September 26, 2023

Ukraine Invasion Updates

This page collects the Critical Threats Project (CTP) and the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) updates on the invasion of Ukraine. In late February 2022, CTP and ISW began publishing daily synthetic products covering key events related to renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine. These Ukraine Conflict Updates replaced the “Indicators and Thresholds for Russian Military Operations in Ukraine and/or Belarus,” which we maintained from November 12, 2021, through February 17, 2022.

This list also includes prominent warning alerts that CTP and ISW launched outside the crisis update structure. These products addressed critical inflection points as they occurred.

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Maps on Assessed Control of Terrain in Ukraine and Main Russian Maneuver Axes


This interactive map complements the static daily control-of-terrain maps that CTP and ISW produce with high-fidelity and, where possible, street level assessments of the war in Ukraine.

Click here to access the archive of interactive time-lapse maps of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These maps complement the static control-of-terrain maps that produced daily by showing a dynamic frontline.

The Critical Threats Project and the Institute for the Study of War are publishing a summary of the methodology of our map for those who would like to learn more about the tradecraft for mapping conventional military operations from the open source.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Previous versions of these static maps are available in our past publications.  

Recent Updates

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 19, 2024

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signaled Russia’s intent to seize Kharkiv City in a future significant Russian offensive operation, the first senior Kremlin official to outright identify the city as a possible Russian operational objective following recent Ukrainian warnings that Russian forces may attempt to seize the city starting in Summer 2024. Lavrov stated during a radio interview with several prominent Russian state propagandists on April 19 that Kharkiv City “plays an important role” in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s idea of establishing a demilitarized “sanitary zone” in Ukraine to protect Russian border settlements from Ukrainian strikes.[i] Lavrov stated that Putin has very clearly stated that Russian forces must push the frontline far enough into Ukraine – which Lavrov explicitly defines as into Kharkiv Oblast – to place Russian settlements outside of the Ukrainian strike range. This requirement is a very vague definition that could include the entirety of Ukrainian territory as long as an independent Ukrainian state exists and is willing to defend itself. Lavrov stated in response to a question about where Russian forces will go after creating a “sanitary zone” that Russian authorities are “completely convinced” of the need to continue Russia’s war against Ukraine. Lavrov responded in seeming agreement to a comment from one of the interviewers, who suggested that Lavrov’s earlier remarks meant that Russian forces will have to continue to attack further into Ukraine after creating the “sanitary zone” to protect the settlements that would then be within the zone and Ukrainian strike range. Lavrov’s remarks suggest that the Kremlin will likely use the idea of a constantly shifting demilitarized “sanitary zone” to justify Russian offensive operations further and further into Ukraine.

Prominent Russian propagandist and state television host Olga Skabeyeva framed Russia’s drone and missile strikes against Kharkiv Oblast as part of Russia’s efforts to create the “sanitary zone” during a speech on April 19, suggesting that additional prominent Kremlin mouthpieces are also laying the informational groundwork to justify ongoing Russian strikes and a future offensive operation against Kharkiv City under the pretext of defending Russian citizens.[ii] Ukrainian officials, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, have recently identified the threat of a possible Russian summer offensive operation aimed at seizing Kharkiv City.[iii] ISW continues to assess that a Russian offensive operation to seize Kharkiv City would be an extremely ambitious undertaking that would pose significant challenges to both the Russian forces responsible for the effort and to the wider Russian campaign in Ukraine.[iv] ISW also assesses that US military assistance is vital to Ukraine’s ability to defend against any summer Russian offensive operation, including against Kharkiv City.[v]

Ukrainian officials announced that Ukrainian forces downed a Russian aircraft as it conducted missile strikes against Ukraine for the first time overnight on April 18 to 19, demonstrating a capability that may constrain how Russia conducts its strike campaign against Ukraine. Ukrainian Air Force Commander Lieutenant General Mykola Oleshchuk announced on April 19 that Ukrainian forces downed a Russian Tu-22M3 strategic bomber that had launched Kh-22 cruise missiles against Ukraine.[vi] The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) stated that Ukrainian forces shot down the Tu-22M3 at a distance of 300 kilometers from Ukraine with the same means that Ukraine used to down two Russian A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft.[vii] Ukrainian outlet RBK-Ukraine reported that Ukrainian security sources stated that Ukrainian forces used S-200 air defense systems to down the Tu-22M3.[viii] The GUR reported that the Tu-22M3 crashed in Stavropol Krai, where footage shows the plane losing altitude and crashing.[ix] GUR Spokesperson Andriy Yusov stated that the downing of the Tu-23M3 compelled another Russian Tu-22M3 to turn around and noted that it is “practically impossible” for Russia to manufacture new Tu-22M3 bombers.[x] Russian forces reportedly had roughly 60 Tu-22 strategic bombers as of 2023.[xi] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) acknowledged the plane crash but attributed it to a technical malfunction rather than Ukrainian forces, and Russian milbloggers largely coalesced around the MoD’s narrative.[xii] Stavropol Krai officials reported that the crash killed one Russian pilot and inflicted non-life-threatening injuries on two others and that a fourth crewmember remains missing.[xiii]

Ukrainian air defense capabilities remain limited and degraded, however, allowing Russian aircraft to operate freely without threat on certain critical areas of the front. Russian milbloggers have recently amplified multiple pieces of video footage, including on April 19, showing Russian Su-25 and Su-34 aircraft operating at low altitudes near Chasiv Yar, Donetsk Oblast and striking Ukrainian positions to support Russian advances in the area, and Russian milbloggers have praised Russian aircraft for enabling relatively quick Russian advances in the area since at least late March 2024.[xiv] The ability of Russian aircraft to operate over 100 kilometers deep in Ukrainian airspace near the frontline without sustaining significant losses indicates that Ukrainian air defenses in the area are currently insufficient to deter or deny Russian aircraft from operating on the front line. The Ukrainian capability to conduct long-range strikes to down Russian strategic aircraft conducting combat operations may temporarily constrain Russian aviation operations as the previous downing of tactical aircraft has achieved.[xv] This Ukrainian strike capability, however, is unable to compensate for Ukraine’s critical air defense shortages across the theater. Ukrainian forces still must husband materiel and prioritize allocating its limited air defense assets to some areas of the theater over others at great expense, allowing Russian aviation to support more consistent and rapid gains on the ground, including near Chasiv Yar.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stressed that Ukraine requires Western provisions of artillery ammunition, air defense materiel, long-range artillery and missile systems, and fighter aircraft as Ukrainian constraints continue due to delays in US military assistance.[xvi] Zelensky addressed the Ukraine-NATO Council on April 19 and reiterated that Ukraine needs a minimum of seven additional Patriot air defense systems to defend against Russia’s ongoing missile and drone strike campaign and called on Western countries to fulfill their promise to deliver one million artillery shells to Ukraine.[xvii] Zelensky added that long-range missiles and artillery systems are crucially needed to improve Ukrainian long-range strike capabilities and that Ukraine requires a sufficient number of fighter aircraft to contend with Russian aviation.[xviii] NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that several unspecified NATO members made unspecified commitments during the Ukraine-NATO Council meeting to provide additional air defense, artillery, deep precision strike, and drone materiel to Ukraine.[xix]

Ukrainian artillery shortages are allowing Russian mechanized forces to make marginal tactical gains, and Ukraine’s degraded air defense capabilities are permitting Russian aviation to heavily degrade Ukrainian defenses along the front through glide bomb strikes.[xx] Ukrainian officials have highlighted promised F-16 fighter aircraft as a crucial element of a combined air defense system that can intercept more Russian missile and drone strikes and constrain Russian tactical aviation operations.[xxi] Ukrainian forces have previously leveraged NATO 155mm artillery systems and ammunition capable of striking targets at longer ranges than Soviet equipment to conduct superior counterbattery fire, and more effective long-range artillery systems would support sustained effective Ukrainian counterbattery operations.[xxii] Ukrainian forces have previously conducted several successful interdiction efforts against Russian forces with Western-provided missile systems and have indicated that they are prepared to resume more regular interdiction efforts should Ukraine receive sufficient provisions of long-range missiles.[xxiii] ISW assesses that continued US delays in security assistance to Ukraine are limiting Ukraine‘s ability to conduct effective defensive operations while offering Russian forces increasing flexibility to conduct offensive operations — a dynamic that can lead to compounding and non-linear opportunities for Russian forces to make operationally significant gains in the future.[xxiv]

Pro-Russian Moldovan actors continue to set conditions to justify possible future Russian aggression in Moldova as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov compared Moldova to Ukraine and Armenia. The People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, the pro-Russian autonomous region in Moldova, appealed to the Moldovan Parliament on April 19 to grant the Russian language the special legal status of a language of interethnic communication in Moldova.[xxv] Kremlin-affiliated Governor of Gagauzia Yevgenia Gutsul claimed in a statement to Kremlin newswire TASS that the Moldovan government is ”Russophobic” and will resist this initiative.[xxvi] The Gagauzian appeal is likely part of Kremlin efforts to set information conditions to blame Moldova for discriminating against Russian speakers and justify future Russian aggression in Moldova as necessary to protect Russia’s ”compatriots abroad.” Lavrov claimed during a radio interview with Russian state media on April 19 that the West made Moldovan President Maia Sandu “openly drag Moldova into NATO, either directly or through unification with Romania” and that the West did the same with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.[xxvii] Lavrov criticized both Moldova’s and Armenia’s moves towards the West and urged them to rethink their decisions by claiming that the West will force its citizens to fight in a possible future war against Russia. Russian officials have recently claimed that the West is ”dragging” the South Caucasus region into a ”geopolitical confrontation” between Russia and the West and explicitly threatened Armenia over Armenian outreach to the West.[xxviii] Lavrov’s comparison of the Moldovan government to both the Armenian and Ukrainian governments is likely a tacit threat. ISW continues to assess that the Kremlin is likely trying to destabilize Moldovan society, attack Moldova’s democratic government, and prevent Moldova’s accession to the European Union.[xxix]

