rapid spread of fire throughout the building. Russian-provided footage and commercial satellite imagery from the colony showed that the walls of the building were burned but still standing and did not reveal shell craters or other indicators consistent with an artillery strike. ISW previously reported that imagery from the site shows that the attack only damaged one building, did not collapse the walls of that building, and did not leave any shell craters in the vicinity, very strongly suggesting that the destruction of the prison was the result of either a precision strike or an internally planted incendiary or explosive. Russian officials previously claimed that the deaths of the POWs were the result of a Ukrainian HIMARS strike, likely as a component of the ongoing Russian information operation attempting to dissuade the US from continuing to provide Ukraine with HIMARS.
The Kremlin is likely continuing efforts to leverage its relationship with Tehran in order to receive drones for use in Ukraine. Russian state-owned space agency Roscosmos announced on August 3 that Russia will launch a remote-sensing satellite (named “Khayyam”) into orbit on behalf of Iran on August 9. The Kremlin may intend this launch to encourage or repay Tehran for the provision of Iranian drones that would be employed in operations in Ukraine, and possibly other military equipment or support. Iran has a huge ballistic missile arsenal and domestic missile manufacturing capabilities that it could provide to Russia in exchange for economic and military cooperation. Iran has prioritized the development of its military space program in recent years and launched one satellite in April 2020 and one in April 2022. US and Middle Eastern officials stated as early as June 2021 that Russian officials were preparing to send a Russian-made Kanopus-V satellites to Iran, which would expand Tehran’s overall surveillance capabilities in the Middle East and beyond. As ISW reported on August 2, Russian and Iran are likely continuing to facilitate cooperation through recently signed bilateral aviation agreements in order to bolster Russian military capabilities in Ukraine and assist Tehran with sanctions mitigation.
The Russian Defense Ministry has altered the focus of its reporting after the fall of Lysychansk, likely to orient on narratives that resonate positively with milbloggers and war correspondents rather than those that draw criticism from that community. The Russian Defense Ministry has shifted its reporting style to focus on claims of declining Ukrainian morale and successful Russian strikes on Western-provided military equipment, rather than reporting on day-to-day Russian advances on the frontline. Russian forces have made limited gains around Bakhmut and Avdiivka in recent days, but the Russian Defense Ministry has not claimed territorial gains around the theater since at least the fall of Lysychansk. Milbloggers, war correspondents, and other groups have criticized the Defense Ministry and the Kremlin for exaggerated and inaccurate claims of territorial gains, undermining Moscow’s narratives and credibility. The Defense Ministry apparently flirted with the idea of suppressing or attempting to control the milblogger community, but it seems instead to have opted to adjust its own narratives. The Defense Ministry is now letting milbloggers, war correspondents, and DNR officials cover the situation unfolding in Avdiivka, Pisky, and south of Bakhmut positively without making claims of its own that might draw criticism. Milbloggers released footage from the reported capture of the Butivka Coal Mine ventilation shaft and on the southern outskirts of Pisky, where they celebrated recapturing small segments of years-long contested territory--but the Defense Ministry has made no statement on the subject. Some of the milbloggers such as Maksim Fomin (known under alias Vladelen Tatarzkiy) have previously served within DNR units and include anecdotes about their service in the Donetsk City area prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Such coverage of the war likely aims to boost morale among DNR and Russian fighters. The Kremlin or the Defense Ministry may have decided that the milbloggers and war correspondents are more credible sources for the constituencies it cares most about and realized that its own claims were losing credibility. They may alternatively be focusing on narratives that generate positive resonance within that community.
- Russian forces are likely using Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in Enerhodar to play on Western fears of a nuclear disaster in Ukraine, attempting to thereby degrade the will of Western powers to provide military support to a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
- Russian forces likely set fire to the prison complex holding Ukrainian POWs in occupied Donetsk Oblast but blamed Ukraine for an alleged precision strike using Western-supplied military equipment, likely to increase US hesitancy to continue providing HIMARS to Ukraine.
- Moscow is likely continuing efforts to leverage its relationship with Tehran in order to secure drones for use in Ukraine.
- Russian forces conducted a limited ground attack northwest of Slovyansk and continued efforts to advance on Bakhmut from the northeast, east, and southeast.
- Russian forces are prioritizing frontal assaults on Avdiivka and failed to gain ground in Pisky.
- Russian forces are reportedly forming a strike group to prevent Ukrainian counteroffensives in northern Kherson Oblast or counterattack against them.
- Russian occupation authorities may allow both in-person and online voting in upcoming pseudo-referenda on the annexation of occupied Ukrainian territory into Russia, enabling more straightforward Russian vote rigging.
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.
- Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of one subordinate and two supporting efforts);
- Subordinate Main Effort—Encirclement of Ukrainian Troops in the Cauldron between Izyum and Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts
- Supporting Effort 1—Kharkiv City
- Supporting Effort 2—Southern Axis
- Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
- Activities in Russian-occupied Areas
Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine
Subordinate Main Effort—Southern Kharkiv, Donetsk, Luhansk Oblasts (Russian objective: Encircle Ukrainian forces in Eastern Ukraine and capture the entirety of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)
Russian forces conducted a limited ground attack northwest of Slovyansk and continued to shell settlements west and southeast of Izyum on August 3. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops neutralized a Russian reconnaissance-in-force attempt south of Mazanivka, about 25km northwest of Slovyansk near the Kharkiv-Donetsk Oblast border. Russian forces additionally conducted artillery strikes near Protopopivka, Mechebylove, Husarivka, Chepil and Nortsivka, all settlements lying along the arc that ranges from the west to northwest of the Izyum area. Continual artillery strikes west of Izyum are consistent with ISW’s assessment that Russian forces may be setting conditions to advance westward from the rear of the Izyum-Slovyansk line further into Kharkiv Oblast.
Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed ground assaults in the Siversk area and shelled Siversk City and surrounding settlements on August 3.
Russian forces conducted a series of ground attacks to the northeast, east, and southeast of Bakhmut on August 3. The Ukrainian General Staff stated that Russian forces conducted assaults around Volodymyrivka, Yakovlivka, and Soledar (all within 15km northeast of Bakhmut), Pokrovske (about 5km due east of Bakhmut), and Vidrozhennya, Kodema, Zaitseve, Semihirya, and Dolomytne (all within 20km southeast of Bakhumt). The Territorial Defense of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) claimed that DNR forces have taken control of Travneve, a small settlement about 19km south of Bakhmut. While ISW cannot independently confirm the validity of this territorial claim, it is consistent with reports that Russian forces are continuing to fight for positions around the Novoluhanske area in an effort to push northwards on Bakhmut.
Russian forces continued to prioritize unsuccessful frontal assaults onto Avdiivka and failed to advance into Pisky on August 3. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces unsuccessfully attempted to break through Ukrainian defenses in Avdiivka from Spartak and Mineralne, both situated southwest and southeast of Avdiivka, respectively. Russian forces also resumed unsuccessful assaults northeast of Avdiivka, attempting to attack Kransohorivka from both Novoselivka Druha and Vasylivka. The Ukrainian General Staff also noted that Ukrainian forces repelled a Russian assault on Pisky from the Donetsk City direction. Russian milblogger Maksim Fomin (alias Vladelen Tatarzkiy) published footage of Russian troops on the southern outskirts of Pisky, despite claiming that many Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) battalions are successfully advancing through Pisky. DNR First Deputy Information Minister Daniil Bezsonov claimed that Russian forces have secured half of Pisky on August 3, but the claim is not consistent with Fomin’s footage. Russian forces continued heavy shelling around Avdiivka and Pisky in an attempt to disrupt Ukrainian fortifications and set conditions for an advance.
Ukrainian forces repelled Russian offensive operations west of Donetsk City on August 3. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces unsuccessfully attempted to advance to Mariinka and Bilohirka and withdrew. Russian forces have not been consistently fighting around Mariinka compared to persistent assaults around Avdiivka and Bakhmut.
Supporting Effort #1—Kharkiv City (Russian objective: Defend ground lines of communication (GLOCs) to Izyum and prevent Ukrainian forces from reaching the Russian border)
Russian forces continued limited unsuccessful ground attacks along the Kharkiv City Axis on August 3. Russian forces failed to advance in the Kochubeivka-Dementiivka direction, approximately 40km north of Kharkiv City. Russian troops are continuing efforts to maintain occupied frontiers in northeast Kharkiv Oblast and conducted aerial reconnaissance and electronic warfare (EW) operations in this area. Kharkiv Oblast Head Oleg Synegubov stated that Russian forces struck two neighborhoods in Kharkiv City with S-300 air defense missiles shot from Belgorod, Russia, and continued shelling areas north, east, and south of Kharkiv City.
Supporting Effort #2—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Defend Kherson and Zaporizhia Oblasts against Ukrainian counterattacks)
Russian forces attempted to regain lost positions in northwestern Kherson Oblast on August 2 and August 3. Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian forces conducted an unsucessful reconnaissance-in-force operation near Bilohirka on the western bank of the Inhulets River. Russian forces have also carried out an airstrike on Andriivka, just south of Bilohirka, likely in an effort to destroy the Ukrainian bridgehead over the Inhulets River. Russian forces continued to shell Ukrainian positions along the Kherson Oblast border, and have launched Smerch MLRS rockets, S-300 air defense missiles, and three Kh-101 cruise missiles onto Mykolaiv City and Mykolaiv Oblast.
Russian forces are reportedly creating a strike group to preempt Ukrainian counteroffensives on the Kherson-Dnipropetrovsk Oblast administrative border. The Ukrainian Southern Operational Command reported that Russian forces are creating a strike group to conduct offensive operations in northern Kherson Oblast, repel Ukrainian counteroffensives, and reach the Kherson-Dnipropetrovsk Oblast administrative border. Kryvyi Rih Military Administration Head Oleksandr Vilkul added that Russian forces are accumulating military equipment and servicemen in the Kryvyi Rih direction (referring to troop positioning in northern Kherson Oblast). Russian forces may be continuing to shell settlements around southwest of Kryvyi Rih and Nikopol to either set conditions for an advance from northern Kherson Oblast onto Zaporizhia City via Nikopol or are targeting Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) from Zaporizhia City ahead of Ukrainian counteroffensives.
