Ukraine Project

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 29

Russian forces made marginal gains around Bakhmut on November 29, but Russian forces remain unlikely to have advanced at the tempo that Russian sources claimed. Geolocated footage shows that Russian forces made marginal advances southeast of Bakhmut but ISW remains unable to confirm most other claimed gains around Bakhmut made since November 27. Some Russian milbloggers made unsubstantiated claims that Russian forces broke through the Ukrainian defensive line south of Bakhmut along the T0513 highway to advance towards Chasiv Yar, which would cut one of two remaining main Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) to Bakhmut, but such claims are likely part of a continuing Russian information operation and are premature, as ISW has previously assessed. ISW continues to assess that the degraded Russian forces around Bakhmut are unlikely to place Bakhmut under threat of imminent encirclement rapidly.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 28

Recent claims of Russian gains around Bakhmut on November 27 and 28 do not portend an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut. Geolocated imagery shows that Russian forces likely captured Ozarianivka (a village about 15km southwest of Bakhmut) around November 27 and 28. Multiple Russian sources claimed that Russian forces also captured Kurdiumivka (13km southwest of Bakhmut), Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut), Andriivka (10km southwest of Bakhmut), Zelenopillia (13km south of Bakhmut), Pidhorodne (5km northeast of Bakhmut) and Spirne (30km northeast of Bakhmut) with the intention of encircling Bakhmut from the south and east. There is no open-source evidence supporting these claims at this time. Russian sources have notably propagated spurious claims regarding gains around Bakhmut as part of a continued information operation since October, and recent unsubstantiated territorial claims may be part of this continued information operation. However, even if Russian forces have indeed succeeded in taking control of settlements south of Bakhmut, these gains do not threaten the critical T0513 (Bakhmut-Siversk) and T0504 (Bakhmut-Kostyantynivka) routes that serve as major Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) into Bakhmut. There is also a network of smaller village roads that connect to Bakhmut via the city’s northwest. The claimed Russian positions closest to Bakhmut in Klishchiivka and Pidhorodne lead directly into prepared Ukrainian defenses in Bakhmut and its western and northern satellite villages. Russian forces in Klishchiivka, in order to advance any further, would have to cross three kilometers of fields with little cover and concealment. Russian troops, in their current degraded state, are likely unable to be able to accomplish this task quickly. Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin himself observed in October that Wagner forces operating in the Bakhmut area advance only 100–200 meters a day. Russian claimed advances around Bakhmut over the course of November 27 and 28 are thus unlikely to generate operational-level effects and certainly not quickly.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 27

The Russian military clearly assesses that Ukrainian forces could cross the Dnipro River and conduct counter-offensive operations in eastern Kherson Oblast, possibly threatening all of the critical ground lines of communications (GLOCs) from Crimea to the mainland. Russian forces have been digging trench lines and concentration areas in eastern Kherson since early October 2022 in obvious preparation for the withdrawal from the west bank of the Dnipro River and Kherson City. Russian troops are preparing either to defend in depth or to conduct operational or strategic delay operations. Russian forces clearly do not expect to be able to prevent Ukrainian forces from getting across the river, nor are the Russians prioritizing defensive positions to stop such a crossing. The Russian military is setting conditions for a protracted defense in eastern Kherson Oblast that could allow the establishment of a solid Ukrainian lodgment on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River. The assessment that follows examines the Russian defensive laydown and evaluates the expectations for the flow of operations likely guiding that laydown exclusively. This assessment makes no effort to determine whether Ukrainian forces intend to cross or are capable of crossing the Dnipro River in this region and offers no forecast about whether or not they will make any such attempt.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 26