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signaled Russia’s intent to seize Kharkiv City in a future significant Russian offensive operation, the first senior Kremlin official to outright identify the city as a possible Russian operational objective following recent Ukrainian warnings that Russian forces may attempt to seize the city starting in Summer 2024.
  • Ukrainian officials announced that Ukrainian forces downed a Russian aircraft as it conducted missile strikes against Ukraine for the first time overnight on April 18 to 19, demonstrating a capability that may constrain how Russia conducts its strike campaign against Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian air defense capabilities remain limited and degraded, however, allowing Russian aircraft to operate freely without threat on certain critical areas of the front.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stressed that Ukraine requires Western provisions of artillery ammunition, air defense materiel, long-range artillery and missile systems, and fighter aircraft as Ukrainian constraints continue due to delays in US military assistance.
  • Pro-Russian Moldovan actors continue to set conditions to justify possible future Russian aggression in Moldova as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov compared Moldova to Ukraine and Armenia.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Donetsk City.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) continues to expand the newly reformed Leningrad Military District (LMD) in preparation for an anticipated future large-scale conventional conflict with NATO.
  • Russian officials continue to forcibly deport and Russify Ukrainian children as Ukrainian authorities work to return deported children to Ukrainian-controlled territory.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 18, 2024

Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Head Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov specified that Russian offensive effort that Ukrainian officials have been forecasting will likely begin in June 2024. Budanov stated in an April 17 article in the Washington Post that Russia will launch a “big” offensive in June 2024 with the aim of seizing all of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.[1] Budanov also stated that Russian forces will try to make battlefield gains throughout 2024 as part of efforts to influence Western decision-making. Budanov had previously forecasted that a future major Russian offensive would begin in late May or early June 2024, and it is notable that Budanov has now narrowed his forecast to June and identified the likely aim of the Russian offensive. Previous major Russian offensive efforts have similarly aimed to seize the remainder of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.[2] Ukrainian officials, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, have recently warned about the threat of a potential future Russian ground offensive operation targeting Kharkiv City.[3] Ukrainian officials have repeatedly warned that US security assistance is vital to Ukraine’s ability to defend against possible future Russian offensive operations in summer 2024.[4] ISW continues to assess that current Ukrainian artillery and air defense shortages resulting from the lack of US security assistance are allowing Russian forces to make marginal tactical advances and that future Russian assaults may be able to achieve more significant gains should the US continue to withhold assistance to Ukraine.[5] Ukrainian forces have, however, previously demonstrated their ability to repel Russian assaults and inflict significant personnel and equipment losses on Russian forces when adequately provisioned.[6]

Budanov also stated on April 17 that Ukraine plans to counter future Russian offensive operations by continuing strikes against Russian military targets within Russia. Budanov stated in his interview with the Washington Post that the GUR plans to strike Russian defense industrial base (DIB) and critical military targets, such as airfields and command and control posts, in response to Russia’s forecasted summer 2024 offensive.[7] Budanov stated that these strikes are intended to show that Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot “protect the [Russian] population from the war.” ISW continues to assess that Ukrainian strikes against targets within Russia are an appropriate component of Ukraine’s campaign to degrade industries that support the Russian war effort and military capabilities deployed in the Russian rear.[8] Recent Ukrainian strikes that have targeted Russian military infrastructure within Russia, threatened Russian oil refining and exports, and increased pressure on Russia’s air defense umbrella have demonstrated that Ukraine can achieve some asymmetrical impacts through strikes with limited numbers of mostly domestically produced weapons.[9]

Russian forces reportedly continue to intensify crypto-mobilization efforts ahead of the expected Russian summer 2024 offensive operation but will likely struggle to establish effective operational- and strategic-level reserves rapidly. Bloomberg reported on April 18 that three sources familiar with the Kremlin’s force-generation discussions stated that the Kremlin is intensifying crypto-mobilization efforts in order to avoid conducting another partial mobilization call-up of reservists.[10] Ruslan Pukhov, the head of the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies and a member of a Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) civilian advisory board, claimed that current Russian crypto-mobilization efforts are generating roughly 30,000 new personnel each month and that the Russian military could recruit 300,000 total personnel in 2024.[11] Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Deputy Chief Major General Vadym Skibitskyi reported on January 15 that Russia recruits around 30,000 personnel per month, and Pukhov’s claim about 300,000 total recruits matches Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s April 3 warning that Russia is preparing to “mobilize” an additional 300,000 personnel on June 1.[12] Russian opposition outlet Verstka reported on March 22 that high-ranking sources in the Russian MoD, presidential administration, and regional governments similarly stated that Russia may intend to generate an additional 300,000 personnel within an unspecified time frame.[13] Bloomberg noted that Russian regional one-time payments for signing a contract have increased by 40 percent to an average of 470,000 rubles ($4,992), and a Russian insider source claimed that some Russian authorities are offering one million rubles ($10,622) for people to sign military contracts.[14] Russian officials are reportedly concerned about decreasing recruitment rates and may intend to make economic incentives a cornerstone of crypto-mobilization efforts in spring and summer 2024.[15] The Russian MoD claimed on April 3 that more than 100,000 Russians had signed military service contracts since the start of 2024, but intensified Russian crypto-mobilization efforts are highly unlikely to generate an additional 200,000 personnel ahead of the expected Russian offensive effort in summer 2024.[16]

The Russian military has been generating forces at rates equal to its losses in Ukraine in recent months, and intensified monthly recruitment rates are unlikely to generate a considerable surplus of manpower for Russian operational- and strategic-level reserves.[17] Russian forces have maintained and even intensified offensive operations this spring, and these offensive operations will continue to consume a significant amount of manpower that could otherwise be used to form reserves as long as Russian forces sustain their current offensive tempo.[18] Russian forces are therefore unlikely to establish extensive reserves ahead of their expected summer 2024 offensive effort. The limited remaining time for Russian forces to prepare for the expected summer offensive effort will likely mean that any additional manpower added to reserves in the coming months will be poorly trained and less combat effective. The Russian insider source bemoaned poor Russian training capacity and claimed that some Russian volunteer formations are abandoning ranks altogether for new personnel due to the lack of proper training.[19] ISW continues to assess that planned Russian operational- and strategic-level reserves are unlikely to be ready to act as a first-echelon penetration force or as a second-echelon exploitation force capable of conducting large-scale assaults in 2024 if Ukrainian forces have the wherewithal to resist them.[20] Russian forces are more likely to use these reserves as they have previously done — as immediately available manpower pools for restaffing and reinforcing committed units conducting grinding, infantry-heavy assaults with occasional limited mechanized assaults.[21]

Ukrainian officials clarified that the Ukrainian strike on a Russian military airfield in occupied Dzhankoi, Crimea overnight on April 16 to 17 caused significant damage to Russian air defense equipment. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed on April 17 that Ukrainian forces conducted a successful strike against the Russian airfield in Dzhankoi.[22] Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported on April 18 that the strike destroyed or critically damaged four S-400 air defense launchers, three radar stations, an air defense equipment control point, and a Murom-M airspace surveillance system.[23]

Russian milbloggers seized on a violent crime committed by a migrant in Moscow on April 18 to reiterate calls for further restrictions in Russian migration policies. Russian news outlet Mash reported on April 18 that an Azeri migrant killed a Russian man in Moscow and fled the scene.[24] Russian milbloggers largely responded to the murder by calling on Russian authorities to further restrict Russia’s migration policies and extend punishments for crimes committed by migrants.[25] Russian milbloggers warned that if the Russian government fails to respond to violence committed by migrants, Russians will be forced to “take matters into their own hands.”[26] Kremlin newswire TASS notably avoided framing the crime as an ethnic issue until Russian authorities publicly identified the suspect as a migrant from Azerbaijan.[27] Russian ultranationalists intensified their calls for revised and further restricted migration legislation following the March 22 Crocus City Hall attack, and several Russian officials, including Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and Russian Investigative Committee Head Alexander Bastrykin, have recently contradicted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s apparent efforts to quell anti-migrant sentiments among Putin’s ultranationalist constituency.[28] Putin’s competing efforts of placating ultranationalist anti-migrant demands and maintaining Russia’s war effort and economic viability will likely continue to generate inconsistencies and contradictions within the Kremlin’s migration policy and rhetoric.

