April 12, 2023
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 12, 2023
Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.
Click here to access ISW’s archive of interactive time-lapse maps of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These maps complement the static control-of-terrain map that ISW produces daily by showing a dynamic frontline. ISW will update this time-lapse map archive monthly.
The Kremlin’s campaign of “Russification” in Ukraine is burning back into Russia itself as it continues to empower and amplify overtly nationalist voices and ideologies. Russia is engaged in a campaign of deliberate “Russification” within Ukraine aimed at the destruction of Ukrainian identity through a multitude of military, social, economic, legal, bureaucratic, and administrative lines of efforts.[i] The ideologies that underpin the basis of this “Russification” also form the rhetorical backbone of the pro-war information space, which frequently mirrors its militarism with staunch Russian nationalism and intense xenophobia that is directed both at Ukraine and Ukrainian identity as well as at domestic minorities within Russia itself.
The domestic ramifications of the acceptance of the ideology of “Russification” are manifested in the responses by Russian authorities and prominent Russian milbloggers to ethnic minorities in Russia. Several Russian milbloggers and commentators published their reactions to a recent news story about the murder of a 17-year-old Russian student by a group of Tajik migrants in Chelyabinsk and used the story to criticize Central Asian migrants and ethnic minority communities for failing to integrate into Russian society.[ii] Head of the Russian Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin accused migrants of destabilizing Russia by importing terrorism and extremist ideologies and emphasized the role of migration policy in ensuring public order.[iii] Former Russian officer and ardent nationalist Igor Girkin amplified a criticism that authorities of the Tuvan Republic are returning the indigenous Tuvan names to 104 administrative-territorial units, which one milblogger decried as “pushing boundaries” unnecessarily during wartime.[iv] Social media footage circulated on April 12 shows a group of Russian men reportedly giving the Nazi salute and walking past administrative buildings in Ufa, Bashkortostan while shouting “Russia is for Russians.”[v] These instances of xenophobia and racism exemplify the crux of domestic “Russification.” The war in Ukraine has empowered the most virulent voices in the information space to consolidate their ideology and project it both towards the Ukrainian people and towards non-Slavic minorities in Russia itself. This dynamic will likely escalate as the war continues and will outlive Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, pervading the Russian domestic space for years to come.
These domestic-facing ramifications of “Russification” ironically continue to place the onus of the war effort on the communities that it marginalizes. Bastrykin has previously called for military authorities to specifically recruit migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus who received Russian citizenship because these migrants have a “constitutional obligation to protect the country that received them.”[vi] Russian officials at the Sakharovo migrant center in Moscow are reportedly requiring the center’s employees to offer migrants contracts for military service, as ISW previously reported.[vii] Russian officials have continuously targeted migrant and ethnic minority communities in ongoing force generation efforts, which largely places the military burden of the “Russification” project in Ukraine on communities and individuals that are its targets domestically.[viii]
Russian milbloggers offered a muted response to a Kaluga Oblast court’s refusal to hear a case against Russian military doctor and “Union of Donbas Volunteers” member Yuri Yevich for “discrediting the Russian armed forces.” The Kozelsky District Court in Kaluga Oblast issued on April 12 a decision on the “return of the protocol” of Yevich’s administrative offense and other materials of the case to Russian law enforcement agencies, which permits those agencies to resolve any issues associated with the case materials.[ix] Russian authorities may still decide to pursue legal prosecution against Yevich for the charge of “discrediting Russian armed forces” after reviewing and formalizing those case materials. Russian milbloggers had previously widely decried the charging of Yevich and voiced concerns that Russian authorities could use the law as carte blanche to suppress any Russian soldier, volunteer, or “patriot.”[x] A very limited number of Russian milbloggers amplified the court’s decision without additional commentary on April 12, however.[xi] The court’s refusal to hear the case partially met Russian milbloggers’ previous demands, and the milbloggers’ failure to recognize this fact reflects the fact that this community focuses on promoting salient controversies to criticize Russian officials and institutions. Russian milbloggers’ responses to the court's refusal to hear the case may also be muted because they are worried that the charges against Yevich represent a trial run for using the law against the “discreditation” of the Russian Armed Forces to suppress segments of the ultranationalist pro-war community. Russian milbloggers may view the court’s refusal to hear the case as a pause in a possible Kremlin plan to begin censoring some segments of the Russian pro-war information space that have been highly critical of the Kremlin, and milbloggers will be unlikely to admit any satisfaction about this controversy until the case against Yevich is completely dropped.