Russian forces are continuing to transfer equipment throughout the Southern Axis. Geolocated social media footage showed Russian military vehicles moving in the northern direction from southern Melitopol. Mariupol Mayor Advisor Petro Andryushenko published footage of a Russian military convoy composed of engineering vehicles and trucks driving from Mariupol in the direction of Berdyansk. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces are withdrawing military equipment that had originally been committed to the Zaporizhia Oblast frontline at the end of May due to a lack of personnel to man the equipment. The Ukrainian General Staff added that Russian forces are distributing the withdrawn equipment to unspecified tank elements of the 58th Combined Arms Army. Such redistribution may indicate that the Zaporizhia Oblast frontline is particularly vulnerable but that the Russians do not intend to reinforce it.
Russian forces are attempting to repair Russian GLOCs after Ukrainian strikes on Russian strongholds in southern Ukraine. Advisor to the Kherson Oblast Military Administration Head Serhiy Khlan reported that Russian forces began to spread out ammunition warehouses to mitigate the risks and effectiveness of Ukrainian strikes but noted that such distribution disadvantages Russian positions in Kherson Oblast. Social media footage also showed that Russian forces are attempting to repair the Antonivskiy Road Bridge east of Kherson City and are extensively using a ferry over the Dnipro River. The UK Defense Ministry assessed that Ukrainian strikes on a Russian ammunition train in Brylivka on July 30 has likely temporarily impaired Russian railway connections between Kherson Oblast and Crimea, but it noted that Russian forces are likely to repair the railway line within a few days. Social media footage of an explosion in Brylivka published on August 3 suggests that Ukrainian forces might have targeted the location for the second time. Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov stated that Russian forces are trying to restore their bases at the Melitopol airfield.
Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)
Russian military leadership likely ordered the establishment of “places of rest” for Russian servicemembers within occupied Ukraine to enable some leave for Russian forces without letting those forces go back to Russian territory, where they could more easily desert. Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported on August 3 that Russian forces in the villages of Henicheska Hirka and Antonivka, Kherson Oblast are nationalizing (illegally seizing) privately-owned children’s camps, recreation facilities, and clubs, and bought up inflatable boats and mattresses, to establish “bases for the location and rest of the occupying forces.”
Activity in Russian-occupied Areas (Russian objective: consolidate administrative control of occupied areas; set conditions for potential annexation into the Russian Federation or some other future political arrangement of Moscow’s choosing)
Russian occupation authorities may allow both in-person and online voting in upcoming pseudo-referenda on the annexation of occupied Ukrainian territory into Russia, enabling more straightforward Russian vote rigging. The Ukrainian Mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, announced on August 2 that Russian occupation forces plan to allow “voting from home” in the upcoming faux referendum that Russia will use to annex occupied Ukrainian territories. Fedorov warned that occupation forces are threatening to deport Ukrainians who vote against the sham referendum. Ukrainian news outlet Strana previously reported on July 29 that the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) “Public Headquarters of the Referendum” announced it will be possible to vote online in the referendum to join Russia. The Kremlin introduced online voting to some regional Russian elections in 2021 and spread it to the entire country in March 2022, likely to enable Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party to more easily pad their votes and to limit the efficacy of election observers. Russian opposition politicians and elections observers reported major discrepancies between online votes and paper ballots in areas where online voting was tested in 2021, suggesting that the Kremlin added online votes to their tally whenever their candidates needed a boost. Online voting in occupied Ukrainian territories would be even more farcical—many civilians in occupied areas have no access to electricity or running water, let alone to the internet.
Russian occupation authorities are continuing to set conditions for long-term Russian control of occupied Ukrainian territories. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin met with the head of the Russian-appointed head of the Zaporizhia Occupation Administration, Evgeniy Balitskyi, on August 3 to discuss a comprehensive, three-year plan to rebuild roads in Zaporizhia Oblast and to discuss increasing Russian financing of the region. Balitskyi separately announced that occupation authorities are extending the deadline for local businesspeople and legal entities to register for business licenses in the oblast, suggesting that many Ukrainian businesses are not cooperating with Russian occupiers. Deputy Kherson Occupation Administration Head Ekaterina Gubareva announced on August 3 that occupation authorities will give Russian passports and citizenship to people in Kherson even if they do not have local residency permits or permanent addresses in the region. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported on August 3 that Russian occupation forces are destroying Ukrainian telecommunications networks that refused to cooperate with the occupiers in Chornobaivka, Kherson Oblast. GUR added that Russian occupation forces are attempting to force occupied populations to use Russian rubles instead of Ukrainian hryvnyas by destroying ATMs that process hryvnya transactions.
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