The Russian government may be responding to Russian ultranationalist’ demands for stricter migrant policies in a limited fashion. Russian news outlet RBK reported on April 18 that the Russian Federal Service for Supervision in Education and Science (Rosobrnadzor) is considering implementing an oral Russian language exam for migrant workers and increasing the minimum Russian language, history, and law exam score for foreigners interested in a Russian residence permit or Russian citizenship.[29] Rosobrnadzor stated that migrants are currently allowed into Russia without taking an oral language exam. Russian Education and Science Minister Valery Falkov announced that only one Russian state university per federal subject will be allowed to administer Russian language, history, and law exams to migrants as of May 1, 2024 in an effort to “strengthen control over the quality of the exam.”[30] The Kremlin may be willing to introduce these limited measures in hopes of appeasing Russian ultranationalist demands, but ISW continues to assess that the Kremlin is unlikely to implement any anti-migrant measures that could significantly hinder Russia’s ongoing force generation efforts or worsen Russia’s labor shortages.[31]

German authorities detained two individuals suspected of aiding Russia in its ongoing efforts to sabotage NATO member states’ military infrastructure and logistics. German outlet Der Spiegel reported on April 18 that German authorities arrested two suspects in Bayreuth, Bavaria for allegedly planning sabotage operations in Germany on behalf of Russian security services.[32] German investigators reportedly found that the suspects agreed to conduct arson and plant explosives at German military infrastructure facilities, weapons factories, and industrial sites, with a focus on routes used to transport military goods, in order to undermine German military assistance to Ukraine. The investigation also reportedly found that one of the suspects conducted reconnaissance for Russian intelligence services of US military facilities in Germany, including an area where the US military trains Ukrainian soldiers in Bavaria. Der Speigel reported that one of the suspects previously served in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) People’s Militia between 2014 and 2016. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock summoned the Russian ambassador to Germany on April 18 in response to the arrests.[33] The Russian Embassy in Germany denied the allegations, claiming that German authorities presented “no evidence” about the suspects’ connections with Russian security services and that the arrests were an “outright provocation.” The Russian embassy also used the incident to further multiple Kremlin narratives against the West aimed at deterring Western military assistance to Ukraine. ISW has observed reports of Russian efforts to degrade NATO member states’ transport logistics since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, including through cyber-attacks against Czech, Latvia, Lithuanian, Romanian, and Estonian railway companies.[34] Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Head Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov specified that Russian offensive effort that Ukrainian officials have been forecasting will likely begin in June 2024.
  • Budanov also stated on April 17 that Ukraine plans to counter future Russian offensive operations by continuing strikes against Russian military targets within Russia.
  • Russian forces reportedly continue to intensify crypto-mobilization efforts ahead of the expected Russian summer 2024 offensive operation but will likely struggle to establish effective operational- and strategic-level reserves rapidly.
  • Ukrainian officials clarified that the Ukrainian strike on a Russian military airfield in occupied Dzhankoi, Crimea overnight on April 16 to 17 caused significant damage to Russian air defense equipment.
  • Russian milbloggers seized on a violent crime committed by a migrant in Moscow on April 18 to reiterate calls for further restrictions in Russian migration policies.
  • German authorities detained two individuals suspected of aiding Russia in its ongoing efforts to sabotage NATO member states’ military infrastructure and logistics.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Avdiivka and Donetsk City.
  • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) “Schemes” investigative project, citing Ukrainian intelligence, reported on April 17 that Russia’s defense industry is using US- and Japanese-made components in the navigation and communication systems of Russian Sukhoi fixed wing aircraft.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 17, 2024

Ukrainian forces struck a Russian military airfield in occupied Dzhankoi, Crimea, overnight on April 16 to 17. Geolocated footage posted on April 16 shows explosions at the airfield in Dzhankoi, where the Russian 39th Separate Helicopter Regiment (27th Composite Aviation Division, 4th Air Force and Air Defense Army, Southern Military District) is based.[1] The Atesh Crimean partisan movement reported that its agents confirmed that the strike destroyed a S-400 missile system at the airfield, and severely damaged several other unspecified vehicles.[2] Ukrainian sources posted an image reportedly showing three destroyed S-400 launchers following the strike.[3] Russian forces have deployed Mi-8, Mi-25M, Mi-28, and Ka-52 helicopters to the Dzhankoi Air Base, although ISW has not yet observed visual evidence of damage to any helicopters as a result of the April 16 strike.[4] A prominent Kremlin-affiliated milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces used around 12 MGM-140 ATACMS missiles to strike the airfield.[5] ISW cannot independently confirm at this time the type of ordinance Ukrainian forces used in this strike, nor the extent of damage the strike caused. Ukrainian Southern Operational Command Spokesperson Colonel Nataliya Humenyuk noted, however, that the military airfield and affiliated aviation assets are legitimate military targets, tacitly acknowledging the strike.[6] Russian combat and transport helicopters have provided Russian forces with distinct offensive and defensive battlefield advantages, particularly in southern Ukraine, and are legitimate military targets.[7] Ukrainian forces have previously conducted ATACMS strikes against Russian military helicopters at airbases in Berdyansk, Zaporizhia Oblast and Luhansk City, Luhansk Oblast in 2023.[8]

Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reportedly targeted Russian aviation assets in the Republic of Mordovia, the Republic of Tatarstan, and Samara Oblast on April 17. GUR sources told Ukrainian outlet Suspilne on April 17 that GUR agents targeted a S9B6 “Container” over-the-horizon radar station at the base of the 590th Separate Radio Engineering Unit in Kovylkino, Mordovia, but did not specify how the GUR conducted the strike or whether the strike successfully damaged the radar station.[9] The “Container” radar station reportedly has a 3,000-kilometer detection range and 100-kilometer detection height and is over 680 kilometers from the Ukrainian border.[10] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian air defense destroyed a Ukrainian drone over Mordovia, which if accurate, could explain the lack of footage showing the aftermath of a strike in Kovylkino.[11] Ukrainian special services sources additionally told Ukrainian outlet RBK-Ukraine on April 17 that the GUR also targeted the Gorbunov aviation plant in Kazan, Republic of Tatarstan.[12] Geolocated footage shows that Russian air defense likely downed at least one Ukrainian drone near the Shahed-136/131 drone production plant near Yelabuga, Tatarstan.[13] The GUR also cryptically stated on April 17 that unspecified actors destroyed a Russian Mi-8 helicopter at the Kryaz airfield in Samara Oblast and posted footage of a fire at the airfield, suggesting that the GUR may have also been responsible for a strike in Samara Oblast.[14] Ukrainian strikes against Russian aviation assets in occupied Crimea, as well as within Russia, appear to represent a fairly coordinated and wide-reaching series of strikes specifically targeting Russian aviation, air defense, and radar detection capabilities.

Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov officially confirmed on April 17 that Russian peacekeeping forces began their anticipated withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh, as Russian sources largely blamed Armenian leadership for Azerbaijan’s seizure of Nagorno-Karabakh amid Armenia’s continued efforts to distance itself from political and security relations with Russia.[15] The Azerbaijani Presidential Administration’s Foreign Policy Department Head, Hikmet Hajiyev, stated on April 17 that senior Russian and Azerbaijani leadership decided to prematurely withdraw Russian peacekeepers from Nagorno-Karabakh.[16] The November 2020 Russian-brokered ceasefire that ended a month and a half of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding areas stipulated that Russia would deploy peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh until 2025.[17] Russia previously deployed 1,960 Russian peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh including elements of the 15th Motorized Rifle Peacekeeping Brigade (2nd Combined Arms Army [CAA], Central Military District [CMD]), 31st Air Assault (VDV) Brigade, and 45th Spetsnaz Brigade.[18] Footage published on April 17 purportedly shows a column of Russian armored vehicles leaving Nagorno-Karabakh, and Russian sources did not specify its destination.[19] The limited amount of manpower and materiel that Russian forces are moving out of Nagorno-Karabakh will not substantially affect Russian combat operations in Ukraine, should the Russian military decide to deploy these forces to Ukraine. Russian milbloggers largely responded to the announcement of Russian peacekeepers’ withdrawal by defending Russian forces for their failure to support Armenia during the fall 2023 Nagorno-Karabakh crisis and by blaming Armenian leadership for perceived weakness.[20] A Russian milblogger claimed that Armenian leadership’s and the de facto Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh authority’s failure to respond militarily to the fall 2023 Nagorno-Karabakh crisis demonstrates that Armenians deserve “to be deprived of their homeland.”[21] The milblogger further claimed that the current withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the region will allow Azerbaijan to control all Armenian domestic and foreign affairs. Russian milbloggers’ criticism of Armenian leadership is consistent with ongoing Russian criticism of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan's efforts to limit security cooperation with Russia.[22]

The Georgian parliament approved a bill in its first reading similar to Russia’s “foreign agents” law on April 17, which Russian state media seized on to further Kremlin efforts to amplify reports of political discord in Western and former Soviet states. The bill will require non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from foreign sources to register as “an organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power.”[23] Pro-Western Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili responded to the vote and stated that she will veto the bill, calling the bill a “Russian strategy of destabilization.”[24] The European Union (EU) also responded to the bill, stating that it could negatively impact Georgia’s EU accession and is not in line with the EU’s norms and core values.[25] Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, a member of the ruling Georgian Dream party, claimed that Georgia will adopt the bill despite Western criticism, however.[26] Kremlin newswire TASS reported extensively on the developments regarding the bill and ongoing protests against the bill.[27] The Georgian parliament passed a similar bill in 2023 but later withdrew the bill from further consideration following widespread public protests.[28] Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitri Peskov continued to deny Russian involvement in the bill’s creation and passage, and Peskov and Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitri Medvedev insinuated that the West is somehow involved in the protests against the bill.[29] The Kremlin has routinely attempted to portray Ukraine’s and other post-Soviet countries’ politics as chaotic in an attempt to destabilize target states and make them more susceptible to Russian influence or outright attack.[30]

US President Joe Biden warned that Russia and its partners pose an increasing threat to NATO and stressed that US security assistance to Ukraine can address the Russian threat. Biden stated in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on April 17 that Russia is intensifying its war against Ukraine with military and non-lethal materiel support from China, Iran, and North Korea.[31] Biden called for the US House of Representatives to urgently pass security assistance for Ukraine as Ukrainian forces continue to face ammunition shortages and the prospect of losing more territory.[32] Biden stated that if Russia achieves its objective to subjugate and subsume Ukraine then Russian forces will move closer to NATO.[33] Biden stressed that support for Ukraine can stop Russia from encroaching on America’s NATO allies and prevent US involvement in a hypothetical future conventional war between Russia and NATO.[34] ISW assesses that a Russian victory in Ukraine would have devastating consequences for the defense of NATO, whereas a Ukrainian victory would make a successful Russian attack on Poland or the Baltic States harder and riskier for Russia.[35]