The Russian nationalist community continues to glorify atrocities and advocate for the expansion of brutality. Russian milbloggers responded to widely circulated footage of a Russian soldier beheading a Ukrainian prisoner of war. A Wagner-affiliated Telegram channel attempted to excuse the beheading by claiming that both sides engage in brutal acts and asserted that this beheading would not be the last violent execution during the war.[xii] The channel claimed that being accused of brutality during war is like getting fined for speeding during a car race—a claim it used when discussing two previous Wagner executions videos.[xiii] Russian forces’ continued use of such violent tactics and its support in the Russian information space undermines professionalism and discipline in the Russian military.
- The Kremlin’s campaign of “Russification” in Ukraine is burning back into Russia itself as it continues to empower and amplify overtly nationalist voices and ideologies.
- The domestic ramifications of the acceptance of the ideology of “Russification” are manifested in the responses by Russian authorities and prominent Russian milbloggers to ethnic minorities in Russia.
- These domestic-facing ramifications of “Russification” ironically continue to place the onus of the war effort on the exact communities that it marginalizes.
- Russian milbloggers offered a muted response to a Kaluga Oblast court’s refusal to hear a case against Russian military doctor and “Union of Donbas Volunteers” member Yuri Yevich for “discrediting the Russian armed forces.”
- The Russian nationalist community continues to glorify atrocities and advocate for the expansion of brutality.
- Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks near Kreminna.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks in and around Bakhmut and along the Avdiivka-Donetsk line.
- Russian forces continue to construct defenses in occupied Zaporizhia Oblast and Crimea.
- Russian officials continue to advance a law aimed at improving the effectiveness of issuing summonses and cracking down on Russian draft dodgers.
- The Ukrainian Resistance Center released a report detailing the extent of illegal deportations of Ukrainian children from Donbas to the Russian Federation.
We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because these activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and the Ukrainian population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.
- Russian Main Effort – Eastern Ukraine (comprised of two subordinate main efforts)
- Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1 – Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and push westward into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and encircle northern Donetsk Oblast
- Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2 – Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
- Russian Supporting Effort – Southern Axis
- Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
- Activities in Russian-occupied areas
Russian Main Effort – Eastern Ukraine
Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1 – Luhansk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and push westward into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and northern Donetsk Oblast)
Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks near Kreminna on April 12. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive actions near Bilohorivka (10km south of Kreminna) and Spirne (25km south of Kreminna).[xiv] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful operations near Torske, Nevske, and Makiivka (all within 14 to 21km west or northwest of Kreminna) and that Russian forces pushed Ukrainian forces out of positions near Shyplivka (9km south of Kreminna) and the Serebrianska forest area (10km south of Kreminna).[xv] Another milblogger claimed that positional battles occurred near Makiivka (21km northwest of Kreminna) and Zhuravka gully (18km west of Kreminna) on April 11.[xvi] Footage published on April 11 purportedly showed elements of the 76th Airborne Assault Division (VDV) operating near Kreminna.[xvii]
Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2 – Donetsk Oblast (Russian Objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)
Russian forces continued ground attacks in and around Bakhmut and did not make any confirmed gains in the city on April 12. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that fierce fighting is ongoing within Bakhmut and that Russian troops conducted unsuccessful offensive actions near Khromove (3km west of Bakhmut) and Bohdanivka (5km northwest of Bakhmut).[xviii] Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty stated that Wagner forces are attacking Bakhmut mainly in small tactical groups with the support of conventional Russian elements.[xix] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Wagner assault detachments captured three unspecified city blocks within Bakhmut while Russian airborne (VDV) elements pinned Ukrainian forces down on Wagner’s flanks.[xx] Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner fighters attacked Ukrainian positions along Petra Chaikovskoho Street in southwestern Bakhmut and continued fighting in northern, central, and southwestern sectors of the city.[xxi] One Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces now control 80 percent of Bakhmut, including all central administrative buildings.[xxii] Russian forces are visually confirmed to control at least 76.5 percent of Bakhmut, per ISW’s April 11 control of terrain assessment.[xxiii]