The overall pace of operations along the frontline has slowed in recent days due to deteriorating weather conditions but is likely to increase starting in the next few weeks as temperatures drop and the ground freezes throughout the theater. Ukrainian and Russian reporting from critical frontline areas throughout eastern and southern Ukraine, including Svatove, Bakhmut, and Vuhledar, indicates that operations on both sides are currently bogged down by heavy rain and resulting heavy mud] Temperatures are forecasted to drop throughout Ukraine over the next week, which will likely freeze the ground and expedite the pace of fighting as mobility increases for both sides. The temperature in areas in Ukraine’s northeast, such as along the Svatove-Kreminna line, will dip to near-or-below-freezing daily highs between November 28 and December 4. It will likely take the ground some days of consistent freezing temperatures to solidify, which means that ground conditions are likely to be set to allow the pace of operations to increase throughout Ukraine over the course of the weekend of December 3-4 and into the following week. It is unclear if either side is actively planning or preparing to resume major offensive or counter-offensive operations at that time, but the meteorological factors that have been hindering such operations will begin lifting.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 25

Reports of poorly staffed, provisioned, and supplied Russian mobilized personnel are dividing the Russian information space, exposing the tension between milblogger mobilization narratives, Wagner Group narratives, and actual Russian efforts to alleviate morale issues. Mobilized personnel from Serpukhov, Moscow Oblast, claimed on November 23 that the Russian military command sent them into battle without proper training, uniforms, or protective gear, leading them to suffer mass casualties. These personnel also claimed that command only feeds the mobilized personnel once a day despite having enough food to provide more meals. A Russian source reported that the Serpukhov mobilized personnel now face a military tribunal for desertion, but the men later released a second video denying that they are deserters and stating they are willing to serve on the second and third lines of defense rather than the front line.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 23

The Russian military conducted another set of massive, coordinated missile strikes on Ukrainian critical infrastructure in a misguided attempt to degrade the Ukrainian will to fight. Ukrainian Air Force Command reported on November 23 that Russian forces launched 70 cruise missiles and five drones at Ukrainian critical infrastructure targets. Ukrainian Air Force Command reported that Ukrainian air defenses shot down 51 of the Russian cruise missiles and all five drones. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces struck residential buildings, thermal power plants, and substations in the city of Kyiv as well as in Kyiv, Vinnytsia, Lviv, and Zaporizhia oblasts. Ukrainian, Russian, and social media sources claimed that Russian forces also struck targets in Ivano-Frankivsk, Odesa, Mykolaiv, Kherson, Cherkasy, Dnipropetrovsk, Sumy, Poltava, Kirovohrad, and Kharkiv oblasts. Ukrainian officials reported widespread disruptions to energy, heating, and water supplies as a result of the Russian strikes. ISW has previously assessed that the Russian military is still able to attack Ukrainian critical infrastructure at scale in the near term despite continuing to deplete its arsenal of high-precision weapons systems. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar stated that the Russian military mistakenly believes that the destruction of energy infrastructure will direct Ukrainian efforts to protect rear areas and divert Ukrainian attention away from the front in eastern and southern Ukraine. Malyar stated that Russia’s campaign against critical infrastructure will not weaken the motivation of Ukraine’s civilian population, and the Ukrainian Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov asserted that Russian missile and drone strikes will not coerce Ukraine into negotiations.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 22

The Kremlin appears to be setting information conditions for a false-flag attack in Belgorod Oblast, Russia, likely in an effort to regain public support for the war in Ukraine. Kremlin propagandists have begun hypothesizing that Ukrainian forces seek to invade Belgorod Oblast, and other Russian sources noted that Russian forces need to regain control over Kupyansk, Kharkiv Oblast, to minimize the threat of a Ukrainian attack. These claims have long circulated within the milblogger community, which had criticized the Russian military command for abandoning buffer positions in Vovchansk in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast following the Russian withdrawal from the region in September. Russian milbloggers have also intensified their calls for Russia to regain liberated territories in Kharkiv Oblast on November 22, stating that such preemptive measures will stop Ukrainians from carrying out assault operations in the Kupyansk and Vovchansk directions. Belgorod Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov also published footage showcasing the construction of the Zasechnaya Line fortifications on the Ukraine-Belgorod Oblast border. Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin clarified that Wagner is building the Zasechnaya Line after having changed its name from Wagner Line because “many people in [Russia] do not like the activity of private military company Wagner.” Private military companies are illegal in Russia.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 21