The US House of Representatives filed a supplemental appropriations bill on April 17 that would provide roughly $60 billion of assistance to Ukraine, and will reportedly vote on the measure on April 20.[36] The supplemental appropriations bill largely resembles a previous supplemental bill passed by the US Senate and would offer Ukraine $48.3 billion in security assistance: $23.2 billion for replenishing weapons and equipment from the US Department of Defense (DoD) inventory; $13.8 billion for the purchase of weapons and munitions for Ukraine from US manufacturers; and $11.3 billion for continued US support to Ukraine through ongoing US military operations in the region.[37] The overwhelming majority of the proposed assistance for Ukraine, if passed, would go to American companies and US and allied militaries.[38]

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian forces struck a Russian military airfield in occupied Dzhankoi, Crimea, overnight on April 16 to 17.
  • Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reportedly targeted Russian aviation assets in the Republic of Mordovia, the Republic of Tatarstan, and Samara Oblast on April 17.
  • Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov officially confirmed on April 17 that Russian peacekeeping forces began their anticipated withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh, as Russian sources largely blamed Armenian leadership for Azerbaijan’s seizure of Nagorno-Karabakh amid Armenia’s continued efforts to distance itself from political and security relations with Russia.
  • The Georgian parliament approved a bill in its first reading similar to Russia’s “foreign agents” law on April 17, which Russian state media seized on to further Kremlin efforts to amplify reports of political discord in Western and former Soviet states.
  • US President Joe Biden warned that Russia and its partners pose an increasing threat to NATO and stressed that US security assistance to Ukraine can address the Russian threat.
  • The US House of Representatives filed a supplemental appropriations bill on April 17 that would provide roughly $60 billion of assistance to Ukraine, and will reportedly vote on the measure on April 20.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Avdiivka and Donetsk City.
  • The Kremlin-controlled Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is preparing a special training course for ROC clergy deployed to combat zones in Ukraine.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 16, 2024

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky emphasized that continued shortages in air defense systems and artillery are preventing Ukraine from effectively defending itself against Russian strikes and ground assaults. Zelensky stated in an interview with PBS News Hour, which aired on April 15, that Ukrainian forces continue to lack enough air defense systems to protect Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. Zelensky noted that Ukrainian forces were only able to destroy the first seven of the 11 Russian missiles launched against the Trypilska Thermal Power Plant (TPP) on April 11 before running out of air defense missiles, allowing the remaining four missiles to destroy the plant.[i] Zelensky also expressed frustration with the differential US response to strikes against Ukraine and Israel and stated that the United States and the West are continuing to limit military aid out of the false belief that such self-restraint will prevent further Russian aggression.[ii] Zelensky reported that Ukrainian forces currently suffer from a 1-to-10 artillery shell disadvantage and that this artillery ammunition disadvantage allows Russian forces to push Ukrainian forces back each day. ISW continues to assess that continued US delays in security assistance to Ukraine limit Ukrainian forces’ ability to conduct effective defensive operations while giving Russian forces flexibility in conducting offensive operations — a dynamic that can lead to compounding and non-linear opportunities for Russian forces to make operationally significant gains in the future.[iii] Russia and Ukraine are engaged in a constant air domain offense-defense innovation-adaptation race, in which Russia continues to adjust the timing, scale, composition, and targets of its strike packages to attempt to penetrate Ukraine’s air defense umbrella. Significant delays in US military assistance have already created shortages in Ukraine’s air defense missile stockpiles and hinder Ukraine’s ability to adapt to evolving Russian strike packages. Limited air defense systems and interceptors have forced Ukraine to make difficult decisions to allocate air defense systems between rear and frontline areas leaving frontline troops largely exposed to Russian air attack, and only the United States can rapidly provide air defense systems to Ukraine at the scale necessary to significantly improve Ukraine’s air defense capabilities.[iv]

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky emphasized that continued shortages in air defense systems and artillery are preventing Ukraine from effectively defending itself against Russian strikes and ground assaults.
  • Zelensky signed a new mobilization law on April 16, codifying a difficult but critical decision in Ukraine’s efforts to stabilize its force generation apparatus and adequately prepare the Ukrainian fighting force both defensively and offensively.
  • Russian forces in eastern Ukraine are using smaller groups to conduct assaults and are reportedly suffering from morale issues, but Russian attacks are unlikely to culminate in the near term despite these challenges because of Ukrainian materiel shortages.
  • A Russian Storm-Z instructor argued that Russian forces should capitalize on Ukrainian disadvantages brought on by materiel shortages to increase Russian guided glide bomb strikes to support Russian ground operations.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to show support for Iranian aggression against Israel during a March 16 call with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
  • People’s Republic of China (PRC) President and General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Xi Jinping met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on April 16 and proposed prerequisites for the end to the war in Ukraine in a manner that suggests that Xi is continuing to posture himself as a neutral mediator in the war despite increasing reports of China’s support for the Russian war effort.
  • Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) recently destroyed a Russian Nebo-U long-range radar station in Bryansk Oblast.
  • The Kremlin continues to centralize authority over Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov’s “Akhmat” Spetsnaz forces via the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD).
  • Russian federal censor Roskomnadzor is considering banning TikTok in Russia.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances near Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Donetsk City and in western Zaporizhia Oblast amid continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact on April 16.
  • The Republic of Tatarstan is reportedly preparing a new youth employment program that would allow minors aged 14 and older to work at Russian defense industrial base (DIB) enterprises, likely as part of an ongoing effort to expand the Russian DIB.
  • Russian occupation officials are using the education system, particularly history courses, to Russify Ukrainian children living in occupied areas.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 15, 2024

Ukrainian officials continue to warn that US security assistance is vital to Ukrainian forces’ ability to defend against current and future Russian offensive operations forecasted to begin in late spring and summer. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Head Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov stated that Ukrainian forces are preparing to repel a future Russian major offensive expected in late May or the beginning of June but noted that this will be “catastrophically difficult” without Western military assistance.[i] Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov stated on April 14 that the current situation in eastern Ukraine is “tense” and that Russian forces are focusing their efforts west of Bakhmut in the Chasiv Yar direction.[ii] Umerov stated that Ukrainian forces are successfully using modern technology against Russia’s larger quantities of personnel. The spokesperson for the Ukrainian Khortysia Group of Forces, Lieutenant Colonel Nazar Voloshyn, stated on April 15 that Ukrainian forces in the Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions can only use one to five artillery shells for every 10 artillery shells that Russian forces fire, but that Ukrainian artillery is more precise than Russian artillery.[iii] Ukrainian forces’ ability to repel recently intensified Russian offensive operations in eastern Ukraine has degraded due to materiel shortages and will likely continue to degrade in the near future should delays in US security assistance continue.[iv] ISW continues to assess that Russian forces are currently capitalizing on Ukrainian materiel shortages resulting from the lack of US security assistance to make marginal tactical advances but that future Russian assaults may be able to achieve more significant and threatening gains, particularly west of Bakhmut, should the US continue to withhold assistance to Ukraine.[v]

A senior Estonian military official described intensified Russian offensive frontline operations and deep rear area strike campaigns as intended to degrade both Ukraine’s will to fight and Western unity. Chief of the Estonian General Staff Major General Enno Mots stated in an interview published on April 14 that Russian forces’ attempts to exploit vulnerabilities on the frontline across the theater — which Mots described as “amoeba tactics” — and Russia’s escalation of deep rear strikes are attritional tactics ultimately aimed at exploiting the Ukrainian military’s current materiel shortages, which is consistent with ISW’s recent observations about Ukrainian air defense, artillery, and manpower shortages.[vi] Mots noted that Ukraine needs significant resources for repelling Russian aggression and reconstruction, and that fragmenting Western unity creates a dilemma that interrupts the “smooth” timely and consistent flow of supplies to Ukraine, ultimately backfiring and reducing support for Ukraine.[vii] Mots’ interview underscores several salient observations, including: that US failures to provide timely and consistent military aid to Ukraine (which only the US can provide at scale) has negative ripple effective on Ukraine‘s international partners globally; that materiel shortages are forcing Ukraine to husband materiel and prioritize areas of the front at the expense of others; and that persistent Russian information operations are aimed at convincing Western policymakers that Russia can and will outlast Western military assistance to Ukraine.[viii] Mots emphasized that Russia does not care about manpower or materiel losses. Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksandr Lytvynenko similarly stressed that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “addicted” to the idea conquering Ukraine and will not give up his aims of completely seizing Ukraine and destroying the Ukrainian state.[ix] Lytvynenko emphasized the importance of not conceding territory to Putin and ensuring meaningful Western security guarantees for Ukraine to deter future aggression.[x]

Russian forces continue to adapt their drone tactics along the frontline as part of an offense-defense arms race to mitigate Ukrainian technological adaptions designed to offset Russian materiel advantages along the frontline. Ukrainian drone operators told the Washington Post in an article published on April 14 that the number of drones that both Russian and Ukrainian forces use has made the battlefield “almost transparent,” but that Russian forces have significantly increased electronic warfare (EW) jamming since fall 2023.[xi] The Ukrainian drone operators stated that it can be difficult to distinguish between Ukrainian and Russian drones because about 100 Russian and Ukrainian reconnaissance and attack drones can operate simultaneously within a 10-kilometer radius. The Ukrainian drone operators also reported that Russian forces understand how valuable Ukrainian drone operators are and specifically target them with guided glide bomb and multiple rocket launch system (MLRS) strikes. A Ukrainian drone instructor and brigade commander stated on April 15 that the Russian defense industrial base (DIB) is rapidly developing drones that operate at a wide range of frequences to make it more difficult for Ukrainian EW systems to down them, and observed that both sides are increasingly using first-person view (FPV) drones that were not as prominent a year ago.[xii] The instructor reported that his brigade detects 70 to 90 FPV drones per day but cannot down all of them, and that Russian forces sometimes equip drones with munitions that can detonate after Ukrainian forces down them. ISW has observed an increase in Russian reconnaissance and FPV drone usage along the frontline and Russian complaints about the lack of sufficient EW, especially in southern Ukraine, in fall 2023.[xiii]

 

Russian officials doubled down on efforts to amplify Iran’s “justification” for the April 13 large-scale Iranian strikes against Israel that falsely equates them with an April 1 Israeli strike targeting Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officials in Damascus. Russian Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) Vasily Nebenzya claimed at an April 14 UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting that Iran conducted the April 13 strikes in response to the UNSC’s inaction following Israel’s April 1 strike against IRGC officials. Nebeznya also claimed that Israel constantly bombs Syria.[xiv] Nebenzya called on Israel to “abandon its military actions in the Middle East” and reiterated Russian calls for a ceasefire in Gaza.[xv] Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov claimed that Russia opposes escalation and supports a political and diplomatic resolution of conflicts in the Middle East.[xvi] The Russian government will likely continue to amplify information operations designed to justify Iran’s April 13 strikes against Israel to the international community.