Russian forces continued ground attacks along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City frontline on April 12. Geolocated footage posted on April 11 indicates that Russian forces have advanced near Novobakhmutivka (10km north of Avdiivka) and crossed the N20 Donetsk City-Kramatorsk-Slovyansk highway.[xxiv] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces continued unsuccessful offensive operations near Avdiivka itself; on the northwestern outskirts of Donetsk City near Pervomaiske and Nevelske; and on the southwestern outskirts of Donetsk City near Marinka and Pobieda.[xxv] Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces continued efforts to encircle Avdiivka from the south and that the current frontline runs less than 1km south of Sieverne (5km due west of Avdiivka).[xxvi] A Russian milblogger additionally claimed that fighting is ongoing in western Marinka.[xxvii]
Russian forces did not conduct any claimed or confirmed ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast on April 12.[xxviii]
Russian Supporting Effort – Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)
Russian forces continue to construct defenses in southern Ukraine. Russian milbloggers amplified stories from The Washington Post and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty showing satellite imagery in early April showing Russian-constructed fortifications throughout Crimea.[xxix] The imagery shows defenses along the M18 highway near Medvedivka, and along the North Crimean Canal near Armiansk, Maslove, and Novoivanivka likely constructed in early 2023. The imagery also shows the construction of fortifications along the beaches near Vityne in western Crimea. Milbloggers responded to satellite imagery on April 12 with the observation that it indicates that the Russian command has made the correct decision to address concerns over a Ukrainian counteroffensive.[xxx] The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) reported on April 12 that Russia forces have completed three layers of defenses across about 120km of Zaporizhia Oblast.[xxxi] ISW previously reported that the continued construction of fortifications in Crimea may suggest that Russian forces are unsure of their ability to hold occupied territories in southern Ukraine in anticipation of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.[xxxii] Russian sources published footage on April 11 and 12 purportedly showing unspecified special forces elements of the Russian Airborne (VDV) forces and the ”Crimea” Volunteer detachment operating in the Zaporizhia direction.[xxxiii]
Russian forces conducted routine shelling in Kherson, Zaporizhia, Dnipropetrovsk, and Mykolaiv oblasts on April 12.[xxxiv]
Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)
Russian officials continue to advance a law aimed at improving the effectiveness of issuing summonses and cracking down on Russian draft dodgers. The Russian Federation Council approved a law creating a digital register of Russian citizens eligible for military service on April 12.[xxxv] Russian Ministry of Digitalization head Maksut Shadaev stated on April 12 that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) will determine the timing of the registry's launch after the adoption of the law but that this will not occur before the fall 2023 conscription cycle.[xxxvi] The law included amendments providing for punishments for not responding to summonses within a 20-day period and a stipulation allowing 18-year-olds to enter contract service without attending a technical school or completing the first three months of conscription service.[xxxvii] Russian opposition outlet Meduza reported that Kremlin-affiliated sources stated that government media received instructions for covering the bill on the afternoon of April 11 and that Russian officials are concerned about the public reaction to the new conscription measures.[xxxviii] Russian State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Andrei Kartapolov stated on April 11 that it was impossible to postpone the consideration of the law and its amendments as it is extremely relevant following mobilization measures in 2022 that revealed serious problems in the field of military registration.[xxxix] Russian sources claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed the Russian Ministry of Digitalization to create the database for Russia citizens eligible for military service by 2024 but that the new rules on conscription will come into effect before the registry begins operating.[xl] The Kremlin is likely attempting to improve the effectiveness of its conscription apparatus to support long-term force generation efforts and the Russian MoD’s long-term goals for expanding and professionalizing the Russian armed forces. ISW continues to assess that Russian forces will not commit conscripts to Ukraine in the foreseeable future, and the Kremlin’s continued focus on improving the conscription apparatus appears to be dissonant with immediate Russian force generation needs in Ukraine.
Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin identified Russian officials who are reportedly barring the Wagner Group from advertising in specific regions in Russia. Prigozhin accused St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov and unnamed Russian officials in Yaroslavl Oblast of refusing to allow Wagner to place public recruitment advertisements.[xli] Russian sources reported on April 10 and 11 that Wagner is continuing mass advertisement campaigns throughout Russia.[xlii]
One hundred Russian mobilized personnel have reportedly disappeared after refusing to sign contracts with the Wagner Group. Russian sources reported that Russian forces transferred the 100 personnel to an unspecified training ground in Luhansk Oblast after the Wagner Group threatened them with violence for refusing to sign contracts on April 7.[xliii] Geolocated footage published on April 11 shows former South Ossetia president Lieutenant General Anatoly Bibilov threatening the mobilized personnel in Kadiivka, Luhansk Oblast over claims about desertion and Wagner personnel reportedly locking them in a repair plant before escorting them to the unspecified training ground.[xliv] A Russian source reported that the mobilized servicemembers have been unaccounted for since April 7.[xlv]
Activities in Russian-occupied areas (Russian objective: Consolidate administrative control of annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)
The Ukrainian Resistance Center released a report on April 12 detailing the extent of illegal deportations of Ukrainian children from Donbas to the Russian Federation. The Resistance Center reported that Russian forces have brought 100,000 Ukrainian children from eastern Ukraine to Russia under the continued guise of medical rehabilitation.[xlvi] The Resistance Center stated that Russian authorities plan to spend 1.4 billion rubles (about $17 million) to intensify medical examinations of children in occupied territories and that the majority of those examined will be sent to Russia for “treatment.”[xlvii] The Resistance Center reported that Russian occupation authorities have deported 39,000 of 75,000 children examined in occupied Donetsk Oblast since January 1, 2023, and diagnosed 66,000 of 94,000 children examined in occupied Luhansk Oblast with “pathology” that requires treatment in Russia.[xlviii]
The Wagner Group is likely involved in the removal of Ukrainian civilians, including children, from Bakhmut. Wagner-affiliated source RIAFAN posted footage on April 11 detailing the story of an 11-year-old girl from Bakhmut whom Wagner found and “rescued.”[xlix] Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova reported on April 6 that her administration is working to provide humanitarian assistance to families with children whom Wagner removed from Bakhmut.[l] It is still unclear where these families and children are being re-homed, but it is likely that Wagner is facilitating their removal further into Russian occupied territory or deportation to the Russian Federation and using humanitarian justifications to do so.
Significant activity in Belarus (ISW assesses that a Russian or Belarusian attack into northern Ukraine in early 2023 is extraordinarily unlikely and has thus restructured this section of the update. It will no longer include counter-indicators for such an offensive.)
ISW will continue to report daily observed Russian and Belarusian military activity in Belarus, but these are not indicators that Russian and Belarusian forces are preparing for an imminent attack on Ukraine from Belarus. ISW will revise this text and its assessment if it observes any unambiguous indicators that Russia or Belarus is preparing to attack northern Ukraine.
Belarusian maneuver elements continue conducting exercises across Belarus. An airborne infantry battalion of the Belarusian 38th Airborne Assault Brigade conducted tactical exercises at the Brest Training Ground in Brest, Belarus, on April 12.[li] Belarus’ military deployed an unspecified mechanized formation of Belarus’ Western Operational Command to Slonim Raion in Grodno Oblast to simulate transferring forcing from a peacetime to wartime posture.[lii] A senior Belarusian security official stated that this formation will conduct a brigade tactical exercise involving about 6,000 personnel.[liii] Engineer elements of the Belarusian 557th Engineering Brigade redeployed to their permanent base on April 12 after establishing a pontoon crossing over the Neman River in Lida Raion, Grodno Oblast.[liv]
Belarus is conducting a command staff exercise in Borisov, Belarus, from April 11 – 13.[lv] Unspecified Belarusian territorial defense and Ministry of Internal Affairs elements conducted tactical exercises at the Belarusian 227th Combined Arms Training Ground in Borisov, Belarus, on April 12 as part of a larger command staff exercise.[lvi]
Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update.