Two days of shelling caused widespread damage to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) on November 20 and 21. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated on November 21 that there are no immediate nuclear safety and security concerns and that the integrity of all six nuclear reactors and the spent and fresh fuel storage facilities remain uncompromised despite the intense shelling. Russia and Ukraine both accused the other of conducting the artillery strikes on the ZNPP on November 20 and 21. One Russian milblogger referenced a video of the shelling taken by Chechen forces and stated that it appeared the shelling came from positions in Russian-controlled territory south of the ZNPP, not Ukrainian-controlled territory north of the ZNPP. Russian nuclear operator Rosatom Head Alexey Likhachev warned of a nuclear disaster at the ZNPP, and Russian milbloggers largely amplified his statements and called for the transfer of all Ukrainian nuclear power plants to Russian operation. ISW has previously assessed that Russian forces have staged false flag attacks against the ZNPP and previously reported on Russian forces’ unlawful militarization of the ZNPP. Artillery strikes themselves are unlikely to penetrate the containment units protecting each nuclear reactor and instead pose a greater threat to the spent nuclear fuel storage facilities, which could leak radioactive material and cause a radiological (as opposed to nuclear) disaster if compromised. The continued conflation of radiological and nuclear accidents and the constant discussion of the threat of disaster at the ZNPP is likely part of a wider Russian information operation meant to undermine Western support for Ukraine and frame Russian control of the plant as essential to avoid nuclear catastrophe in order to consolidate further operational and administrative control of Ukrainian nuclear assets and compel elements of the international community to recognize Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory at least obliquely.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 20

ISW is publishing an abbreviated campaign update today, November 20. This report discusses the rising influence of the milblogger (military correspondent or voenkor) community in Russia despite its increasingly critical commentary on the conduct of the war. The milblogger community reportedly consists of over 500 independent authors and has emerged as an authoritative voice on the Russian war. The community maintains a heavily pro-war and Russian nationalist outlook and is intertwined with prominent Russian nationalist ideologists. Milbloggers’ close relationships with armed forces – whether Russian Armed Forces, Chechen special units, Wagner Group mercenaries, or proxy formations – have given this community an authoritative voice arguably louder in the Russian information space than the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD). Russian President Vladimir Putin has defended the milbloggers from MoD attacks and protected their independence even as he increases oppression and censorship throughout Russia.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 19

Russian forces are reportedly beginning to reinforce their positions in occupied Luhansk, Donetsk, and eastern Zaporizhia oblasts with personnel from Kherson Oblast and mobilized servicemen. The Ukrainian General Staff reported an increase in Russian military personnel in Luhansk City and noted that Russian forces are housing servicemen in abandoned homes in Krasne and Simeikyne about 30km southeast of Luhansk City. Luhansk Oblast Administration Head Serhiy Haidai stated that Russian forces are transferring the remnants of the Russian airborne units from right (west) bank Kherson Oblast to Luhansk Oblast. Luhansk Oblast Military Administration added that a part of redeploying Russian troops is arriving in Novoaidar, approximately 55km east of Severodonetsk. Advisor to Mariupol Mayor Petro Andryushenko also noted the arrival of redeployed personnel and military equipment to Mariupol, stating that Russian forces are placing 10,000 to 15,000 servicemen in the Mariupol Raion. Andryushenko stated that newly mobilized men are deploying to the presumably western Donetsk Oblast frontline via Mariupol. Russian forces are reportedly attempting to disperse forces by deploying some elements in the Hulyaipole direction in eastern Zaporizhia Oblast. Russia will also likely commit additional mobilized forces in the coming weeks, given that mobilized units of the Russian 2nd Motorized Rifle Division of the 1st Tank Army have finished their training in Brest Oblast, Belarus. Russian forces will likely continue to use mobilized and redeployed servicemen to reignite offensive operations in Donetsk Oblast and maintain defensive positions in Luhansk Oblast.

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