Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 2, 2023
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 2, 2023
Karolina Hird, Riley Bailey, George Barros, Layne Philipson, Nicole Wolkov, and Frederick W. Kagan
February 2, 7:15pm 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.
A Ukrainian intelligence official stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian military to capture Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts by March 2023, supporting ISW’s most likely course of action assessment (MLCOA) for a Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Representative Andriy Chernyak told the Kyiv Post on February 1 that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian military to capture all of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts by March 2023. Chernyak also stated that Russian forces are redeploying additional unspecified assault groups, units, weapons, and military equipment to unspecified areas of eastern Ukraine, likely in the Luhansk Oblast area.
Russian authorities blocked internet cell service in occupied Luhansk Oblast likely as part of an effort to intensify operational security to conceal new Russian force deployments in Luhansk Oblast. The only mobile cell service provider in Russian-occupied Luhansk Oblast reported on February 2 that it would suspend mobile internet coverage in Luhansk Oblast starting on February 11 on orders from the Russian Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported that Russian officials already disabled mobile internet in occupied Luhansk Oblast as of February 2. Ukrainian citizens have used cell phones to collect information about Russian forces in occupied Ukraine and send targeting information to the Ukrainian military. Russian forces may be learning from their previous operational security failures and adapting to protect Russian force concentrations in Luhansk Oblast ahead of the major offensive about which Ukrainian officials are increasingly warning.
Putin may have overestimated the Russian military’s own capabilities again, as ISW previously assessed. ISW has not observed any evidence that Russian forces have restored sufficient combat power to defeat Ukraine’s forces in eastern Ukraine and capture over 11,300 square kilometers of unoccupied Donetsk Oblast (over 42 percent of Donetsk Oblast’s total area) before March as Putin reportedly ordered. ISW previously assessed that a major Russian offensive before April 2023 would likely prematurely culminate during the April spring rain season (if not before) before achieving operationally significant effects. Russian forces’ culmination could then generate favorable conditions for Ukrainian forces to exploit in their own late spring or summer 2023 counteroffensive after incorporating Western tank deliveries.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov supported ISW’s MLCOA assessment and possibly suggested that Russian forces have mobilized substantially more personnel for an imminent offensive. Reznikov stated on February 2 that Russian forces are preparing to launch an offensive, likely in eastern or southern Ukraine. Reznikov stated that Ukrainian officials estimate that the number of mobilized Russian personnel is higher than the Kremlin’s official 300,000 figure. Reznikov stated that the Kremlin mobilized 500,000 Russian soldiers, although it is unclear whether this figure refers to Russian force generation efforts following the start of partial mobilization in September of 2022 or the total number of forces that Russia has committed to the war in Ukraine. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Head Kyrylo Budanov stated on January 31 that there are currently 326,000 Russian forces fighting in Ukraine, excluding the 150,000 mobilized personnel still at training grounds. The total 476,000 personnel could be representative of Reznikov‘s figure, or the 500,000 figure could reflect an assessment that ongoing Russian crypto-mobilization efforts since the end of the first mobilization wave have generated a substantial number of additional forces. ISW has not observed indicators that crypto-mobilization efforts in past months have produced as many as 200,000 additional mobilized personnel, however, although it is possible. The mobilization of 300,000 Russian citizens generated far-reaching domestic social ramifications and provisioning challenges, and the further covert mobilization of another 200,000 personnel would likely produce similarly noticeable problems.
