The Institute for the Study of War and the IBM Center for The Business of Government have launched a three-event series, “Addressing the New Era of Deterrence and Warfare: Visualizing the Information Domain.”
Calls among Russian nationalist and pro-war voices for Russian President Vladimir Putin to expand Russia’s war aims, mobilize the state fully for war, and drop the pretext that Russia is not engaged in a war reached a crescendo on July 19. Former Russian militant commander and nationalist milblogger Igor Girkin presented an extensive list of military, economic, and political actions that he argues the Kremlin must take to win the war in Ukraine; first among this list is abandoning the rhetoric of the “special military operation” and defining the official goals of the war in Ukraine. Girkin advocated for expansive territorial aims beyond the Kremlin’s stated ambitions in Donbas, including the reunification of the entire territory of “Novorossiya” (which Girkin maintains includes Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Mykolaiv, Odesa, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts as well as Kryvyi Rih) with the Russian Federation and the creation of a Malorossiya state (all of Ukraine up to the Polish border), which Girkin claims should be reunified with Russia through the Russia-Belarus Union State. Girkin also called for the Kremlin to shift the Russian economy fully to a war footing and to carry out extensive mobilization measures including forced conscription and the (further) suspension of Russians’ rights. Girkin has often criticized what he views as a lack of ambition and decisive action in the Kremlin’s handling of the war in Ukraine through his calls for maximalist objectives and measures to support territorial gains. His newest list of demands adds to the growing discontent within the Russian pro-war nationalist zeitgeist.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu’s July 18 meeting with the commander of the Eastern group of forces Lieutenant General Rustam Muradov supports ISW’s assessment that Moscow will not prioritize an attack to seize Slovyansk in this stage of the operation but will instead focus on seizing Siversk and Bakhmut. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced on July 18 that Shoigu inspected the Eastern group and directed Muradov to prioritize the destruction of Ukrainian long-range missiles and artillery systems. This is the first time ISW has observed explicit mention of the Eastern force grouping operating in Ukraine in this phase of the war. The Russian MoD previously reported that the Central and Southern force groups took part in the capture of Luhansk Oblast under the leadership of Colonel General Aleksandr Lapin and Army General Sergey Surovikin. The Eastern group of forces is likely comprised of elements of the Russian Eastern Military District (EMD), which have been active along the Izyum axis in Kharkiv Oblast. It is still unclear whether Muradov also directly controls operations around Kharkiv City. Muradov‘s forces are operating in the Izyum-Slovyansk direction ostensibly with the objective of eventually seizing Slovyansk itself, and it is noteworthy that Shoigu did not direct Muradov to prioritize taking ground along this axis at this time. Muradov holds a lower rank than both Lapin and Surovikin, suggesting that the Kremlin considers the Izyum-Slovyansk area to be a lower priority than capturing territory in Donetsk Oblast as part of the wider Donbas campaign. The Kremlin likely is focusing military resources and high-rank leadership on localized and discrete gains around Siversk and Bakhmut, despite Shoigu’s earlier calls for the intensification of operations along all axes of advance.
Russian forces are continuing a measured return from the operational pause and conducted limited ground attacks in Donetsk Oblast on July 17. As ISW has previously noted, the end of the Russian operational pause is unlikely to create a massive new wave of ground assaults across multiple axes of advance despite Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s public order for exactly that. Russian troops are prioritizing advances around Siversk and Bakhmut while maintaining defensive positions north of Kharkiv City and along the Southern Axis. Russian forces continued to set conditions for resumed offensives toward Slovyansk, shelled settlements along the Izyum-Slovyansk salient, and otherwise conducted artillery, missile, and air strikes throughout Ukraine. The Russian Ministry of Defense notably did not claim any new territorial gains on July 17. ISW continues to forecast that the end of the operational pause will be characterized by a fluctuating and staggered resumption of ground offensives.
The Russian Defense Ministry announced that the Russian operational pause has concluded on July 16, confirming ISW’s July 15 assessment. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu ordered Southern Group Commander General of the Army Sergey Surovikin and Central Group Commander Colonel General Alexander Lapin to increase offensive operations on all axes on July 16, but the tempo of the resuming Russian offensive will likely fluctuate or stutter over the coming days. Russian forces conducted fewer ground assaults on all axes on July 16 than on July 15, but maintained increased artillery and missile strikes on July 16.
The Russian Federation has launched a large-scale drive to form volunteer battalions in the 85 “federal subjects” (or regions) that comprise the federation. Recruiting for some volunteer battalions began in June but has intensified in July, with new volunteer units being reported daily. The battalions apparently will consist of roughly 400 men each aged between 18 and 60. They will belong to various branches of service including motorized rifle, tank, and naval infantry, but also signals and logistics. Recruits are not required to have prior military service and will undergo only 30 days of training before deployment to Ukraine.
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.
Russia’s operational pause largely continued, with limited Russian ground assaults along the Slovyansk-Siversk-Bakhmut salient. Russian forces continued heavy shelling, missile attacks, and airstrikes all along the front line. The Russians will likely launch a larger-scale and more determined offensive along the Slovyansk-Siversk-Bakhmut line soon, but there are no indications yet of how soon that attack will begin or exactly where it will focus.
The Kremlin likely ordered Russian “federal subjects” (regions) to form volunteer battalions to participate in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, instead of declaring partial or full mobilization in Russia. Russian war correspondent and milblogger Maksim Fomin stated that Russia has begun a “volunteer mobilization,” where every region must generate at least one volunteer battalion. The term “volunteer mobilization” likely implies that the Kremlin ordered the 85 “federal subjects” (regions, including occupied Sevastopol and Crimea) to recruit and financially incentivize volunteers to form new battalions, rather than referring to literal mobilization relying on conscription or the compulsory activation of all reservists in Russia. Russian outlets reported that regional officials recruit men up to 50 years old (or 60 for separate military specialties) for six-month contracts and offer salaries averaging 220,000 to 350,000 rubles per month (approximately $3,750 to $6,000). Separate regions offer an immediate enlistment bonus that averages 200,000 rubles (approximately $3,400) issued from the region‘s budget and social benefits for the servicemen and their families. Russian media has already confirmed the creation or deployment of volunteer battalions in Kursk, Primorskyi Krai, Republic of Bashkortostan, Chuvashia Republic, Chechnya, Republic of Tatarstan, Moscow City, Perm, Nizhny Novgorod, and Orenburg Oblasts in late June and early July. Tyumen Oblast officials announced the formation of volunteer units (not specifically a battalion) on July 7.
Russian forces remain in a theater-wide operational pause in Ukraine. Russian forces continue to regroup, rest, refit, and reconstitute; bombard critical areas to set conditions for future ground offensives; and conduct limited probing attacks. The Russian Ministry of Defense did not claim any new territorial control on July 12. ISW has previously noted that an operational pause does not mean a cessation of attacks. Current Russian offensive actions are likely meant to prepare for future offensives, the timing of which remains unclear.