A Russian insider source claimed that Russian officials are preparing to redeploy some former Wagner Group elements serving in Africa Corps to Belgorod Oblast. The insider source claimed on April 15 that the Kremlin believes that Russian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GRU) Lieutenant General Andrei Averyanov failed to meet the Kremlin’s deadlines to develop the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD)-controlled Africa Corps.[xvii] The insider source claimed that Russian authorities are preparing to redeploy unspecified detachments of the Africa Corps from Africa to Belgorod Oblast. The insider source implied that the Wagner Group’s ongoing efforts to recruit personnel for its activities in Africa are actually meant to recruit personnel to deploy to Belgorod Oblast. Russian Africa Corps soldiers deployed to Niger on April 12, and it is unclear if the insider source is claiming that the Africa Corps will cease operations in Africa completely or if only some Africa Corps detachments will redeploy to the Ukrainian-Russian border area.[xviii] Averyanov previously participated in the Russian delegation that met with officials in Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali and appeared to be heavily involved in the Russian government’s efforts to subsume the Wagner Group.[xix] Averyanov is notably the commander of GRU unit 29155, who is responsible for the 2018 assassination attempt against Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom and whom a joint investigation by 60 Minutes, Der Spiegel, and the Insider has recently implicated in non-lethal directed energy or acoustic weapons attacks against US government personnel within the US and internationally.[xx]

Crimean occupation administration head Sergei Aksyonov passed a decree restricting migrant labor in occupied Crimea, undermining the Kremlin’s effort to mitigate labor shortages. The decree banned businesses from hiring migrants for 35 different types of jobs, including transportation, agriculture and food production, natural resource supplies, public utilities, trade (except trade in motor vehicles and motorcycles), culture, and education.[xxi] The decree notably does not ban migrants from construction work, which indicates that Crimean occupation officials may be able to legally employ migrants to build fortifications, logistics routes, or other infrastructure in support of Russia’s war effort.[xxii] Aksyonov stated that the uncontrolled presence of labor migrants in occupied Crimea and in Russia is “unacceptable” and that Crimean occupation law enforcement identified more than 500 individuals who had violated Russian migration laws.[xxiii] Russian authorities have notably imported migrants from Russia to occupied Ukraine as part of efforts to repopulate and rebuild in occupied areas, as ISW has previously reported.[xxiv] Some Russian milbloggers welcomed these restrictions and noted that Russian officials should enforce more measures to control migrant labor and enforce stricter visa and citizenship requirements.[xxv] Aksyonov’s decree and milblogger suggestions, however, contradict the Kremlin’s recent attempts to balance opposing efforts to set social expectations for a protracted Russian war effort and to assuage Russian society’s concerns about the economic consequences of the war and labor migration.[xxvi] Putin implied on April 4 that Russia needs to continue importing foreign laborers given that Russia will experience a high demand for human capital and face labor shortages in the coming years.[xxvii] ISW assessed on April 4 that Putin appeared to be telling Russia’s xenophobic ultra-nationalist community that Russia must continue to rely on migration, while Aksyonov’s decree appears to be directly appealing to this ultra-nationalist community while disregarding Putin’s messaging.

Russian state media seized on Georgian protests against a proposed law similar to Russia’s “foreign agent” law, likely as part of Kremlin efforts to amplify political discord in Georgia. Kremlin newswire TASS reported extensively on Georgian parliamentary debates on April 15 about a proposed law that would require non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive more than 20 percent of their budget from foreign sources to register as “an organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power” - a label that notably replaces the term “foreign agent” that Russia uses and was featured in previous versions of the proposed law.[xxviii] The Georgian parliament passed the first reading of the bill in 2023, then withdrew it from further consideration following widespread public protests opposing the bill.[xxix] TASS particularly focused on the protests in Tbilisi against the proposed law and repeatedly emphasized that Western diplomats in Georgia, such as the EU mission and US embassy in Georgia, opposed the bill.[xxx] Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitri Peskov responded on April 4 to the reintroduction of the bill in the Georgian Parliament and called claims that this is a “Russian project” absurd.[xxxi] Peskov claimed that such laws are a “global practice” and that “no sovereign states wants interference from other countries in domestic politics.” Russian media similarly largely highlighted public protests and societal discord during the 2023 protests in opposition to the first version of the foreign agent law.[xxxii] Russia has routinely attempted to portray Ukraine’s and other post-Soviet countries’ politics as chaotic in an attempt to destabilize target states and make them easier for Russia to influence or outright attack.[xxxiii]


Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian officials continue to warn that US security assistance is vital to Ukrainian forces’ ability to defend against current and future Russian offensive operations forecasted to begin in late spring and summer.
  • A senior Estonian military official described intensified Russian offensive frontline operations and deep rear area strike campaigns as intended to degrade both Ukraine’s will to fight and Western unity.
  • Russian forces continue to adapt their drone tactics along the frontline as part of an offense-defense arms race to mitigate Ukrainian technological adaptions to offset Russian materiel advantages along the frontline.
  • Russian officials doubled down on efforts to amplify Iran’s “justification” for the April 13 large-scale Iranian strikes against Israel that falsely equates them with an April 1 Israeli strike targeting Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officials in Damascus.
  • A Russian insider source claimed that Russian officials are preparing to redeploy some former Wagner Group elements serving in Africa Corps to Belgorod Oblast.
  • Crimean occupation administration head Sergei Aksyonov passed a decree restricting migrant labor in occupied Crimea, undermining the Kremlin’s effort to mitigate labor shortages.
  • Russian state media seized on Georgian protests against a proposed law similar to Russia’s “foreign agent” law, likely as part of Kremlin efforts to amplify political discord in Georgia.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Siversk (northeast of Bakhmut), Avdiivka, and west of Donetsk City on April 15.
  • Russian prosecution rates of men who had fled compulsory military service have reportedly increased since fall 2022.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 14, 2024

Israel’s success in defending against large-scale Iranian missile and drone strikes from Iranian territory on April 13 underscores the vulnerabilities that Ukrainian geography and the continued degradation of Ukraine’s air defense umbrella pose for Ukrainian efforts to defend against regular Russian missile and drone strikes. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force launched roughly 170 Shahed-136/131 drones, 30 cruise missiles, and 120 ballistic missiles at targets in Israel in a strike package similar to recent Russian strike packages against Ukraine.[i] Russian forces have experimented with cruise missile, ballistic missile, and drone strikes of varying sizes and combinations, and are now routinely conducting large, combined strikes against targets in Ukraine.[ii] Iran’s similarly large, combined strike package was far less successful than recent Russian strikes in Ukraine, however, with Israeli air defenses intercepting almost all of the roughly 320 air targets except several ballistic missiles.[iii] Iranian drones and missiles had to cross more than 1,000 kilometers of Iraqi, Syrian, and Jordanian airspace before reaching Israel, affording Israel and its allies hours to identify, track, and intercept missiles and drones on approach to Israel.[iv] Russian forces launch drones and missiles from throughout occupied Ukraine and in close proximity to Ukraine from within Russia, affording Ukrainian air defenders a fraction of the time that Israel and its allies leveraged to successfully blunt the mass Iranian missile and drone strike.[v] Israel also has a robust air defense umbrella that is responsible for responding to potential attacks across shorter borders with its neighbors, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank; whereas, Ukraine has increasingly degraded air defense capabilities to employ against missile and drones strikes across a much wider frontline in Ukraine as well as its international borders with Belarus and Russia. Ukraine also currently lacks the capability to conduct air-to-air interception with fixed wing aircraft as Israel and its allies did on the night of April 13. Ukraine’s large size compared to Israel makes it more difficult for Ukraine to emulate the density of air defense coverage that Israel enjoys, especially amid continued delays in US security assistance.

