Ukraine Crisis Updates

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 31

Russian forces have resumed localized ground attacks northwest and southwest of Izyum and may be setting conditions for offensive operations further west into Kharkiv Oblast or toward Kharkiv City. Russian forces have already launched unsuccessful assaults and reconnaissance-in-force attempts on Chepil, Shchurivka, and Husarivka (northwest of Izyum) and resumed assaults on Dmytrivka and Brazhikivka (southwest of Izyum) in recent days. Russian forces maintained positions around Balaklia and Velyka Komyshuvakha for months and may use these two areas as springboards for an offensive operation. Russian forces may use their positions around Balaklia to restart assaults on Kharkiv City from the southeast. Russian forces are extremely unlikely to seize Kharkiv Oblast or capture Kharkiv City – the second most populated city in Ukraine – given the pace of Russian progress in Donbas and continued challenges in force generation and logistics. ISW has previously assessed that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have ordered Russian forces to take Kharkiv City and the unoccupied portion of Kharkiv Oblast but that he is unlikely to be successful in such goals. Russian forces may also be conducting spoiling attacks to prevent Ukrainian counteroffensives.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 15

Russian forces are likely emerging from their operational pause as of July 15. Russian forces carried out a series of limited ground assaults northwest of Slovyansk, southeast of Siversk, along the T1302 Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway, southeast of Bakhmut, and southwest of Donetsk City. These assaults may indicate that Russian forces are attempting to resume their offensive operations in Donbas. The assaults are still small-scale and were largely unsuccessful. If the operational pause is truly over, the Russians will likely continue and expand such assaults in the coming 72 hours. The Russians might instead alternate briefer pauses with strengthening attacks over a number of days before moving into a full-scale offensive operation. A 10-day-long operational pause is insufficient to fully regenerate Russian forces for large-scale offensive operations. The Russian military seems to feel continuous pressure to resume and continue offensive operations before it can reasonably have rebuilt sufficient combat power to achieve decisive effects at a reasonable cost to itself, however. The resuming Russian offensive may therefore fluctuate or even stall for some time.

Belarus Warning Update: Russia and Belarus Prepare for October Exercises in Belarus

5:30 pm EDT: Russia’s Western Military District (WMD) is likely preparing for more exercises in Belarus. Unspecified Russian signals elements of the Moscow-based First Guards Tank Army performed over 300 special command and control and warning signals transmission exercises in the WMD in late September. Signal elements practiced transmitting targeting information, deploying concealed field command posts in blackout conditions, and defending command and control infrastructure against weapons of mass destruction.

Warning: Russia’s Kavkaz-2020 Military Exercise

September 27, 4:00pm EDT: ISW has updated this piece to include Kavkaz-2020 exercises conducted on September 25 after the original publication.

September 25, 3:00 pm EDT: The Russian Armed Forces are conducting large-scale annual exercises from September 21-26. The Russian Armed Forces conduct large-scale exercises each year in one of its four military districts (Western, Southern, Central, and Eastern) on a rotating basis. The Southern Military District (SMD) is hosting this year’s exercises, dubbed Kavkaz-2020. The exercise involves ground, air, naval, air defense, engineering, logistics, and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear (CBRN) units in the Caspian and Black Seas, the Caucasus, and near Volgograd in southern Russia. Kavkaz-2020 is a multinational undertaking. Russian units are exercising together with Armenian units in Armenia. Iranian missile boats conducted joint exercises with Russian ships in the Caspian Sea. Chinese personnel were featured prominently in images of planning sessions. Belarusian and Pakistani forces are also participating. Russian forces are exercising in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, territories illegally seized from Georgia in the 2008 war and annexed to the Russian Federation, as well as in Crimea, illegally seized from Ukraine in 2014 and annexed to Russia.

Warning: The Kremlin Deploys a Brigade-Sized Force to Belarus Near Polish Border

6:15 EDT: The Kremlin significantly expanded its military presence in Belarus to facilitate a brigade-sized “tactical exercise” as part of the Slavic Brotherhood exercise’s “second stage” for September 21-25. Russian forces’ size was at the battalion level during Slavic Brotherhood’s first stage from September 14-21. The Kremlin deployed a battalion tactical group from the Tula-based 106th Guards Airborne Division to Brest, Belarus, for Slavic Brotherhood’s second stage on September 21. Forces from the 106th arrived in Belarus via railway on September 21. There are now elements of two different Russian airborne regiments from two different divisions in Brest. The Kremlin deployed a senior general with extensive combat experience in Syria to "participate in” operations in Belarus. The Kremlin deployed Commander Colonel General Andrei Serdyukov, commander of the Russian Airborne Forces (VDV), to Belarus for Slavic Brotherhood exercises on September 21. Serdyukov commanded the Russian military operation in Syria during the peak of the Assad regime’s Idlib offensive in April-September 2019. Serdyukov’s arrival indicates Russian President Vladimir Putin is actively prioritizing military operations in Belarus, since Russian Airborne Forces are also participating in the Kavkaz 2020 exercises, which should in principle have a higher profile as the premier annual multinational exercise.

Ukraine Warning Update: Possible Clashes Could Trigger Snap Elections

President Putin and pro-Russia actors within Ukraine aim to trigger snap parliamentary elections to bring pro-Russian and populist parties to power and start rebuilding the client regime. ISW assesses that Russia intends to provoke clashes during a large march of Orthodox Christians to Kyiv on July 27 to cause a crisis, to try to set conditions for snap elections. Russia’s military action against Ukraine failed to reverse the political defeat dealt to Russia when the Euromaidan movement came into power in 2014. President Putin seeks to find lower profile methods of regaining control of Ukraine, including exploiting lack of political unity and decreasing public support for the current Ukrainian governing coalition. Bringing Ukraine back to Russia’s orbit is a major strategic objective for President Putin in his efforts to reassert Russia’s power globally.

Ukraine Warning Update: Possible Clashes Could Trigger Snap Elections

President Putin and pro-Russia actors within Ukraine aim to trigger snap parliamentary elections to bring pro-Russian and populist parties to power and start rebuilding the client regime. ISW assesses that Russia intends to provoke clashes during a large march of Orthodox Christians to Kyiv on July 27 to cause a crisis, to try to set conditions for snap elections. Russia’s military action against Ukraine failed to reverse the political defeat dealt to Russia when the Euromaidan movement came into power in 2014. President Putin seeks to find lower profile methods of regaining control of Ukraine, including exploiting lack of political unity and decreasing public support for the current Ukrainian governing coalition. Bringing Ukraine back to Russia’s orbit is a major strategic objective for President Putin in his efforts to reassert Russia’s power globally.

Ukraine Crisis Update: March 18, 2016

Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely attempting to leverage his gains in the Syrian Civil War to expand Russia’s freedom of action in eastern Ukraine. Russia and the separatists began to escalate operations in eastern Ukraine in mid-February, directly coinciding with the implementation of the Syrian cessation of hostilities agreement on February 27 and subsequent drawdown of Russian forces.

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