Russian officials are continuing efforts to frame the war in Ukraine as an existential threat to Russian audiences in order to set information conditions for a protracted war and maintain domestic support for continued military operations. In a February 2 speech at a concert dedicated to the 80th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi troops by the Red Army in the Battle of Stalingrad, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that Russia is once again facing a modern manifestation of Nazism that is directly threatening Russian security. Putin falsely accused the collective West of forcing Russia to repel its aggression and remarked that Russia is “once against being threatened with German Leopard tanks” that are “going to fight with Russia on the soil of Ukraine with the hands of Hitler‘s descendants.”  Putin has previously similarly weaponized erroneous historical parallels to analogize the “special military operation” in Ukraine with the Great Patriotic War, partially in an effort to set long-term information conditions for a protracted war in Ukraine. German tanks, and Ukraine and the West more generally, are nowhere near attacking Russian borders. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov similarly perpetuated the information operation that the war in Ukraine poses a tangible domestic threat to Russia on February 2 and claimed that Western-supplied long-range weapons necessitate efforts to drive Ukrainian artillery far enough away from Russian territory that Ukraine will no longer be able to strike these areas. Lavrov is advancing an ongoing information operation that seeks to highlight the fictional threat of Ukrainian ground attacks on Russian territory to make the consequences of the war seem more salient to a domestic audience.
These efforts on the part of Russian officials are not succeeding in generating the likely desired effect of motivating Russians to want to participate in the war, however. Russian State Services announced that as of February 2, the acceptance of applications for new passports has been suspended. Russian research and design joint-stock company Goznak (responsible for manufacturing security products such as banknotes and identity cards) responded with a statement that it has received an inundation of applications for the personalization of foreign passports, which require special embedded microchips. The shortage of microchips for passports and subsequent suspension of passport applications are in part consequences of the mass application for foreign passports in 2022, partially due to the exodus caused by partial mobilization. The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that it issued over 5.4 million passports in 2022, 40% more than in the previous year. The increase in passport applications indicates that social conditioning efforts to bring the “special military operation” home to Russia and reinvigorate patriotic fervor are not having the desired effect. The Kremlin need not look further than passport statistics to poll domestic attitudes on the Russian population’s desire to fight Putin’s war.
- A Ukrainian intelligence official stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian military to capture Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts by March 2023, supporting ISW’s most likely course of action assessment (MLCOA) for a Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine.
- Russian authorities blocked internet cell service in occupied Luhansk Oblast likely as part of an effort to intensify operational security to conceal new Russian force deployments in Luhansk Oblast.
- Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov supported ISW’s MLCOA assessment and possibly suggested that Russian forces have mobilized substantially more personnel for an imminent offensive.
- Russian officials are continuing efforts to frame the war in Ukraine as an existential threat to Russian audiences in order to set information conditions for protracted war and maintain domestic support for continued military operations. These efforts on the part of Russian officials are not succeeding in generating the likely desired effect of motivating Russians to want to participate in the war, however.
- Russian and Ukrainian sources suggested that Russian forces may be preparing offensive actions in the Svatove area.
- Russian forces intensified ground attacks in the Kreminna area on February 2.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks northeast and southwest of Bakhmut.
- Russian officials are likely trying to prepare the Russian military’s disciplinary apparatus for an influx of mobilized personnel.
- Russian forces and occupation authorities continue efforts to identify and arrest Crimean Tatars on allegations that they associate with extremist movements banned in Russia.
- Russian federal subjects and occupation authorities continued announcing patronage programs to support infrastructure projects in occupied territories.
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.