The exhaustion of US-provided air defenses resulting from delays in the resumption of US military assistance to Ukraine combined with improvements in Russian strike tactics have led to increasing effectiveness of the Russian strike campaign in Ukraine.[vi] Without substantial and regular security assistance to Ukraine, Russian strikes threaten to constrain Ukraine’s long-term warfighting capabilities and set operational conditions for Russia to achieve significant gains on the battlefield.[vii] Ukraine requires significant provisions of Western air defense systems and fighter jets capable of intercepting drones and missiles in order to establish a combined air defense umbrella that is even remotely as effective as the one Israel and its allies successfully used on April 13.[viii]

Russia’s strike campaign against Ukraine demonstrates that even a limited number of successful ballistic or cruise missile strikes can cause significant and likely long-term damage to energy and other infrastructure, highlighting the need for an effective and well-provisioned air defense umbrella capable of a sustained high rate of interception. Recent large-scale Russian strike packages using drones, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles against Ukraine have caused significant damage to Ukrainian energy infrastructure. All 15 ballistic missiles and seven of the 44 cruise missiles that Russian forces launched against Ukrainian energy facilities on the night of March 21 to 22 successfully penetrated Ukrainian air defenses.[ix] Some of the missiles significantly damaged the Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP) in Zaporizhzhia City and took it completely offline, and it will take some time to repair the plant.[x] Three of seven ballistic missiles and eight of 30 cruise missiles that Russian forces launched against Ukrainian HPPs on the night of March 28 to 29 successfully penetrated Ukrainian air defenses, damaging HPPs and thermal power plants (TPPs) in central and western Ukraine.[xi] All 18 ballistic missiles and six of the 24 cruise missiles that Russian forces launched against Ukrainian energy infrastructure on the night of April 10 to 11 successfully penetrated Ukrainian air defenses, of which five missiles completely destroyed the Trypilska TPP in Kyiv Oblast.[xii] The Russian strikes against Ukrainian energy facilities on the night of April 10 to 11 also damaged energy facilities in Zaporizhia and Lviv oblasts.[xiii] The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on April 11 that Russian strikes, not including the April 10 to 11 strike series, have disrupted 80 percent of the generation capacity of DTEK, Ukraine’s largest private energy company, which supplies about 20 percent of Ukraine’s power.[xiv]

Ukrainian Deputy Energy Minister Svitlana Hrynchuk told CNN in an article published on April 14 that successful Russian strikes over the course of just a few days in the past few weeks have destroyed a year's worth of Ukrainian repairs to energy facilities following the winter 2022-2023 Russian strike campaign.[xv] A Ukrainian source told CNN that Russian forces have changed their strike tactics to launch a large number of missiles and drones simultaneously against a limited number of targets. DTEK Head Maksym Timchenko stated that Russia began targeting Ukrainian energy generation infrastructure, instead of transmission systems, in late March 2024.[xvi] DTEK previously warned that more accurate and concentrated Russian strikes are inflicting greater damage against Ukrainian energy facilities than previous Russian attacks did.[xvii] Israel, the US, and their allies and partners should be cognizant of the risk that even small numbers of missiles penetrating defense umbrellas can cause nonlinear damage to modern societies if they hit the right targets.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is falsely equating the April 13 large-scale Iranian strikes targeting Israel with the April 1 Israeli strike targeting Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) officials in Damascus, amplifying Iran’s “justification” for the April 13 strikes. The Russian MFA issued a statement on April 14 in response to the April 13 Iranian strikes amplifying Iran's claim that Iran conducted the April 13 strikes as an act of “self-defense” in response to claimed Israeli airstrikes on Iranian targets, including the April 1 strike targeting IRGC officials in Damascus.[xviii] The Russian MFA reiterated its condemnation of the April 1 Israeli strike and accused Western members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) of impeding the UNSC’s ability to “adequately respond” to the April 1 Israeli strike targeting IRGC officials. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a phone call with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian later on April 14, and the Russian MFA again amplified Iran’s claim that the April 13 strikes were a response to the April 1 Israeli strike in the readout of the call.[xix] Russian MFA Spokesperson Maria Zakharova notably refused an Israeli request for Russia to condemn the April 13 Iranian strikes, claiming that Israel has never condemned a Ukrainian strike against Russia and criticizing Israel for its statements supporting Ukraine.[xx] The Russian government is willfully furthering an information operation to justify Iran’s April 13 strikes against Israel to the international community.

Russian milbloggers largely responded to the April 13 Iranian strikes against Israel by suggesting that the increased threat of military escalation in the Middle East will likely draw Western, specifically US, attention and aid away from Ukraine. Russian milbloggers leaned into an established information operation on April 13 and 14 claiming that the Western media will slowly stop covering the war in Ukraine as Western attention turns to the risk of escalation in the Middle East and suggested that the US and Ukraine’s other Western allies may begin to falter in their expected aid deliveries to Ukraine because the West may prioritize aiding Israel.[xxi] Several Russian milbloggers specifically gloated that if Ukraine does not receive additional Western air defense systems, Russian drones and missiles will “safely cruise” in uncontested Ukrainian air space.[xxii] Russian milbloggers and Kremlin officials, including Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitri Peskov, expressed similar hopes following the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel.[xxiii] Significant delays in US military assistance have already created shortages in Ukraine’s air defense missile and ammunition stockpiles, hindering Ukraine’s ability to defend against Russian frontline offensive operations and drone and missile strikes against rear areas, creating opportunities that Russian forces are actively exploiting. Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely operating on the assumption that US military assistance to Ukraine will either be further delayed or permanently ended, and any evidence supporting that notion will likely encourage Russian efforts to strain Ukrainian forces past their breaking point on the battlefield and in deep rear areas. ISW continues to assess that Ukraine’s ability to defend against Russian offensive operations and Russia’s ongoing strike campaign is heavily dependent on continued US security assistance and that the longer Ukrainian forces go under-provisioned, the harder it will be to defend against Russian offensive operations.[xxiv]

Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi reported that the senior Russian military command aims to seize Chasiv Yar, Donetsk Oblast by Russia’s Victory Day holiday on May 9.[xxv] The Russian military command’s objective to seize Chasiv Yar in only three and a half weeks indicates that the Russian command likely assesses that Russian forces will be able to seize the town at a faster tempo of offensive operations than efforts to seize Bakhmut in May 2023 or Avdiivka in February 2024.[xxvi] The Russian military command likely assesses that continued Ukrainian critical munitions shortages will enable Russian forces to seize Chasiv Yar in several weeks, despite ISW’s assessment that Russian forces have currently only reached the easternmost part of the Kanal Microraion in easternmost Chasiv Yar. The Russian command has routinely set unrealistic goals for Russian advances, however, and a Russian milblogger expressed hope that Russian forces may be able to just enter the Novyi Microraion in southeastern Chasiv Yar by May 9.[xxvii] The Russian military will likely intend to capitalize on significant Ukrainian artillery and air defense shortages that are crucial to Ukrainian defense and that were not constraining Ukraine’s defense of Bakhmut or Avdiivka to the same degree as their current constraints, however. The Russian military command will likely continue efforts against Chasiv Yar until the effort culminates, but Russian forces may be able to make speedier advances than in prior efforts given the degree of Ukraine’s current artillery and air defense shortages.

The Russian military’s ongoing restructuring of the Western Military District (WMD) into the Moscow and Leningrad military districts (MMD and LMD) is reportedly shifting areas of operational responsibility (AOR) for Russian force groupings in Ukraine. Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets reported on April 14 that Russian units part of the Bryansk, Kursk, and Belgorod border groupings will form part of the LMD and that elements of the 11th Army Corps (AC) and the 138th Motorized Rifle Brigade (6th Combined Arms Army [CAA]) and likely elements of the currently-forming 44th AC and the 25th Motorized Rifle Brigade (6th CAA) will form the “Northern” Grouping of Forces alongside existing units on the border in Bryansk, Kursk, and Belgorod oblasts.[xxviii] This report suggests that the entire 6th CAA and 11th AC are also subordinated to the LMD, which would be consistent with the boundaries of the military district and the permanent stations of those formations. Mashovets also reported that the 1st Guards Tank Army, 20th CAA, and 25th CAA will integrate into the MMD and be responsible for the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line on the Kharkiv-Luhansk Oblast axis — an observation also largely consistent with the military district boundaries and permanent stations of those formations. Mashovets also speculated on possible commanders for the MMD as well as the LMD and Northern Grouping of Forces, but ISW is unable to confirm these speculations.[xxix] Mashovets’ report suggests that the LMD’s Northern Grouping of Forces is pulling Russian formations currently operating on the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line — including elements of the 6th CAA and 11th AC — to the northern international border and elsewhere in the theater, which will undermine any Russian offensive efforts on that line and may create confusion in the Russian military command as it seeks to disentangle the WMD into the MMD and LMD.[xxx] This redeployment could support possible future Russian operations against Kharkiv City to which Ukrainian leaders have previously alluded.[xxxi]

The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) has reportedly fired the commanders of a combined arms army and motorized rifle regiment operating in southern Ukraine likely for failing to recapture areas lost during the Ukrainian summer-fall 2023 counteroffensive. Russian sources claimed on April 13 and 14 that the Russian military command fired Lieutenant General Arkady Marzoev, commander of the Russian 18th Combined Arms Army (Southern Military District [SMD]) that has been fighting near Krynky, Kherson Oblast, as well as the commander of the 70th Motorized Rifle Regiment (42nd Motorized Rifle Division, 58th Combined Arms Army [CAA], SMD) that has been fighting near Robotyne, Zaporizhia Oblast.[xxxii] ISW is unable to confirm these reported firings. Elements of the 18th CAA have been repelling Ukrainian attacks and attempting to push Ukrainian forces from their positions in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast since Ukrainian forces established a limited tactical bridgehead in November 2023, and have notably failed.[xxxiii] Elements of the 70th Motorized Rifle Regiment have been conducting periodic counterattacks to recapture territory in and around Robotyne since September 2023 and suffered significant degradation as a result.[xxxiv] Elements of the 18th CAA and the 70th Motorized Rifle Regiment have been unable to recapture all the territory that Ukrainian forces captured in Zaporizhia and Kherson oblasts during the summer-fall 2023 counteroffensive. If the Russian sources’ speculations are accurate, the Russian MoD is likely replacing these commanders in hopes that new leadership will oversee the seizure of more territory around Robotyne and Krynky, thereby allowing the Russian MoD to claim with some degree of believability that Russia has undone the results of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Key Takeaways:

