Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, October 28
Kateryna Stepanenko, George Barros, Riley Bailey, Katherine Lawlor, and Frederick W. Kagan
October 28, 8:30 pm ET
Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.
Russian forces are not making significant progress around Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast or anywhere else along the front lines. A Russian information operation is advancing the narrative that Russian forces are making significant progress in Bakhmut, likely to improve morale among Russian forces and possibly to improve the personal standing of Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose forces are largely responsible for the minimal gains in the area. Russian forces have made limited advances towards the Ukrainian strongpoint in Bakhmut but at a very slow speed and at great cost. Prigozhin acknowledged the slow pace of Wagner Group ground operations around Bakhmut on October 23 and stated that Wagner forces advance only 100-200m per day, which he absurdly claimed was a normal rate for modern advances. Ukrainian forces recaptured a concrete factory on the eastern outskirts of Bakhmut around October 24. Ukrainian military officials stated on October 16 that Russian forces had falsely claimed to have captured several towns near Bakhmut within the past several days, but Ukrainian forces held their lines against those Russian attacks. Russian forces are likely falsifying claims of advances in the Bakhmut area to portray themselves as making gains in at least one sector amid continuing losses in northeast and southern Ukraine. Even the claimed rate of advance would be failure for a main effort in mechanized war--and the claims are, in fact, exaggerated.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu declared the end of Russian military mobilization on October 28. Shoigu stated that military commissariats will recruit only volunteers and contract soldiers moving forward. Shoigu stated that Russia mobilized 300,000 men, 82,000 of whom are deployed in Ukraine and 218,000 of whom are training at Russian training grounds. Putin stated that 41,000 of the 82,000 servicemen in Ukraine are serving in combat units. Putin acknowledged that Russian forces experienced logistical and supply issues with mobilized forces but falsely asserted that these problems affected only the ”initial stage” of mobilization and that these problems are now solved. Putin stated Russia must ”draw necessary conclusions,” modernize ”the entire system of military registration and enlistment offices” and ”think over and make adjustments to the structure of all components of the Armed Forces, including the Ground Forces.”
Putin likely ended mobilization in Russia to free up administrative and training capacity in time for the delayed start of the Russian autumn conscription cycle, which will begin on November 1. Russia’s military likely does not have the capacity to simultaneously support training 218,000 mobilized men and approximately 120,000 new autumn conscripts. It is unclear how autumn 2022 conscripts will complete their training, moreover, since the usual capstones for Russian conscripts‘ training involves joining a Russian military unit—which are already fighting in Ukraine and badly damaged.
Russia‘s now-completed mobilization is unlikely to decisively impact Russian combat power. Putin described a 50-50 split between mobilized personnel in combat and support roles in Ukraine. If that ratio applies generally, it suggests that a total of 150,000 mobilized personnel will deploy to combat roles in Ukraine after training is complete, likely sometime in November. Russia’s deployment of 41,000 poorly trained combat personnel to Ukraine may have temporarily stiffened Russian defensive lines, although these reservists have not yet faced the full weight of a major and prepared Ukrainian counteroffensive thrust. The deployment has not significantly increased Russian combat power. The deployment of an additional 110,000 or so mobilized men to combat units therefore remains unlikely to change the trajectory of the war.
Putin may be attempting to reestablish Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s authority in the Russian information space to balance the growing influence of the Russian pro-war siloviki faction. The Russian siloviki faction refers to people with meaningful power bases within Putin’s inner circle who are fielding combat forces in Ukraine. Putin could have announced the end of mobilization himself instead of in a meeting with Shoigu or could have tasked Shoigu with concluding the flawed mobilization effort on his own. Their staged public meeting is consistent with the recent surge in Shoigu’s media appearances. For example, Shoigu held several publicized calls with his Turkish, Chinese, and Western counterparts between October 23 and 26. These high-profile meetings differentiate Shoigu and the Russian higher military command from the siloviki, who do not hold the same rank or authority despite their popularity in the Russian information space. Shoigu had made very limited public appearances over the spring and summer. Shoigu’s presence in the information space depends on the approval of the Kremlin, since Putin can control when and whether Shoigu speaks publicly. Shoigu’s siloviki rivals control their own Telegram channels and speak freely to the media.
