Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu claimed that Russian forces will “accelerate” the “special military operation” in Ukraine in a meeting with Chechen Leader Ramzan Kadyrov on June 3, though Russian forces are unlikely to be able to do so. Kadyrov said that Shoigu has “identified new tasks” that will improve the effectiveness of Russian offensive maneuvers and improve Russian tactics. Kadyrov did not specify which tasks Russian forces will undertake to speed up their pace. Shoigu previously claimed on May 24 that Russian forces were making slow progress in eastern Ukraine to avoid civilian casualties. In a retrospective on the 100th day of the war, the UK Defense Ministry stated that Russian forces will likely establish control over Luhansk Oblast in the next two weeks, though only at significant further cost. The UK Defense Ministry further noted that Russian forces on all other axes have gone over to defensive operations to concentrate all available forces in Severodonetsk, and stated Russia will need to commit sizable investment of manpower and equipment—that it will be unable to generate quickly, if at all—to advance beyond Luhansk Oblast.
Russian forces continued to make incremental, grinding, and costly progress in eastern Ukraine on June 2. Russian troops continued operations to capture Severodonetsk and further operations to capture Lysychansk. Russian military leadership will likely use the capture of these two cities to claim they have “liberated” all of Luhansk Oblast before turning to Donetsk Oblast but Russian forces are unlikely to have the forces necessary to take substantial territory in Donetsk Oblast after suffering further losses around Severodonetsk. Russian forces are evidently limited by terrain in the Donbas and will continue to face challenges crossing the Siverskyi Donets River to complete the encirclement of Severodonetsk-Lysychansk and make further advances westward of Lyman towards Slovyansk via Raihorodok.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson Oblast has gotten the attention of Russian forces in the area, and the Russians are scrambling to secure the vital ground line of communication (GLOC) the Ukrainians have threatened. Ukrainian forces carried out a series of organized counterattacks targeting settlements on the eastern bank of the Ihulets River that are very close to a key highway supporting Russian forces further north. The Russians have responded by destroying the bridges the Ukrainians used in one of those counterattacks and other bridges across the river in an effort to hold their line against anticipated continued Ukrainian counter-offensive operations. Ukrainian forces are likely still close enough to the highway to disrupt its use as a main supply route, potentially undermining the Russians’ ability to hold against Ukrainian counter-offensives from the north.
IS-KP’s overarching objective remains to undermine and ultimately replace the Taliban government. IS-KP’s recent attacks are part of its effort to delegitimize the Taliban at home and obstruct its efforts to normalize its government internationally. These attacks on countries neighboring Afghanistan signal to international jihadists that IS-KP is both willing and able to attack internationally. IS-KP is also attempting to attract local Uzbek and Tajik jihadists by signaling to them that it will support their efforts against the Uzbek and Tajik governments.
Moscow’s concentration on seizing Severodonetsk and Donbas generally continues to create vulnerabilities for Russia in Ukraine’s vital Kherson Oblast, where Ukrainian counter-offensives continue. Kherson is critical terrain because it is the only area of Ukraine in which Russian forces hold ground on the west bank of the Dnipro River. If Russia is able to retain a strong lodgment in Kherson when fighting stops it will be in a very strong position from which to launch a future invasion. If Ukraine regains Kherson, on the other hand, Ukraine will be in a much stronger position to defend itself against future Russian attack. This strategic calculus should in principle lead Russia to allocate sufficient combat power to hold Kherson. But Russian President Vladimir Putin has chosen instead to concentrate all the forces and resources that can be scraped together in a desperate and bloody push to seize areas of eastern Ukraine that will give him largely symbolic gains. Continuing successful Ukrainian counter-offensives in Kherson indicate that Ukraine’s commanders recognize these realities and are taking advantage of the vulnerabilities that Putin’s decisions have created.
Mounting casualties among Russian junior officers will likely further degrade Russian capabilities and lead to further morale breakdowns. The UK Ministry of Defense stated on May 30 that Russian forces have suffered devastating losses amongst mid and junior ranking officers. The UK MoD reported that battalion and brigade level officers continue to deploy forwards and into harm's way—rather than commanding from rear areas and delegating to lower-ranking officers—due to senior Russian officers holding them to an “uncompromising level of responsibility” for their units. The British Defense Ministry further reported that junior officers are in charge of low-level tactical operations due to a lack of professionalism and modernization within the Russian Armed Forces and that the continued losses of these junior officers will complicate command and control efforts, particularly in Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) cobbled together from the survivors of multiple other units. ISW previously assessed that continued demoralization and poor command and control among Russian forces could present Ukrainian forces opportunities to conduct prudent counteroffensives, particularly as the Russian military continues to pour resources into the battle of Severodonetsk at the cost of other lines of effort.
New reports confirmed that Ukrainian forces conducted a successful limited counterattack near the Kherson-Mykolaiv oblast border on May 28, forcing Russian forces onto the defensive. This Ukrainian counterattack is likely intended to disrupt Russian efforts to establish strong defensive positions along the Southern Axis. While the Ukrainian counterattack does not appear likely to retake substantial territory in the near term, it will likely disrupt Russian operations and potentially force Russia to deploy reinforcements to the Kherson region, which is predominantly held by sub-standard units. Ukrainian counterattacks may additionally slow Russian efforts to consolidate administrative control of occupied southern Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is inflicting unspeakable suffering on Ukrainians and demanding horrible sacrifices of his own people in an effort to seize a city that does not merit the cost, even for him.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine that aimed to seize and occupy the entire country has become a desperate and bloody offensive to capture a single city in the east while defending important but limited gains in the south and east. Ukraine has twice forced Putin to define down his military objectives. Ukraine defeated Russia in the Battle of Kyiv, forcing Putin to reduce his subsequent military objectives to seizing Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine stopped him from achieving that aim as well, forcing him to focus on completing the seizure of Luhansk Oblast alone. Putin is now hurling men and munitions at the last remaining major population center in that oblast, Severodonetsk, as if taking it would win the war for the Kremlin. He is wrong. When the Battle of Severodonetsk ends, regardless of which side holds the city, the Russian offensive at the operational and strategic levels will likely have culminated, giving Ukraine the chance to restart its operational-level counteroffensives to push Russian forces back.
Russian forces began direct assaults on Severodonetsk on May 27 despite not yet having fully encircled the town. Russian forces have performed poorly in operations in built-up urban terrain throughout the war to date and are unlikely to be able to advance rapidly in Severodonetsk itself. Russian forces continue to make steady and incremental gains around the city but have not yet encircled the Ukrainian defenders. Ukrainian forces continue to maintain defenses across eastern Ukraine and have slowed most Russian lines of advance. Russian forces will likely continue to make incremental advances and may succeed in encircling Severodonetsk in the coming days, but Russian operations around Izyum remain stalled and Russian forces will likely be unable to increase the pace of their advances.
Russian forces have made steady, incremental gains in heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine in the past several days, though Ukrainian defenses remain effective overall. Deputy Ukrainian Defense Minister Hanna Malyar stated that the fighting is currently at its "maximum intensity” compared to previous Russian assaults and will likely continue to escalate. Spokesperson for the Ukrainian Defense Ministry Oleksandr Motuzyanyk characterized Russian gains as “temporary success” and stated that Ukrainian forces are using a maneuver defense to put pressure on Russian advances in key areas. Russian forces have now taken control of over 95% of Luhansk Oblast and will likely continue efforts to complete the capture of Severodonetsk in the coming days. Russian forces have made several gains in the past week, but their offensive operations remain slow. Russian forces are heavily degraded and will struggle to replace further losses.