- Ukrainian Counteroffensives—Eastern Ukraine
- Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of one subordinate and one supporting effort);
- Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
- Russian Supporting Effort—Southern Axis
- Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
- Activities in Russian-occupied Areas
Ukrainian Counteroffensives (Ukrainian efforts to liberate Russian-occupied territories)
Eastern Ukraine: (Eastern Kharkiv Oblast-Western Luhansk Oblast)
Russian and Ukrainian sources suggested that Russian forces may be preparing offensive actions in the Svatove area. Luhansk Oblast Head Serhiy Haidai stated on February 2 that Russian forces have increased the rate of shelling in the Svatove and Kremmina directions in preparation for an offensive effort in February, supporting ISW’s previous assessment that a Russian offensive effort in Luhansk Oblast is the most likely course of action (MLCOA). A Russian milblogger claimed on February 2 that Ukrainian forces pulled troops to the Kupyansk area due to increased Russian forays on the Hrianykivka-Petropavlivka-Synkivka line (about 50km northwest of Svatove). The milblogger also added that Ukrainian troops deployed sabotage and reconnaissance groups near Kyslivka (25km northwest of Svatove) to monitor the Russian presence in the area. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on February 2 that Russian forces are preparing to destroy road infrastructure and mine bridges, dams, and crossings near Tavilzhanka (50km north of Svatove on the P79 Kupyansk-Lyman Druhyi highway) in Kharkiv Oblast. These attacks may suggest that Russian forces seek to disrupt Ukrainian logistics necessary for future Ukrainian advances or could be meant to isolate the Ukrainian-held territory between Kupyansk and the front line to facilitate Russian offensive operations in this sector.
Russian forces intensified ground attacks in the Kreminna area on February 2. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults near Ploshchanka (16km northwest of Kreminna), Nevske (18km northwest of Kreminna), Chervonopopivka (6km north of Kreminna), Dibrova (5km southwest of Kreminna), and Kuzmyne (3km southwest of Kreminna) in Luhansk Oblast. This is notably a higher number of reported repelled attacks than is typical in the Kreminna area. A Russian milblogger claimed on February 2 that unspecified Russian airborne elements with the support of the 144th Motorized Rifle Division and its 59th Tank Regiment (20th Combined Arms Army, Western Military District) pushed Ukrainian forces back by one kilometer near Kreminna. Another Russian milblogger claimed on February 2 that the 144th Motorized Rifle Division almost reached Yampolivka (16km west of Kreminna) in Donetsk Oblast and that assault groups began advancing on Ukrainian positions near Dibrova. ISW continues to assess that the MLCOA for the coming months is a Russian offensive effort in Luhansk Oblast, likely along the Svatove-Kreminna line, and will continue to present indicators that this offensive may be beginning as it observes them. The increased pace of attacks near Kreminna on February 2 may suggest that Russian forces are setting conditions for an offensive effort in this sector, but the offensive effort itself has likely not yet commenced.
Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine
Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)
Russian forces continued ground attacks around Bakhmut on February 2. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks on Bakhmut itself; northeast of Bakhmut near Spirne (27km northeast), Bilohorivka (20km northeast), Vasyukivka (10km north), Blahodatne (5km north), and Krasna Hora (4km north); and southwest of Bakhmut near Klishchiivka (7km southwest). Geolocated footage confirms that Russian forces have made incremental advances northeast of Bakhmut near Rozdolivka (15km northeast of Bakhmut) and on the northern outskirts of Bakhmut itself. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that the Wagner Group captured Sacco i Vanzetti and Mykolaivka, two settlements about 15km north of Bakhmut, on February 1 and 2, respectively. Russian milbloggers continued to claim that Wagner Group forces are trying to encircle Krasna Hora from the direction of Paraskoviivka (5km north of Bakhmut) and Blahodatne and making gains in urban areas on the northern and eastern outskirts of Bakhmut. Russian milbloggers additionally reported that Ukrainian troops are holding their positions in Ivanivske (5km west of Bakhmut along the T0504 Kostyantynivka-Chasiv Yar-Bakhmut highway) and claimed that Wagner fighters have advanced to within two kilometers of the T0504 highway.
It is still unclear whether Russian operations in the Rozdolivka-Mykolaivka area northeast of Bakhmut are intended to support the encirclement of Bakhmut by pushing southwest along the T1302 Bakhmut-Siversk highway, or if they are meant to splinter from the Bakhmut axis and push northeast along the T1302 towards Siversk. Russian forces may feasibly seek to use gains north of Soledar as a launching pad for northeastward attacks towards Siversk, potentially to support enveloping the Ukrainian defensive position on the west side (right bank) of the Siversky Donetsk River. Russian forces may also be trying to consolidate gains northeast of Bakhmut, however, in order to create a wider pocket of defensible terrain from which they can attempt to encircle Bakhmut by pushing down along the T1302. ISW will continue to monitor the situation on this sector of the front to determine indicators for intent to either support the encirclement of Bakhmut or open a new axis of attacks towards Siversk. Further Russian operations northeast of the Rozdolivka-Mykolaivka area may be indicators of the Siversk course of action (COA).
Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed or claimed ground attacks along the western outskirts of Donetsk City or in western Donetsk Oblast on February 2. Russian milbloggers noted that the pace of hostilities on the Donetsk front has decreased but that Russian troops are still fighting for the western parts of Marinka, on the southwestern outskirts of Donetsk City. A Russian source reported that elements of the Donetsk People’s Republic 5th Brigade and tank battalion elements of the 103rd Motorized Rifle Regiment of the 150th Rifle Division (8th Combined Arms Army, Southern Military District) are operating in the Marinka area. Russian milbloggers also claimed that the frontline near Vuhledar (30km southwest of Donetsk City) has stabilized and that fighting in this area has become positional. A Ukrainian reserve officer claimed that an unspecified brigade of the Russian 3rd Army Corps and a few battalions of the 36th Combined Arms Army (Eastern Military District) are reinforcing the front near Vuhledar. Head of the Joint Press Center of Ukrainian Defense Forces in the Tavriisk direction, Colonel Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskyi, reported that 10 soldiers of the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade surrendered to Ukrainian troops near Vuhledar.
Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)
Ukrainian forces continue to strike Russian concentration areas and logistics in southern Ukraine. Social media sources amplified geolocated footage on February 2 that shows Ukrainian forces striking Russian surface-to-air missile systems near Oleskhy, Kherson Oblast, reportedly belonging to the 80th Separate Arctic Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Northern Fleet. Geolocated footage published on February 2 shows the aftermath of a reported Ukrainian HIMARS strike on a Russian ammunition depot near Novoukrainka, Zaporizhia Oblast.
Russian forces continued routine artillery strikes west of Hulyaipole and in Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson, and Mykolaiv oblasts on February 2. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces struck Kherson City and Ochakiv, Mykolaiv Oblast.
Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)
Russian officials are likely trying to prepare the Russian military’s disciplinary apparatus for an influx of mobilized personnel. Russian Duma Deputies Andrey Kartopolov and Andrey Krasov submitted a bill that would allow Russian military unit commanders and garrison commandants to arrest personnel, send them to guardhouses, and hold them there for up to 10 days without a court decision. Russian officials likely introduced the measure to prepare the Russian military’s disciplinary apparatus for the likely deployment of roughly 150,000 remaining mobilized personnel to Ukraine in support of a Russian offensive in the coming months, as well as to prepare for future waves of mobilization. Russian officials likely seek to avoid the chaos that the Russian military faced during partial mobilization in the fall of 2022 when the rapid influx of mobilized personnel resulted in a significant increase in cases of desertion, refusal to follow orders, and other disciplinary offenses. The bill would allow the Russian military to respond more expeditiously to the increase in disciplinary misconduct that would likely accompany the large-scale deployment of mobilized personnel.
Russian officials are reportedly intensifying crackdowns against migrants within Russia. A Russian source stated that Moscow City police have tightened checks on migrants and have initiated criminal cases for the forgery of migration documents on a massive scale. The source stated that Russian law enforcement became more attentive to pursuing criminal charges against illegal migrants, instead of just expelling them from Russia. Select Russian officials have recently framed non-Russian migrants as a source of crime and social unrest, and the reported increase in crackdowns on migrants in Russia may be tied to this rhetoric. Russian officials may also be attempting to coerce migrants into serving with the Russian military in Ukraine in place of serving out prison terms. This possible effort could also be aimed at providing the Wagner Group with a larger recruitment pool amid indications that its prison recruitment campaign is slowing.
