The Ukrainian destruction of significant elements of a Russian motorized rifle brigade that tried to cross a pontoon bridge over the Siverskyi Donets River on May 11 has shocked prominent Russian milbloggers. Those bloggers have begun commenting on the incompetence of the Russian military to their hundreds of thousands of followers. The attempted river crossing showed a stunning lack of tactical sense as satellite images show (destroyed) Russian vehicles tightly bunched up at both ends of the (destroyed) bridge, clearly allowing Ukrainian artillerymen to kill hundreds and destroy scores of vehicles with concentrated strikes. The milbloggers who have hitherto been cheering on the Russian military criticized Russian armed forces leadership for failing to learn from experience in the war. They also expressed the concern that the constant pushing of Russia’s propaganda lines was making it hard for them to understand what was actually going on.
The Russian military has likely decided to withdraw fully from its positions around Kharkiv City in the face of Ukrainian counteroffensives and the limited availability of reinforcements. Russian units have generally not attempted to hold ground against counterattacking Ukrainian forces over the past several days, with a few exceptions. Reports from Western officials and a video from an officer of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) indicate that Moscow is focused on conducting an orderly withdrawal and prioritizing getting Russians back home before allowing proxy forces to enter Russia rather than trying to hold its positions near the city.
Russian President Vladimir Putin likely intends to annex occupied southern and eastern Ukraine directly into the Russian Federation in the coming months. He will likely then state, directly or obliquely, that Russian doctrine permitting the use of nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory applies to those newly annexed territories. Such actions would threaten Ukraine and its partners with nuclear attack if Ukrainian counteroffensives to liberate Russian-occupied territory continue. Putin may believe that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would restore Russian deterrence after his disastrous invasion shattered Russia's conventional deterrent capabilities.
Russian forces may be abandoning efforts at a wide encirclement of Ukrainian troops along the Izyum-Slovyansk-Debaltseve line in favor of shallower encirclements of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. Russian forces likely control almost all of Rubizhne as of May 12 and have likely seized the town of Voevodivka, north of Severdonetsk. They will likely launch a ground offensive on or around Severodonetsk in the coming days. The relative success of Russian operations in this area combined with their failure to advance from Izyum and the notable decline in the energy of that attempted advance suggest that they may be giving up on the Izyum axis. Reports that Russian forces in Popasna are advancing north, toward Severodonetsk-Lysychansk, rather than east toward the Slovyansk-Debaltseve highway, support this hypothesis.
Russian forces did not make any significant advances anywhere in Ukraine on May 11, and Ukrainian forces took further ground northeast of Kharkiv. The Ukrainian counteroffensive north of Kharkiv City has forced Russian troops onto the defensive and necessitated reinforcement and replenishment efforts intended to prevent further Ukrainian advances towards the Russian border. Russian efforts along the Southern Axis and in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts remain similarly stalled, and Russian forces have not made any significant gains in the face of continued successful Ukrainian defenses.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive north of Kharkiv City continued to successfully push Russian forces toward the Russia-Ukraine border on May 10. Ukrainian forces liberated several towns north of Kharkiv City and continued pushing north of the recently liberated Staryi Saltiv to capture several towns northeast of Kharkiv: a Russian source claimed that Ukrainian troops advanced to within 10km of the Russian border, though ISW cannot independently confirm these specific claims. Russian forces from the Izyum area are reportedly redeploying northwards to attempt to alleviate the pressure of this counteroffensive and stymie further northward advances toward the Russian border. The Ukrainian counteroffensive will likely continue to divert Russian troops and resources from deployment to other axes of advance where fighting has been similarly stalled out by the successful Ukrainian defense. The counteroffensive will impede the ability of Russian artillery to target the northeastern suburbs of Kharkiv City, will potentially enable Ukrainian forces to threaten Russian rear areas with their own shelling and further attacks, and—if Ukrainian forces are able to further advance the counteroffensive or Russian forces collapse along the Kharkiv axis and withdraw further—unhinge Russian offensive operations around Izyum.
This is a guide to the current command structure of the Russian Armed Forces at the General Staff, Military District, and Army/Corps levels. It includes key officers in the Russian General Staff and identifies the commander, chief of staff, and deputy commander for Russia’s four main military districts and their subordinate army and corps-level formations. The current officers occupying each of those roles is included, as well as their biography and verifiable career history.
Russian forces continue to face widespread force generation challenges. A senior US defense official stated on May 9 that the US has not observed any indicators of a “new major Russian mobilization” and that members of the private military company Wagner Group “urgently” requested hundreds of thousands of additional troops to reinforce Russian efforts in Donbas. The official noted that Russia currently has 97 battalion tactical groups (BTGs) in Ukraine, but that BTGs have been moving in and out of Ukraine to refit and resupply, suggesting that Russian troops continue to sustain substantial damage in combat. ISW has previously assessed that most Russian BTGs are heavily degraded and counting BTGs is not a useful metric of Russian combat power. The Main Ukrainian Intelligence Directorate (GUR) claimed that under-trained, ill-equipped Russian conscripts are still being sent into active combat despite the Kremlin denying this practice. A prisoner of war from the BARS-7 detachment of the Wagner Group claimed that a ”covert mobilization” is underway in Russian to send conscripts to clean damage caused by combat in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.
Russian President Vladimir Putin used his May 9 speech to praise ongoing Russian efforts in Ukraine and reinforce existing Kremlin framing rather than announce a change. He did not announce an escalation or declare victory in the Russian war in Ukraine. May 9, Victory Day, is Russia’s most important patriotic holiday and commemorates the Soviet victory in the Second World War, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War. Putin’s much-anticipated speech was a ready-made opportunity for him to alter the Kremlin’s current framing of the war in Ukraine or announce a policy change. Putin had three general options for his Victory Day address: declare some sort of Russian victory, make a policy change to ramp up the war effort in some way (such as by calling for a larger-scale mobilization or formally declaring war on Ukraine), or what he chose—to pursue a steady state narrative and reinforce the Kremlin’s existing framing (and resourcing) of the war.
Russian forces did not make any significant advances on any axis of advance on May 8. The Ukrainian counteroffensive northeast of Kharkiv City has likely forced Russian troops to redeploy to Kharkiv instead of reinforcing stalled Russian offensive operations elsewhere in eastern Ukraine. Russian forces are continuing their attempt to reach the administrative borders of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts but have not made substantial territorial gains since securing Popasna on May 7.