  • Israel’s success in defending against large-scale Iranian missile and drone strikes from Iranian territory on April 13 underscores the vulnerabilities that Ukrainian geography and the continued degradation of Ukraine’s air defense umbrella pose for Ukrainian efforts to defend against regular Russian missile and drone strikes.
  • The exhaustion of US-provided air defenses resulting from delays in the resumption of US military assistance to Ukraine combined with improvements in Russian strike tactics have led to increasing effectiveness of the Russian strike campaign in Ukraine.
  • Russia’s strike campaign against Ukraine demonstrates that even a limited number of successful ballistic or cruise missile strikes can cause significant and likely long-term damage to energy and other infrastructure, highlighting the need for an effective and well-provisioned air defense umbrella capable of a sustained high rate of interception.
  • The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is falsely equating the April 13 large-scale Iranian strikes targeting Israel with the April 1 Israeli strike targeting Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) officials in Damascus, amplifying Iran’s “justification” for the April 13 strikes.
  • Russian milbloggers largely responded to the April 13 Iranian strikes against Israel by suggesting that the increased threat of military escalation in the Middle East will likely draw Western, specifically US, attention and aid away from Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi reported that the senior Russian military command aims to seize Chasiv Yar, Donetsk Oblast by Russia’s Victory Day holiday on May 9.
  • The Russian military’s ongoing restructuring of the Western Military District (WMD) into the Moscow and Leningrad military districts (MMD and LMD) is reportedly shifting areas of operational responsibility (AOR) for Russian force groupings in Ukraine.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) has reportedly fired the commanders of a combined arms army and motorized rifle regiment operating in southern Ukraine likely for failing to recapture areas lost during the Ukrainian summer-fall 2023 counteroffensive.
  • Ukrainian forces advanced south of Kreminna and southwest of Donetsk City and Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Chasiv Yar (west of Bakhmut) and Avdiivka.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 13, 2024

Russian forces are pursuing at least three operational-level efforts that are not mutually reinforcing but let Russian forces prioritize grinding, tactical gains on a single sector of their choice at a time. Ukrainian forces will increasingly struggle to defend against these Russian efforts the longer Ukraine lacks further US military assistance. Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi stated on April 13 that the situation in eastern Ukraine has significantly worsened in recent days and that Russian forces are conducting mechanized attacks in the Lyman, Bakhmut, and Pokrovsk (west of Avdiivka) directions.[i] Syrskyi stated that hot and dry weather conditions have made most open terrain accessible to Russian tanks and that Russian forces are dedicating new units to achieving tactical successes despite heavy losses. The Russian efforts in the Lyman, Chasiv Yar, and Pokrovsk directions each pursue operationally significant objectives, but these operations are not mutually supporting, and Russian forces still seem to be alternating emphasis among the different operational directions rather than leaning into all three at any given time.[ii] Ukrainian forces have successfully defended against prior Russian operational-level offensive efforts of this sort when they had the resources the US is currently withholding, forcing these efforts to culminate before they could achieve operationally significant results.[iii] Ukrainian forces currently struggle with significant shortages of both artillery shells and air defense means, both of which are critical components of their defense, and Russian forces are capitalizing on these shortages and improved weather conditions.[iv]

The Russian military command likely assesses that Ukrainian forces will be unable to defend against current and future Russian offensive operations due to delays in or the permanent end of US military assistance. Russian forces have recently periodically shifted their focus among offensive operations in the Lyman, Chasiv Yar, and Pokrovsk directions; Russian forces first prioritized the capture of Avdiivka in early 2024, alongside simultaneous but less intense operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, then leaned into the Lyman direction while slightly decreasing the tempo near Avdiivka, and now are intensifying efforts to seize Chasiv Yar in March-April 2024.[v] Though Russian forces likely lack the ability to conduct more than one simultaneous effective large-scale operational effort as they have throughout the war, Russian forces are now able to use multiple alternating offensive efforts to stretch Ukrainian defensive capabilities amid Ukrainian artillery and air defense shortages.[vi] The current pattern of Russian offensive operations allows elements of units participating in less intensive efforts to rest and reconstitute while other units, presumably those that are more rested or those that have recently received reinforcements. They can then intensify efforts in another operational direction, forcing Ukrainian forces to reallocate their defensive resources across the theater and creating vulnerabilities that Russian forces can exploit. Russian forces are reportedly developing operational- and strategic-level reserves capable of sustaining ongoing offensive operations in Ukraine, likely to support an anticipated spring-summer offensive effort.[vii] ISW continues to assess that these reserves are unlikely to be ready to act as a first-echelon penetration force or second-echelon exploitation force capable of conducting large-scale mechanized assaults in 2024 as long as Ukrainian forces have the wherewithal to resist them.[viii] Russian forces would more likely use these reserves to restaff or reinforce existing formations and continue grinding, infantry-led assaults with occasional limited mechanized pushes in their direction of choice at key moments. If the United States does not resume providing aid to Ukraine and Ukrainian forces continue to lack essential artillery and air defense munitions in particular, however, even badly-trained and poorly-equipped Russian troops might be able to conduct successful offensive operations.

The offensive effort to seize Chasiv Yar offers Russian forces the most immediate prospects for operationally significant advances as the seizure of the town would likely allow Russian forces to launch subsequent offensive operations against the cities that form in effect a significant Ukrainian defensive belt in Donetsk Oblast. Russian forces have long aimed to capture a group of major cities in Donetsk Oblast that include Slovyansk, Kramatorsk, Druzhkivka, and Kostyantynivka, and the Russian military initially attempted and failed to conduct a wide operational encirclement of Ukrainian forces in eastern Donetsk Oblast by driving on Slovyansk in spring 2022.[ix] The Ukrainian liberation of Izyum, Kharkiv Oblast and further advances in northern Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts during the fall of 2022 Kharkiv counteroffensive disrupted Russian plans to resume efforts to drive on the northern edge of this Ukrainian “fortress” belt.[x] Russian forces continued their drive towards the southern portion of the Donetsk Oblast “fortress” belt with their attritional, months-long effort to seize Bakhmut, but the seizure of the city and the culmination of Russian offensive operations in the area in May 2023 did not allow Russian forces to immediately threaten the southern edge of the “fortress“ belt.[xi] Russian forces began localized offensive operations west of Bakhmut in November 2023 and are now operating on the eastern outskirts of Chasiv Yar. The Russian seizure of Chasiv Yar would allow Russian forces to begin attacking the southern “fortress” cities in the Ukrainian defensive belt directly. Chasiv Yar is roughly seven kilometers from Kostyantynivka (the southernmost “fortress” city) and roughly 20 kilometers from Druzhkivka. Russian forces could launch subsequent offensive operations directly on Druzhkivka or Kostyantynivka after some period of rest and replenishment following the possible seizure of Chasiv Yar. Russian forces could also drive on Oleksiilevo-Druzhkivka (15km west of Chasiv Yar) in an effort to cut off and isolate Kostyantynivka from the rest of the “fortress” belt and set conditions for the operational encirclement of the city. These options depend on the Russian seizure of Chasiv Yar, however, which is not certain.

Russian threats to Druzhkivka and Kostyantynivka are very operationally significant since these “fortress” cities help form the backbone of the Ukrainian defense in Donetsk Oblast and of eastern Ukraine in general. The isolation of Kostyantynivka or the outright seizure of the settlement would likely significantly degrade Ukraine’s ability to hold the frontline further south in Donetsk Oblast as it would sever a major ground line of communication along the H-20 (Kostyantynivka-Donetsk City) highway and require Ukrainian forces to commit a significant portion of manpower and materiel to the defense of the remaining “fortress” belt and relatively less fortified areas of central and western Donetsk Oblast. Russian advances through Kostyantynivka and Druzhkivka and then further west into Donetsk Oblast would likely present Russian forces with greater opportunities to collapse the Ukrainian frontline in Donetsk Oblast and possibly restore relatively rapid maneuver to the battlefield in pursuit of seizing all of Donetsk Oblast. Russian forces will be challenged to seize either city rapidly as long as Ukrainian forces have the wherewithal to defend them, however. ISW is not forecasting that the Russians will be able to seize either city in the near term. Russian advances further west of these “fortress” cities into Donetsk Oblast could also present Russian forces with opportunities to make offensive operations along diverging axes along the Donetsk Oblast frontline mutually supporting an offensive push on Pokrovsk and the western borders of Donetsk Oblast. The possible Russian seizure of Kostyantynivka and Druzhkivka would significantly degrade Ukraine’s operational position even if the frontline then stabilized since the possible Russian seizure of these cities would present Russian forces with more secure positions from which threaten a wider area of Donetsk Oblast that is more sparsely populated and offers less advantageous terrain to defend. These cities, even after the likely widescale destruction that a Russian offensive operation would cause, would present opportunities for Russian forces to establish a significant defensive line that could materially degrade the prospects for Ukrainian counteroffensive operations to retake them. The threat to Druzhkivka and Kostyantynivka presents a potential major operational setback for Ukraine that would be very challenging to reverse. ISW is neither forecasting that Russian forces will seize Chasiv Yar nor forecasting that Russian forces will be able to threaten or even seize Kostyantynivka or Druzhkivka. ISW offers these considerations of the threat that the Russian seizure of Chasiv Yar would present because they are a plausible most dangerous course of action (MDCOA) especially if the US does not rapidly resume the provision of military assistance to Ukraine.

