Ukrainian officials confirmed that Russia is using Iranian-provided drones in Ukraine. Advisor to the Ukrainian President’s Office, Oleksiy Arestovych, stated on August 5 that Iran handed 46 drones over to Russia and that the Ukrainian government has already noted the use of these drones in combat in Ukraine. At least a portion of the provided drones are older-generation “Shahed 129” heavy strike drones, which Russian forces may seek to use to attack US-provided HIMARS in Ukraine. It is unclear whether the 46 drones represent all the drones that Tehran has agreed to send or the number of Iranian drones that are currently operating in Ukraine.
Ukraine is likely seizing the strategic initiative and forcing Russia to reallocate forces and reprioritize efforts in response to Ukrainian counteroffensive operations. Russian forces are increasingly transferring personnel and equipment to Kherson and western Zaporizhia Oblasts at the expense of their efforts to seize Slovyansk and Siversk, which they appear to have abandoned. Russian forces are also redeploying military equipment – artillery and aviation in particular – to Crimea from elsewhere in Ukraine. Russian forces have previously withdrawn from or suspended offensive operations on Kharkiv City and the southern axis to prioritize capturing Luhansk Oblast, but they did so on their own initiative based on the changing priorities of their commanders. Russian forces in this case appear to be responding to the Ukrainian counteroffensive threat in Kherson Oblast rather than deliberately choosing objectives on which to concentrate their efforts. Even after Ukrainian forces defeated the Russian attempt to seize Kyiv early in the war, the Russians were able to choose freely to concentrate their operations in the east. Ukraine’s preparations for the counteroffensive in Kherson and the initial operations in that counteroffensive combined with the dramatic weakening of Russian forces generally appear to be allowing Ukraine to begin actively shaping the course of the war for the first time.
Russian forces are likely using Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in Enerhodar to play on Western fears of a nuclear disaster in Ukraine, likely in an effort to degrade Western will to provide military support to a Ukrainian counteroffensive. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi said on August 3 that Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), which is currently occupied by Russian forces, is “completely out of control” and that “every principle of nuclear safety has been violated” at the plant. He warned that Russian forces are not respecting the physical integrity of the plant and pleaded with Russia and Ukraine to quickly facilitate a visit of IAEA monitors to the complex. Russian Zaporizhia Occupation Administration Head Evgeniy Balitskyi responded that the IAEA was welcome at the plant: “We are ready to show how the Russian military guards it today, and how Ukraine, which receives weapons from the West, uses these weapons, including drones, to attack the nuclear plant, acting like a monkey with a grenade.” Russian officials are framing Ukraine as irresponsibly using Western-provided weapons and risking nuclear disaster to dissuade Western and other allied states from providing additional military support to Ukraine’s looming southern counteroffensive.
Iran may direct its proxies to attack American and partner targets in the Middle East in the coming weeks. Iranian proxy group Ashab al Kahf accused NATO, the UK, and the US of stoking political tensions in Iraq on August 1 and vowed to attack their embassies and military bases in Iraq, Syria, and possibly Jordan. Ashab al Kahf is likely a front group for Iranian proxy Asaib Ahl al Haq (AAH) and possibly other Iranian-backed militias. AAH has likely claimed attacks on US and Turkish military bases under the name Ashab al Kahf since 2019 to generate deniability for its actions. Iranian proxies in Iraq frequently claim attacks under such front groups to complicate attribution and obfuscate their responsibility.
Russian forces have likely decided to attack Avdiivka frontally from occupied Donetsk Oblast territory rather than waiting for Ukrainian forces to withdraw from their prepared defensive positions as a result of Russian envelopment operations northeast of the settlement. The Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Kremlin-sponsored sources have published videos suggesting that Russian forces pushed Ukrainian forces out of their positions around the Butivka Coal Mine ventilation shaft southwest of Avdiivka. Ukrainian forces have held positions around the Butivka Coal Mine ventilation shaft since 2015 and have described the location as the closest Ukrainian position to Donetsk City and a key defensive outpost for Avdiivka. Russian forces have likely captured the Ukrainian position, given the Ukrainian General Staff‘s vague reports of ”partially” successful Russian advances in the area. Russian forces are also continuing assaults on Pisky, west of Avdiivka, and will likely attempt to seize the E50 highway connecting the two settlements. Russian forces had previously attempted to break through Avdiivka’s northeastern outskirts but have not made significant progress in months.