The growing influence of the siloviki faction – led by Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin – is further fracturing the Russian pro-war community. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov for the second time criticized the commander of the Central Military District (CMD), Colonel General Alexander Lapin, for his management of the Svatove-Kreminna line on October 27. Kadyrov contrasted his harsh criticisms of Lapin with high praise for Prigozhin and Wagner units, even calling Prigozhin a ”born warrior.” Kadyrov has resumed his criticisms of the progress of the Russian invasion and Russian higher military command since October 25, likely in response to a Ukrainian strike on Chechen units in northeastern Kherson Oblast. Kadyrov has since announced that the Ukrainian strike killed 23 Chechen fighters and wounded 58 troops.
Kadyrov accused Lapin of failing to communicate with Chechen leaders, claiming that he had unsuccessfully attempted to reach Lapin to discuss Ukrainian breakthroughs around Lyman. Kadyrov added that no one could locate Lapin or his subordinates when one of Lapin’s units redeployed from Rubizhne to reinforce the frontlines. Kadyrov claimed that Chechen units had to hold Russian defensive positions without Lapin’s support, stated that soldiers are increasingly deserting from Lapin’s units, and insinuated that Lapin will soon lose Svatove. Kadyrov previously attacked Lapin on October 1 for moving his headquarters far from the frontlines and for his military failures, and Prigozhin publicly agreed with Kadyrov’s statement at that time. Kadyrov’s praise of Prigozhin further demonstrates that siloviki are increasingly promoting their parallel military structures at the expense of the reputation of the Russian Armed Forces.
Kadyrov’s accusations have once again created a rift among pro-war Russian milbloggers and exposed concerns over the growing influence of the siloviki faction within the pro-war community. Some milbloggers expressed their support for Lapin, noting that his failures – such as large losses of military equipment in Chernihiv Oblast or the devastating failure at the Siverskyi Donets river crossing in Bilohorivka – were not as severe as other failures of some Russian military commanders even though these same milbloggers had indirectly criticized Lapin for these incidents. Most pro-Lapin milbloggers blamed the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) for abstaining from publicly defending Lapin against the likes of Kadyrov and Prigozhin. A milblogger even noted that it is unacceptable for any Russian governor or regional head to criticize the Russian Armed Forces as such critiques can lead ”to the direct road to the erosion of the very essence of the Russian state.” Kadyrov’s only formal position is head of the Chechen Republic. The milblogger noted that Russian commanders cannot defend their actions on Telegram – unlike Prigozhin and Kadyrov – and stated that such critiques only ignite internal conflicts. Wagner-affiliated Telegram channels, by contrast, amplified reports of dire conditions on the Svatove-Kreminna frontline, discussing the high number of deserters, low morale, poor living conditions, and command cowardice.
Kadyrov’s second critique of Lapin indicates a further fragmentation within the pro-war community that may allow Priogozhin to accrue more power in the long-term. Putin will need to continue to appease the siloviki faction while attempting to support his disgraced higher military command and retain favor with the milbloggers that respect some conventional Russian military commanders such as Lapin and the Commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, Sergei Surovikin.
- Russian forces are not making significant progress around Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast or anywhere else along the front lines.
- President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the end of partial mobilization.
- Putin may be attempting to rehabilitate Shoigu’s image in the information space to counter the growing influence of the pro-war siloviki faction.
- The growing influence of the siloviki faction is continuing to fracture the Russian pro-war community.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive operations in the direction of Kreminna and Svatove.
- Russian forces continued to deploy mobilized personnel to and establish defensive positions on the west bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive operations in northwestern Kherson Oblast.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks in Donetsk Oblast.
- Russian occupation authorities completed their "evacuation” of parts of occupied Kherson Oblast.
- Russian occupation authorities reportedly plan to force Russian citizenship on Ukrainian civilians in occupied parts of Ukraine by October 30, likely in part to legalize the forced mobilization of Ukrainian civilians as part of the November 1 autumn conscription cycle.