[i] https://isw.pub/RusCampaignOct14; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-18-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-23-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/case-against-negotiations-russia; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-13-2023
[ii] https://t.me/NeoficialniyBeZsonoV/24178; https://t.me/SergeyKolyasnikov/47732v; https://t.me/RSaponkov/4802; https://t.me/grey_zone/18145; https://t.me/kartezianec/3386; https://t.me/vysokygovorit/11269
[viii] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-24-2023; https://isw.pub/RusCampaignOct18; https://isw.pub/RusCampaignJuly24
[ix] https://tass dot ru/proisshestviya/17509355 ; https://egidacentr dot ru/stat/procedural-law/vozvrat-protokola-ob-administrativnom-pravonarushenii.html#:~:text=%D0%92%D0%BE%D0%B7%D0%B2%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%89%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B5%20%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%BE%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B0%20%D0%B2%D0%BE%D0%B7%D0%BC%D0%BE%D0%B6%D0%BD%D0%BE%20%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%BB%D1%8C%D0%BA%D0%BE%20%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B8%20%D0%BF%D0%BE%D0%B4%D0%B3%D0%BE%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%BA%D0%B5%20%D0%B4%D0%B5%D0%BB%D0%B0%20%D0%BA,%D0%B4%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B6%D0%BD%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%82%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%BC%D1%83%20%D0%BB%D0%B8%D1%86%D1%83%2C%20%D1%81%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%B2%D0%B8%D0%B2%D1%88%D0%B8%D0%BC%20%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%BE%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%BB%2C%20%D0%BF%D0%BE%20%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%B7%D1%83%D0%BB%D1%8C%D1%82%D0%B0%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%BC%20%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%81%D1%81%D0%BC%D0%BE%D1%82%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%8F%20%D0%B4%D0%B5%D0%BB%D0%B0.
[xxviii]https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02tiNNw4Z8rmn7hnkNGBLtuPeLajrHiKU8nsAC89XmYKoRs3BUq2oD84u4nH8aejjNl; YXnfTKLKXiboGoqgy8eomF9PGfcbL5ef3p9yHoAnUzvxVi4fnDvKJl; https://t.me/mod_russia/25582; https://t.me/mod_russia/25579
[xxxiv]https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02tiNNw4Z8rmn7hnkNGBLtuPeLajrHiKU8nsAC89XmYKoRs3BUq2oD84u4nH8aejjNl; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0yGsp7unLxdAYXnfTKLKXiboGoqgy8eomF9PGfcbL5ef3p9yHoAnUzvxVi4fnDvKJl; https://t.me/khersonskaODA/5099; https://t.me/khersonskaODA/5094; https://t.me/khersonskaODA/5093; https://t.me/hueviyherson/37852; https://t.me/mykolaivskaODA/4754; https://t.me/zoda_gov_ua/18209; https://t.me/Yevtushenko_E/3187; https://t.me/Yevtushenko_E/3188
[xxxv] https://ria dot ru/20230412/reestr-1864771126.html ; https://t.me/rbc_news/71981
[xxxviii] https://meduza dot io/feature/2023/04/12/novaya-sistema-chelovekoorientirovana-i-udobna
[xxxix] https://meduza dot io/feature/2023/04/12/novaya-sistema-chelovekoorientirovana-i-udobna
[xl] https://t.me/military_ombudsmen/876; https://t.me/news_sirena/13406 ; https://meduza dot io/news/2023/04/12/glava-mintsifry-reestr-voennobyazannyh-v-polnom-ob-eme-zapustyat-ne-ranshe-osennego-prizyva
[xliii] https://t.me/mobilizationnews/10828; https://t.me/astrapress/24786; https://t.me/astrapress/24785
[xliv] https://twitter.com/AmamNgc/status/1646131082532716544?s=20; https://t.me/Donbas_Operativniy/34786
[xlvi] https://sprotyv.mod.gov dot ua/2023/04/12/rosiyany-vyvezly-ponad-100-tys-ditej-zi-shodu-ukrayiny-na-likuvannya/
[xlvii] https://sprotyv.mod.gov dot ua/2023/04/12/rosiyany-vyvezly-ponad-100-tys-ditej-zi-shodu-ukrayiny-na-likuvannya/
[xlviii] https://sprotyv.mod.gov dot ua/2023/04/12/rosiyany-vyvezly-ponad-100-tys-ditej-zi-shodu-ukrayiny-na-likuvannya/
[lv] https://t.me/modmilby/25619 ; https://t.me/modmilby/25627