Russian forces are reportedly continuing to transfer troops from northern Donetsk Oblast to support defensive positions in southern Ukraine and may be halting the Slovyansk campaign for the time being. The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence (GUR) Representative Vadym Skibitsky stated that Russian forces withdrew airborne tactical groups from Donetsk Oblast and redeployed the units to occupied Kherson Oblast territories two weeks ago. Skibitsky added that Russian forces are also redeploying elements of the Eastern Military District (EMD) operating in Slovyansk to southern Ukraine and are transferring a large number of troops to Crimea to prepare to defend occupied Kherson and/or Zaporizhia Oblasts against Ukrainian counteroffensives. The UK Defense Ministry also noted that Russian forces likely identified Zaporizhia Oblast as a vulnerable front in need of reinforcement, and the Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces are regrouping in Zaporizhia Oblast. Social media footage has showed Russian forces moving equipment and personnel to both Zaporizhia and Kherson Oblasts in recent weeks.
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 forces are likely prioritizing offensive operations toward Bakhmut and around Donetsk City at the expense of efforts to take Siversk and Slovyansk. Russian commanders are likely seeking to exploit recent gains in the Novoluhanske area to pressure Bakhmut from the east. Their efforts around Donetsk City likely aim to push Ukrainian forces out of artillery range of the city. They may also be intended to gain as much ground in Donetsk Oblast as possible before planned referenda in September. Russian offensive operations are very unlikely to take Bakhmut, which is large and well-defended, or to make dramatic gains west of Donetsk City even if they manage to take the towns of Avdiivka and Pisky that have held out against their pressure since the original Russian invasion in 2014. Fighting in these areas will likely intensify, however, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is calling on residents to evacuate. Neither Russia nor Ukraine produced new evidence regarding the cause or responsibility for the deaths of Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) at the Olenivka prison in occupied Donetsk Oblast. Russian officials raised the death toll of the event to 50 and released a list of deceased POWs. Ukrainian officials stated that they are unable to verify the list at this time and called for an international investigation. Maxar has provided post-strike imagery of the damage. ISW is unable to confirm the nature or cause of the incident, although it remains more likely that Russian forces were responsible.
A kinetic event killed and wounded scores of Ukrainian POWs in Russian-occupied Olenivka, Donetsk Oblast, on July 28. Ukraine and Russia are blaming each other for the attack and available visual evidence appears to support the Ukrainian claim more than the Russian, but ISW cannot independently assess the nature of the attack or the party responsible for it at this time. The Russian Defense Ministry asserted that Ukrainian forces deliberately struck the Olenivka pre-trial detention center holding Ukrainian POWs including Azov Regiment servicemen using Western-provided HIMARS, killing at least 40 and wounding 75 POWs. Kremlin-sponsored news outlet “RIA Novosti” published videos of the detention center, which showed fire damage but not the sort of damage that a HIMARS strike would likely have caused. RIA Novosti also released footage of HIMARS missile fragments but provided no evidence that the fragments were recovered at Olenivka. Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Ambassador to Russia Leonid Miroshnik claimed that Ukrainian forces struck the pre-detention center to eliminate the evidence of Ukrainian surrenders and prevent POWs from speaking out against the Ukrainian government. The Ukrainian General Staff said that Russian forces conducted the attack as a false flag operation to cover up Russian war crimes, disrupt the supply of Western weapons, discredit Ukrainian forces, and stoke social tensions within Ukrainian society. The Ukrainian General Staff stated that a deliberate explosion occurred near the newly-constructed penal colony, to which Russian forces had transferred Ukrainian POWs a few days earlier. The Ukrainian General Staff also noted that Ukrainian analysis of the damage to the building, intercepted phone conversations between Russian servicemen, the lack of reported shelling in Olenivka, and the absence of casualties among Russian personnel serving at the penal colony all point to a Russian deliberate “terrorist act” as the cause of the incident. The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) accused Wagner Group head Yevgeny Prigozhin of ordering the “terrorist act” without consulting with the Russian Defense Ministry, to conceal the embezzlement of funds allocated for the maintenance of Ukrainian POWs before an official inspection on September 1.The Ukrainian Office of the General Prosecutor reported that the explosion killed at least 40 and wounded 130 Ukrainian POWs. ISW is unable to assess the nature of the event or the party responsible for it with any confidence at this time. We will update our assessment as more information becomes available.
Taliban Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada leveraged a recent gathering of Taliban-aligned religious leaders to consolidate power and advance efforts to implement a hardline governance program. Akhundzada is taking on a more proactive role as the Taliban navigates internal tensions and faces continued attacks from the Islamic State’s Khorasan Province (IS-KP).