Ukraine Project

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 27, 2024

Russian forces are attempting to exploit tactical opportunities offered by the Russian seizure of Avdiivka and appear to be maintaining a relatively high tempo of offensive operations aimed at pushing as far as possible in the Avdiivka area before Ukrainian forces establish more cohesive and harder-to-penetrate defensive lines in the area. Russian forces temporarily decreased their tempo of operations as they cleared Avdiivka following the Russian seizure of the settlement on February 17, but have since resumed a relatively high tempo of assaults further west and northwest of Avdiivka.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 20, 2024

Ukraine has been defending itself against illegal Russian military intervention and aggression for 10 years. Russia violated its commitments to respect Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity and began its now decade-long military intervention in Ukraine on February 20, 2014 when Russian soldiers without identifying insignia (also known colloquially as “little green men” and, under international law, as illegal combatants), deployed to Crimea. The deployment of these Russian soldiers out of uniform followed months of protests in Ukraine against pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych for refusing to sign an association agreement with the European Union (EU) that the Ukrainian Rada had approved.The Yanukovych government killed and otherwise abused peaceful Ukrainian protestors, leading to an organized protest movement calling for Yanukovych’s resignation. This Ukrainian movement — the Euromaidan Movement — culminated in Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity during which the Rada voted to oust Yanukovych who then fled to Russia with the Kremlin’s aid. Russian President Vladimir Putin viewed these events as intolerable and launched a hybrid war against Ukraine as the Euromaidan Movement was still underway with the goal of reestablishing Russian control over all of Ukraine.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 15, 2024

Ukrainian officials announced that Ukrainian forces destroyed a Russian A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft and severely damaged an Il-22 airborne command post aircraft on the night of January 14. Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi posted flight tracking footage indicating that Ukrainian forces struck the A-50 and Il-22 over the Sea of Azov. Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat stated that Ukrainian forces were able to hit two targets while initially targeting the A-50. Ihnat stated that the Ukrainian strike forced the Il-22 to land in Anapa, that the Il-22 is likely irreparable, and that there were wounded and dead among its crew. Ukrainian and Russian sources posted a photo of the damaged Il-22 at the airfield in Russia. Ukrainian military officials, including Southern Operational Command Spokesperson Colonel Nataliya Humenyuk, stated that the A-50 directed Russian strikes against Ukrainian targets, such as air defense systems and aviation. Humenyuk stated that the destruction of the A-50 will at least postpone future Russian missile strikes on Ukraine. Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets stated on January 3 that Russia began constant sorties of A-50 aircraft due to the threat of Ukrainian strikes against Russian military infrastructure in Crimea, including Black Sea Fleet (BSF) assets. Valery Romanenko, a leading researcher at the Ukrainian State Aviation Museum of the National Aviation University, stated that the loss of the A-50 and members of its crew is “very painful” for Russia since a large part of the A-50's crew is highly specialized and must undergo several years of training. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command stated that Russia had only three A-50s in service out of a total of six prior to this strike.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 11, 2024

The reported concentration of the Russian military’s entire combat-capable ground force in Ukraine and ongoing Russian force generation efforts appear to allow Russian forces to conduct routine operational level rotations in Ukraine. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Deputy Chief Major General Vadym Skibitskyi stated on January 11 that Russian forces have 462,000 personnel in Ukraine and that this represents the entire land component of the Russian military. Skibitskyi stated that most Russian units in Ukraine are manned at between 92 and 95 percent of their intended end strength and that the size of the Russian grouping in Ukraine allows Russian forces to conduct rotations throughout the theater. Skibitskyi stated that Russian forces withdraw units that are at 50 percent or less of their intended end strength to rear areas and return them to the front following recovery and replenishment. Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev stated on January 11 that the Russian military has successfully replenished Russian forces in Ukraine through an ongoing crypto-mobilization effort that generated over 500,000 new personnel in 2023.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 2, 2024

Russian President Vladimir Putin identified the West as Russia’s “enemy” and implied that Russia is fighting in Ukraine in order to defeat the West. Putin responded to a Russian serviceman’s question about Western aid to Ukraine during a meeting at a military hospital in Moscow Oblast on January 1, stating that Russia’s issue is not necessarily that the West is aiding Ukraine, but rather that the West is Russia's "enemy." Putin added that “Ukraine by itself is not an enemy for [Russia],” but that Western-based actors “who want to destroy Russian statehood” and achieve the “strategic defeat of Russia on the battlefield” are Russia’s enemies. Putin claimed that Western elites are trying to break Russia into five parts and are trying to do so using Ukraine, but that the situation on the frontlines is changing and that Russia will “deal with the [West] faster” than the West can deal with Russia on the battlefields in Ukraine. Putin added that the problem is not in Western aid deliveries to Ukraine and noted that Ukraine has already been “completely destroyed,” that there is “nothing left” of the country, and that it “exists only on handouts.”