- Russian occupation authorities are continuing their attempts to erase Ukrainian history, culture, and national identity in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine.
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—Southern and Eastern Ukraine
- Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of one subordinate and two supporting efforts);
- 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 sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued to conduct counteroffensive operations in the direction of Svatove and Kreminna on October 28. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian forces repelled a Ukrainian assault in the direction of Berestove, Kharkiv Oblast (20km northwest of Svatove). A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces also conducted an assault near Kuzemivka, Luhansk Oblast (13km northwest of Svatove). Another Russian miblogger claimed that Russian artillery fire repelled attempted Ukrainian advances in the direction of Nyzhnia Duvanka near Kyslivka (28km northwest of Svatove) and Orlianka (31km northwest of Svatove) in Kharkiv Oblast. Russian sources reported that Russian forces repelled Ukrainian assaults northwest of Kreminna near Chervonopopivka (6km northwest of Kreminna). ISW cannot independently verify the claims made by Russian sources about Ukrainian assaults in eastern Ukraine on October 28. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian counterattacks west of Lysychansk near Bilohorivka (11km west of Lysychansk) and west of Svatove near Andriivka, Luhansk Oblast (15km west of Svatove).
Russian forces may be facing continuing personnel issues in the Svatove-Kreminna area. A Russian milblogger in the Svatove-Kreminna area claimed on October 27 that Russian forces there are just starting to entrench their defensive positions and that there are instances of personnel refusing orders. The milblogger claimed that low morale among newly mobilized personnel in the area has led commanders to believe they will not willingly fight and therefore commanders have placed mobilized personnel only in the second and third lines of defense. The milblogger also claimed that he witnessed a Russian general pleading with a Russian company to return to their positions on the battlefield along the Svatove-Kreminna line. Personnel issues will likely persist in the Svatove-Kreminna area as Russian forces continue to rely on severely demoralized units and poorly trained mobilized personnel to stabilize the front line in eastern Kharkiv Oblast and western Luhansk Oblast.
Southern Ukraine: (Kherson Oblast)
Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian forces continued to deploy mobilized men and establish defensive positions on the western bank of the Dnipro River on October 28. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that 1,000 mobilized men arrived at the Dnipro River’s western bank, with some deploying to Chervony Mayak, Novoraysk, and Zmyivka about 20km northwest of Beryslav. The spokesperson for Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command, Nataliya Humenyuk, stated that Russian forces are continuing to prepare for street fights in Kherson City and are establishing defenses on both western and eastern riverbanks. The advisor to the head of Kherson Oblast, Serhiy Khlan, added that Russian forces are also heavily mining the outskirts of Kherson City and are clearing hospitals of civilians in the city to prepare to treat military personnel. The deputy head of the Kherson Occupation Administration, Yekaterina Gubareva, announced in October 28 that Russian forces prepared Kherson City for street fighting by strengthening the first floors of buildings, emplacing sandbags, and checking for Ukrainian “saboteurs.” Ukrainian partisans reportedly conducted an arson attack against a Russian patrol police station in Kherson City on October 28. Ukrainian officials also reported that Russian forces are stealing medical equipment from northwestern Kherson Oblast and transporting it to Skadovsk and Henichesk, likely in an effort to prepare defensive positions closer to Crimea. A Russian milblogger operating in Kherson City noted that Rosgvardia units are providing security on the eastern riverbank. Another milblogger noted that Russian forces are turning Kherson Oblast into a ”giant fortress” aimed at defending Crimea and cutting off Ukrainian access to the Black Sea.
Ukrainian forces continued their interdiction campaign on October 28, and a Russian source on the ground corroborated the campaign’s successes. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces hospitalized about 100 wounded servicemen in Kherson Oblast following a Ukrainian strike on an unspecified location. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command also noted that Russian forces are transferring additional hospital beds to accommodate an influx of wounded servicemen. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command added that Ukrainian strikes on an area of manpower and equipment concentration killed 44 Russian servicemen and destroyed two ammunition depots in Beryslav Raion. Ukrainian forces also reportedly struck a Russian pontoon crossing in Kherson Oblast. A Russian milblogger in Kherson City told a Russian state media outlet that the Ukrainian interdiction campaign has seriously disrupted the supply of food and medicines from the eastern bank to the western bank of the Dnipro River. The milblogger stated that due to the damage to the Antonivsky Road Bridge, he had to wait in traffic to board a 10-minute-ferry ride across the river to Kherson City. Russian sources also claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted a missile strike at a cancer care clinic in Kherson Oblast.
Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted limited ground assaults in northwestern Kherson Oblast on October 28. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed Russian artillery and aviation struck Ukrainian reconnaissance and sabotage groups in an unspecified area near the frontline. A Russian milblogger claimed that the Russian 11th Guards Air Assault Brigade targeted a Ukrainian reconnaissance group with a grenade launcher. A Russian milblogger claimed that fighters from the ”Petrovich” private military company (PMC) operating in the Posad-Pokrovske direction shot down a Ukrainian drone, but ISW does not have additional information about the ”Petrovich” PMC at this time. Another Russian source claimed that Russian forces repelled a Ukrainian assault in the Sukhyi Stavok area on the eastern bank of the Inhulets River. Geolocated footage published on October 27 and October 28 showed Ukrainian force striking Russian tanks near Snihurivka (about 60km east of Mykolaiv City).
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 to conduct ground attacks in Donetsk Oblast on October 28. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults on Bakhmut; northeast of Bakhmut near Bakhmtuske (11km northeast of Bakhmut), Zelenopillia (5km northeast of Bakhmut), and Soledar (13km northeast of Bakhmut); and south of Bakhmut near Mayorsk. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces also conducted an assault northeast of Bakhmut near Bilohorivka (27km northeast of Bakhmut). The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian ground attacks northwest of Avdiivka near Novobakhmutivka (15km northwest of Avdiivka); southeast of Avdiivka near Yakolivka (7km southeast of Avdiivka); and southwest of Avdiivka near Mariinka (28km southwest of Avdiivka), Nevelske (16km southwest of Avdiivka), and Pervomaiske (13km southwest of Avdiivka). The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces also repelled a Russian assault in western Donetsk Oblast near Vremivka. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces continued routine indirect fire along the line of contact in Donetsk Oblast.
Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)
Russian forces continued to conduct routine air, missile, and artillery strikes west of Hulyaipole, and in Dnipropetrovsk and Mykolaiv oblasts on October 28. Ukrainian sources reported that Russian forces struck Nikopol in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast and Mykolaiv City, Ochakiv, and Bereznehuvate in Mykolaiv Oblast.
Ukrainian forces continued to strike Russian manpower and equipment positions in Zaporizhia Oblast on October 28. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces destroyed a Russian ammunition depot near Novovodiane and struck manpower concentrations near Tokmak, Molochansk, and Kinski Rozdory in Zaporizhia Oblast. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that the strikes wounded up to 110 Russian military personnel.
Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)
Russian legislators are discussing Russian military mobilization shortcomings with increasing candor. Russian State Duma MP Maksim Ivanov (who represents Sverdlovsk Oblast) appealed to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to resolve the issue of mobilized men deploying to frontlines without appropriate training on October 28. Ivanov stated that he is receiving endless complaints from constituents – particularly women – that their husbands and sons did not receive training. Ivanov stated, “What benefit will an untrained guy bring, for example, at a checkpoint near Donetsk? Probably the minimum.” Ivanov said 86 men from his constituency deployed to Ukraine without proper training in just the first few days of mobilization. Ivanov suggested that mobilized men that are on the frontlines without training should return to Russia. Moscow Duma MP Andrey Medvedev similarly discussed the lack of uniform training for mobilized men on October 28, stating that the battlefield success of a tactical unit at or below the battalion level relies on how much the unit’s commanding officer cared to teach subordinates. Medvedev called for ”radical reorganization” of training for mobilized personnel and stated that the current situation, wherein a unit’s success decisively depends on the initiative of an officer and the initiative of the mobilized, is ”categorically wrong and dangerous.”
