Publications

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 30, 2024

March 30, 2024 - ISW Press

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky indicated that delays in American security assistance have forced Ukraine to cede the battlefield initiative and that these delays continue to threaten Ukraine’s defensive capabilities. The Washington Post published excerpts of an interview with Zelensky on March 29 in which Zelensky stated that Ukraine will not be able to defend its territory without American support, as Ukraine currently relies on air defense systems and missiles, electronic warfare jammers, and 155mm artillery shells from the United States. Zelensky stated that continued materiel shortages will force the Ukrainian military to cede more Ukrainian territory and people “step by step” since a smaller but more stable frontline is preferable to a larger but unstable front that Russian forces could exploit to achieve a breakthrough. Zelensky stated that Ukrainian forces are “trying to find some way not to retreat” from unspecified frontline areas and noted that Ukrainian forces have stabilized the front near Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast.

The Russian Orthodox Church Declares “Holy War” Against Ukraine and Articulates Tenets of Russia’s Emerging Official Nationalist Ideology

March 30, 2024 - ISW Press

The Russian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate (ROC MP), a Kremlin-controlled organization and a known tool within the Russian hybrid warfare toolkit, held the World Russian People’s Council in Moscow on March 27 and 28 and approved an ideological and policy document tying several Kremlin ideological narratives together in an apparent effort to form a wider nationalist ideology around the war in Ukraine and Russia’s expansionist future. The ROC MP intensified Kremlin rhetoric about Russia’s war in Ukraine and cast it as an existential and civilizational “holy war,” a significant inflection for Russian authorities who have so far carefully avoided officially framing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as any kind of “war."

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 29, 2024

March 29, 2024 - ISW Press

The Russian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate (ROC MP), a Kremlin-controlled organization and a known tool within the Russian hybrid warfare toolkit, held the World Russian People’s Council in Moscow on March 27 and 28 and approved an ideological and policy document tying several Kremlin ideological narratives together in an apparent effort to form a wider nationalist ideology around the war in Ukraine and Russia’s expansionist future.

Positional Warfare in Alexander Svechin’s Strategy

March 29, 2024 - ISW Press

Discussions of the character of the Russian war in Ukraine have increasingly adopted terms such as “stalemate” and “attritional” to describe the state of the conflict. Both terms draw parallels with the Western Front of the First World War that are not wholly inaccurate but that can be misleading if taken too far. The current Russian war in Ukraine is certainly not stalemated in the sense of having reached a point where neither side can make further progress. Nor is it, properly speaking, attritional. An attritional war is one in which attrition itself is the victory mechanism — that is, one side aims to win by wearing the other down through losses.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 28, 2024

March 28, 2024 - ISW Press

Ukraine is currently preventing Russian forces from making significant tactical gains along the entire frontline, but continued delays in US security assistance will likely expand the threat of Russian operational success, including in non-linear and possibly exponential ways. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated in an interview with CBS News published on March 28 that Ukrainian forces managed to hold off Russian advances through winter 2023–2024 and that Ukrainian forces have stabilized the operational situation.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 27, 2024

March 27, 2024 - ISW Press

The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) released its 38th report on the human rights situation in Ukraine on March 26, confirming several of ISW’s longstanding assessments about Russia’s systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in occupied territories and towards Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs). The HRMMU report details activities between December 1, 2023 and February 29 2024, and includes new findings about Russia’s abuse of Ukrainian POWs during this timeframe, based on interviews with 60 recently released male POWs. Nearly all of the POWs that HRMMU interviewed detailed how they were tortured by Russian forces with beatings and electric shocks and threatened with execution, and over half of the interviewees experienced sexual violence.

Denying Russia’s Only Strategy for Success

March 27, 2024 - ISW Press

The notion that the war is unwinnable because of Russia’s dominance is a Russian information operation, which gives us a glimpse of the Kremlin’s real strategy and only real hope of success. The Kremlin must get the United States to the sidelines, allowing Russia to fight Ukraine in isolation and then proceed to Moscow’s next targets, which Russia will also seek to isolate. The Kremlin needs the United States to choose inaction and embrace the false inevitability that Russia will prevail in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin’s center of gravity is his ability to shape the will and decisions of the West, Ukraine, and Russia itself.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 26, 2024

March 26, 2024 - ISW Press

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said that the Crocus City Hall attackers originally fled toward Belarus not Ukraine, directly undermining the Kremlin narrative on Ukraine’s involvement, possibly to head off questions about why the attackers headed toward Belarus in the first place. During a visit to Belarus’ northwestern Ashmyany raion on March 26, Lukashenko reported that the Crocus City Hall attackers may have been planning to escape Russia’s Bryansk Oblast to Belarus, but that Belarus introduced a heightened security regime that forced the attackers to change course towards the Russia-Ukraine border. Lukashenko stated that the attackers “couldn’t enter Belarus” and praised high levels of cooperation between Russian and Belarusian special services for leading to the attackers’ arrests.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 25, 2024

March 25, 2024 - ISW Press

The March 22 Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) attack on Moscow’s Crocus City Hall is a notable Russian intelligence and law enforcement failure, and explaining currently available open-source evidence does not require any wider and more complicated conspiracy theory either within or against the Russian state. Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed during an address on March 25 that “radical Islamists” committed the attack, but immediately and baselessly accused the United States of trying to cover the “Ukrainian trace” of the attack, directly accusing Ukraine of being the “customer” of the attack. ISW continues to assess that the attack itself, as well as the claim pattern following the attack, is highly consistent with the way IS conducts and claims such incidents and has observed no evidence that Ukraine was involved in the attack.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 24, 2024

March 24, 2024 - ISW Press

Ukrainian forces struck a Black Sea Fleet communications center in occupied Sevastopol, Crimea, and reportedly struck an oil depot and at least partially damaged two BSF landing ships on the night of March 23.

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