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, December 29, 2023

Russian forces conducted the largest series of missile and drone strikes against Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion on the morning of December 29. Ukrainian military sources reported that Russian forces launched 36 Shahed-136/131 drones and over 120 missiles of various sizes at industrial and military facilities and critical infrastructure in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia, and Odesa cities and Sumy, Cherkasy, and Mykolaiv oblasts. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces launched a total of 160 projectiles at Ukraine and that Ukrainian forces downed 27 Shaheds and 88 Kh-101, Kh-555, and Kh-55 missiles. Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi reported that Russian forces first launched the 36 Shahed drones from the northern, southeastern, and western directions in the early hours of December 29. Zaluzhnyi reported that Russian strategic aircraft and bombers later launched at least 90 Kh-101, Kh-555, and Kh-55 cruise missiles and eight Kh-22 and Kh-32 missiles. Russian forces also struck Kharkiv City with modified S-300 air defense missiles and launched a total of 14 S-300, S-400, and Iskander-M ballistic missiles from occupied Crimea and Russia. Zaluzhnyi reported that Russian forces also launched five Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched ballistic missiles, four Kh-31P anti-radar missiles, and one Kh-59 cruise missile at unspecified targets in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reported that Russian forces struck civilian infrastructure such as a maternity hospital, educational institutions, a shopping center, a commercial warehouse, and residential buildings in cities throughout Ukraine.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, December 23, 2023

The New York Times (NYT) - citing former and current senior Russian, US, and international officials - reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using back channels and intermediaries to signal his interest in a ceasefire, despite Putin’s recent public statements to the contrary. NYT reported that Western officials have been picking up renewed signals through backchannels since September 2023 that Putin is interested in a ceasefire that freezes the current frontlines, but noted that Western officials warned the backchannels could be “Kremlin misdirection” and may not reflect a “genuine willingness” to negotiate. NYT suggested several possible motivations Putin may have for his reported interest in a ceasefire: the upcoming March 2024 Russian presidential election, a desire to “keep his options open” regarding the war’s resolution and take advantage of perceived waning Western support for Ukraine, and the “distraction” of the Israel-Hamas war. All these motivations reflect temporary reasons why Putin might pursue a temporary ceasefire that would benefit Russia by allowing Russia the time to prepare for renewed aggression against Ukraine, as ISW has routinely assessed. The NYT noted that Putin’s public rhetoric, which has recently reasserted Russia’s maximalist objectives that are tantamount to full Ukrainian and Western surrender, is at odds with Putin’s reported private desire to “declare victory and move on.” Neither the NYT nor its sources offered any reason to believe Putin’s backchannel communications would be more reflective of his goals than his public speeches addressing domestic, Ukrainian, and international audiences. The NYT report also failed to make clear whether Putin’s alleged interest in a ceasefire is for a temporary pause or a permanent end to the war.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, December 20, 2023

Head of the Kremlin-controlled Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill made a series of anti-migrant and xenophobic remarks that directly contradict Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing efforts to reestablish the inclusive Russian World (Russkiy Mir) ideology. During the Moscow Diocesan Assembly on December 20, Kirill blamed migrants for increasingly threatening interreligious and interethnic peace in Russia by refusing to integrate into Russian society and forming criminal and extremist organizations. Kirill added that life for the ethnically Russian “indigenous population” is almost unbearable in some areas, including Moscow, claiming that if such trends continue then the Russian Orthodox people will “lose Russia.” Kirill’s statements contrast with Putin’s recent efforts to present himself as a centrist figure and to reestablish the concept of the Russian World, which includes all people of different ethnicities and religious affiliations who have lived or are living in geographical areas that belonged to Ancient Rus (Kyivan Rus), the Kingdom of Muscovy, the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and the contemporary Russian Federation. Putin notably also stated during the Meeting of the Council of Legislators on December 20 that the Russian constitution and government are trying to ensure harmony in a diverse and large Russia – reemphasizing his efforts to present Russia as an inclusive and harmonious multicultural Russian state.