Russian military mobilization is likely significantly increasing labor scarcity in Russia’s labor market. Some Russian federal subjects are sending college students as replacement workers to offset the economic impacts of military mobilization. Kemerovo Oblast Governor Sergei Tsivilev announced a “labor mobilization” of final year university and technical college students on October 21 to work at industrial enterprises to replace workers who were mobilized for the war in Ukraine. Russian business newspaper RBK reported on October 27 that regional authorities in the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug and in the Kaluga, Kurgan, Kursk, Leningrad, and Chelyabinsk oblasts are considering undertaking similar ”labor mobilization” of fourth-year students. Mobilization has directly removed at least 300,000 men from the labor pool, and at least 700,000 Russian citizens have fled Russia since mobilization began.
Russian authorities continue conducting roundup raids to gather mobilized men. Russian Police conducted a raid at a gas turbine plant in Rybinsk, Yaroslavl Oblast, on October 26. Russian police physically blocked the exit to the plant and forced men to receive their mobilization notices. The director of the plant reportedly previously refused to give summonses to his employees.
Some Russians continue to resist the Kremlin’s mobilization practices. An unidentified individual threw a Molotov cocktail at a military recruitment center in the Zavodsky Raion of Kemerovo, Kemerovo Oblast on October 28.
Activity in Russian-occupied Areas (Russian objective: consolidate administrative control of occupied and annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)
Russian occupation authorities completed their forced "evacuation” of parts of occupied Kherson Oblast. The Russian-appointed head of the Crimea Occupation Administration, Sergei Aksyonov, announced on October 27 that Russian officials completed their forced relocation of Kherson residents to “safe regions of Russia.” The advisor to the head of Kherson Oblast, Serhiy Khlan, reported on October 28 that the children whom Russian authorities have “evacuated” from Kherson are not allowed to return and are unable to contact their parents or relatives. One Russian milblogger argued on October 28 that the forced deportation of Kherson residents into other parts of Russia is “a main success” for Russian forces in Kherson because it enables “a mixing of new Russians with … their large Motherland.” He asserted that the forced relocations will “return people to their historical mentality.”
Russian occupation authorities are continuing their attempts to erase Ukrainian history, culture, and national identity in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine. The Ukrainian National Resistance Center reported on October 28 that Russian occupation authorities have launched a re-education campaign in Russian-occupied territories to promote Russia’s version of history in schools, including the false narratives that Russia created Ukraine and that Ukraine should have always been a part of the Russian Federation. Teachers are reportedly required to receive special training and are required to incorporate lessons on “the greatness of Russia” into all of their lessons, regardless of subject. Ukrainian voters overwhelmingly chose independence from the Soviet Union and Russia in a 1991 referendum, and the Russian Federation recognized Ukraine’s independence along with the rest of the international community and the United Nations. Russian occupation authorities are establishing a Russified version of Ukrainian history outside of schools as well; DNR head Denis Pushilin claimed on October 28 that the Russian Military Historical Society established a regional branch in occupied Donetsk Oblast and presented a bust of Pavel Sudoplatov, a Ukrainian-born Soviet intelligence officer who fought against Ukrainian nationalism on behalf of the Soviet Union.
Russian occupation authorities reportedly plan to force Russian citizenship on Ukrainian civilians in occupied parts of Ukraine by October 30, likely in part to legalize the forced mobilization of Ukrainian civilians as part of the November 1 autumn conscription cycle. The Ukrainian mayors of Enerhodar and Melitopol reported on October 28 that all Ukrainian civilians in Russian-occupied parts of Zaporizhia Oblast will automatically become Russian citizens beginning on October 30 without their consent, two days before the autumn conscription cycle begins. Russian forces are likely attempting to legitimize the forcible conscription of Ukrainian men as part of that cycle after their previous efforts to force Ukrainian civilians to accept Russian passports were largely unsuccessful. The Ukrainian head of the Zaporizhia Oblast Military Administration announced on October 28 that Russian forces are not allowing Ukrainian men to leave Russian-occupied areas, and are only allowing small numbers of women, children, and the elderly to return to Ukrainian-held territory.
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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