Ukrainian sources reported that Russian officials are continuing covert mobilization measures in occupied territories. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on February 2 that Russian occupation officials in Horlivka, Donetsk Oblast ordered all budget and communal institutions to submit lists of persons to the occupation military registration office and that a special commission will evaluate these people for conscription into the Russian military.
Ukrainian sources reported that Russian servicemembers continue to face issues in completing contracts due to the partial mobilization decree. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that the Russian military is refusing to release 300 Russian soldiers operating in Luhansk Oblast from service, despite the fact that their three-month contracts have expired. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that these Russian servicemembers have not received any financial support despite their continued service. ISW continues to assess that the Kremlin will not formally rescind the partial mobilization decree in order to legally justify the continued service of mobilized personnel for an indefinite period of time.
Russian sources are likely amplifying claims that select groups of foreigners are serving in a Russian volunteer battalion to signal to specific foreign countries that there are supposedly domestic constituencies in their countries that hold pro-Russian positions. Russian sources amplified claims on February 2 that Turkish volunteers began combat training with Zaporizhia Oblast occupation administration head Yevgeny Balitsky’s Sudaplatov Volunteer Battalion occupied Zaporizhia Oblast. One Russian source amplified a video showing an anonymous volunteer speaking Turkish, but Russian sources did not provide any other visual confirmation that Turkish nationals were serving with the volunteer battalion. Russian sources have also claimed that Serbian and Swedish nationals are serving in the same volunteer battalion. ISW has not observed any confirmation that Turkish, Serbian, or Swedish nationals are serving in this volunteer formation. Whether these foreign nationals are serving in this formation or not, Russian sources are likely amplifying these claims to signal to Turkey, Serbia, and Sweden that there are supposed domestic constituencies in their respective countries that hold pro-Russian positions. If these claims are true, then the volunteer battalion will likely face significant command and control challenges.
Activity in Russian-occupied Areas (Russian objective: consolidate administrative control of and annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)
Russian forces and occupation authorities continue efforts to identify and arrest Crimean Tatars on allegations that they associate with extremist movements banned in Russia. Russian sources claimed on February 2 that the Russian Federal State Security Service (FSB) arrested an alleged member of the Noman Chelebidzhikhan Volunteer Battalion (an armed resistance formation established and disbanded in 2016 to reject Russia’s invasion of Crimea, which remains banned in Russia). The FSB’s recent arrests of Crimean Tatars are likely connected to Russia’s long-standing effort to consolidate societal control of occupied Crimea by promoting the notion that anti-Russian sentiment is extremist or terrorist activity. The FSB’s intensifying crackdowns on Crimean Tatars are also likely connected with Russia’s large-scale efforts to conduct an ethnic cleansing campaign in occupied territories.
Russian federal subjects and occupation authorities continued announcing patronage programs to support infrastructure projects in occupied territories on February 2. Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) Head Denis Pushilin and Kamchatka Krai Governor Vladimir Solodov announced on February 2 that Kamchatka Krai has taken patronage of Svitlodarsk and Myronivskyi, both in occupied Donetsk Oblast. Pushilin stated that Kamtachtka Krai has already provided the two settlements with humanitarian aid and claimed that he and Solodov discussed plans to build roads, kindergartens, schools, and a sports complex. Pushilin stated that residents in occupied Svitlodarsk and Myronivskyi should expect the results of the partnership by the fall of 2023.
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 military authorities stated that Belarusian and Russian forces concluded their joint tactical aviation exercises on February 2, as ISW assessed on February 1. It is unclear whether the Russian aircraft that deployed to Belarusian airfields to participate in these exercises will remain in Belarus or return to Russia.
Belarusian maneuver elements continue conducting exercises in Belarus. Unspecified elements of the Belarusian 38th Airborne Assault Brigade conducted live fire training at the Brest Training Ground in Brest, Belarus, on February 2.
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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