Russian forces may not be able to seize Chasiv Yar rapidly and would likely struggle to leverage its operational significance immediately as long as Ukrainian forces have the resources needed to hold their positions. The Russian Southern Grouping of Forces and substantial elements of the Russian Airborne (VDV) forces are currently responsible for offensive operations from northeast of Bakhmut to southeast of Chasiv Yar, and elements of the 98th VDV Division, 11th VDV Brigade, the 150th Motorized Rifle Division’s 102nd Motorized Rifle Regiment (8th Combined Arms Army [CAA], Southern Military District [SMD]) are attacking the immediate outskirts of Chasiv Yar.[xii] Elements of the 200th Motorized Rifle Brigade (Northern Fleet) and Volunteer Corps and limited elements of the 98th VDV Division are attempting to advance on Chasiv Yar from the northeast, and elements of the 83rd VDV Brigade, the Luhansk People’s Republic 2nd Army Corps (AC), and the 3rd AC are currently attempting to recapture territory southeast of Chasiv Yar and push Ukrainian forces across the Siversky-Donets Donbas Canal.[xiii] Russian forces appear to have committed their most combat-effective elements in the area to frontal assaults on Chasiv Yar, and these frontal assaults will likely produce gradual gains at attritional costs as long as Ukrainian defenders have essential materiel. The elements that Russian forces have currently concentrated northeast and southeast of Chasiv Yar are relatively less combat effective and will struggle to make advances similar to those made east of Chasiv Yar against supplied Ukrainian defenders. Russian tactical gains east of Chasiv Yar have not set conditions for an encirclement or envelopment of the settlement, and Russian forces would likely have to make notable tactical gains southeast and northwest of Chasiv Yar before pursuing an envelopment or encirclement of the settlement, which may require additional and combat effective units and formations. Available imagery, which ISW will not present or describe in greater detail at this time to preserve Ukrainian operational security, shows that Ukrainian forces have established significant fortifications in a ring shape in the Chasiv Yar area, and Russian forces will likely struggle to rapidly break through these defenses at their current offensive tempo in the area as long as Ukrainian forces have the ammunition needed to resist.[xiv] In the absence of significant new Russian deployments, Russian forces will likely have to fight their way directly through the town or attempt a narrow tactical-level turning movement, which would force Russian forces to contend with Chasiv Yar’s fortifications, elevated Ukrainian positions, and the obstacle of the Siversky-Donets Donbas Canal.

The possible Russian seizure of Chasiv Yar in itself does not allow Russian forces to conduct a successful operation to threaten Kostyantynivka and Druzhkivka, and Russian forces would likely need to set other operational conditions to threaten the southern “fortress” cities. The Russian seizure of Chasiv Yar would create a notable salient, and a Russian attempt to advance further west immediately from Chasiv Yar would make that salient increasingly vulnerable to Ukrainian counterattacks. Russian forces would likely need to recapture territory that Russian forces lost southeast of Chasiv Yar during the summer 2023 Ukrainian counteroffensive to stabilize the advancing Russian front, an effort that elements of the 83rd VDV Brigade, 2nd AC, and 3rd AC have struggled to pursue. Russian attempts to advance towards Kostyantynivka would likely allow Ukrainian forces to use positions in the Toretsk-Pivnichne area to interdict and threaten rear Russian logistics lines and possibly isolate the immediate battlespace west of Chasiv Yar. The terrain between Chasiv Yar and the southern edge of the Ukrainian “fortress” belt is predominantly open fields with limited cover and concealment, which would likely require Russian forces to conduct effective mechanized maneuver to advance up to the cities. Ukrainian forces have demonstrated their ability to repel intensive Russian mechanized assaults and degrade Russian logistics when well-provisioned, and the Russian ability to leverage the operational significance of Chasiv Yar likely rests in large part on whether the US will resume security assistance to Ukraine.[xv]

Ukrainian artillery and air defense shortages resulting from the lack of US security assistance are allowing Russian mechanized forces to make marginal tactical advances, and future Russian mechanized assaults may be able to achieve more significant gains should the US continue to withhold assistance to Ukraine. Syrskyi stated that Ukrainian forces are strengthening the “most problematic” areas at the front with electronic warfare (EW) systems, air defense systems, drones, and anti-tank missiles.[xvi] Syrskyi stated that Ukrainian forces also need to improve the quality of their training, especially for infantry units to optimize their use of limited and dwindling Western-supplied weapons and equipment. The Telegraph reported on April 12 that a Ukrainian lieutenant colonel stated at the end of February 2024 that Russian forces often have three times as many artillery shells as Ukrainian forces and that some Ukrainian artillery units only have enough shells to strike a single Russian mechanized assault group out of several Russian mechanized groups, forcing the Ukrainians to use small arms to defend against subsequent Russian mechanized assaults.[xvii] A Russian Storm-Z instructor stated on April 13 that recent Russian mechanized assaults have achieved tactical successes but have been unable to make significant advances due to Ukrainian counterattacks, the exhaustion of Russian fire support during the assault, and the incompetence of Russian forces that are meant to consolidate gained positions.[xviii] The instructor stated that recent Russian tactical advances are not the result of improvements in the quality of Russian combat capabilities, increases in Russian technical means, or the optimization of Russian organizational structures but are rather due to Russia’s increased use of glide bombs and constraints on Ukrainian artillery fire resulting from the lack of US supplies. The instructor claimed that Ukrainian forces are attempting to compensate for their decreased firepower by increasing their use of strike drones but noted that Ukrainian drones are able to strike but not destroy Russian armored vehicles, as ISW has previously observed.[xix]

ISW continues to assess that continued delays in US security assistance are specifically impacting Ukraine’s ability to respond to an increased tempo of Russian mechanized assaults in eastern Ukraine.[xx] Sparse and inconsistent Ukrainian air defense coverage along the front resulting from shortages in Ukrainian air defense systems and missiles has facilitated Russia’s intensification of guided and unguided glide bomb strikes, which Russian forces used to tactical effect in their seizure of Avdiivka in February 2024 and which Russian forces are using again during their current offensive operations near Chasiv Yar.[xxi] Ukrainian forces have also suffered from ongoing artillery ammunition shortages, which they have partially mitigated by using first person view (FPV) drones to blunt Russian infantry and armored vehicle assaults.[xxii] ISW continues to assess, however, that while Ukrainian FPV drones are likely able to temporarily render armored vehicles hors de combat, the relatively light payloads on the current FPV drones are unlikely to destroy armored vehicles very often.[xxiii] Ukrainian forces have been partially able to repel the recently increased tempo of Russian mechanized assaults despite these shortages but will likely be unable to continue to defend against Russian mechanized assaults as effectively in the future should delays in US security assistance continue.

Ukrainian forces have previously demonstrated their ability to repel Russian mechanized assaults and inflict significant equipment losses on Russian forces when adequately provisioned. Ukrainian forces destroyed significant elements of a Russian motorized rifle brigade that tried to cross a pontoon bridge over the Siverskyi Donets River in 2022, and Russian forces lost at least 130 tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs) during a three-week offensive near Vuhledar in 2023.[xxiv] Ukrainian forces were recently able to inflict serious armored vehicle losses during several waves of Russian mechanized assaults on Avdiivka in fall 2023 before artillery shortages worsened through the winter into the spring of 2024.[xxv] ISW has generally observed that recent Russian mechanized assaults have exhibited the same tactical patterns that have previously resulted in large Russian vehicle losses in 2022 and 2023, and Ukrainian forces are therefore likely able to repeat their previous successes against Russian mechanized assaults should the US provide Ukraine with the necessary assistance.[xxvi]

Germany announced that it will immediately transfer another Patriot air defense system to Ukraine in response to recent very urgent Ukrainian requests for additional Patriot systems to defend against the increased Russian strike campaign amid ongoing Ukrainian efforts to expand Ukraine’s air defense capabilities. The German Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced on April 13 that Germany will immediately transfer another Patriot system to Ukraine to defend against the ongoing increased Russian strike campaign against the Ukrainian energy grid.[xxvii] Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky later clarified that the Patriot system includes an unspecified number of missiles and that Germany and Ukraine are discussing the provision of an additional IRIS-T air defense system.[xxviii] German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius stated that the Russian strike campaign against Ukrainian citizens and infrastructure is endangering Ukraine’s energy supply and destroying defense industrial facilities that are critical to Ukraine’s operational readiness.[xxix] Zelensky and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba recently called on Ukraine’s Western allies to send Ukraine more Patriot batteries to protect Ukrainian cities and frontline areas, particularly Kharkiv City, from Russian ballistic missiles.[xxx] Kuleba stated on April 10 that Ukraine urgently needs seven Patriot batteries, and the additional German-provided Patriot system will significantly ease, but not resolve, the strain on Ukraine‘s air defense umbrella and the limited number of Patriot batteries currently in Ukraine.[xxxi] Advisor to the Head of the Ukrainian President’s Office Mykhaylo Podolyak stated during an interview on April 13 that Ukraine has not run out of Patriot and IRIS-T missiles, but that Ukraine’s supply of Western air defense missiles is “in deficit.”[xxxii] Former Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat warned in January 2024 that Ukraine began rationing its air defense equipment and ammunition and used a considerable amount of Ukraine’s existing air defense missile stockpile in defending against several large Russian drone and missile strike series in the first two weeks of January.[xxxiii] Recent large-scale Russian strikes have likely only further degraded Ukraine’s air defense missile stockpiles, and the German MoD and Zelensky did not specify how many additional Patriot missiles Germany is sending to Ukraine alongside the system.

Ukrainian officials also continue to discuss their envisioned use of F-16 and other fixed wing aircraft as part of Ukraine’s broader air defense umbrella. Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Major Ilya Yevlash stated on April 13 that Ukraine needs at least 150 aircraft to effectively conduct air operations and noted that the Ukrainian Air Force will base its rearmament around F-16s, Swedish produced Gripen multirole fixed-wing aircraft, and other aircraft.[xxxiv] Yevlash stated that Ukraine will use F-16s to augment existing Ukrainian ground-based air defenses defending against Russian Shahed-136/131 drones and cruise and guided missiles and to constrain Russian aviation operations. Yevlash noted that even two squadrons, roughly 18 aircraft, could significantly influence the situation in the Ukrainian air space and ease pressure on strained Ukrainian air defense systems. Zelensky stated on April 6 that the promised F-16 fighter jets from Ukraine’s Western partners only account for 10 percent of the fighter aircraft that Ukraine would need to defeat the Russian aviation threat.[xxxv] Zelensky suggested that Ukraine will need a combination of air defense systems and fighter aircraft to defeat the Russian aviation threat. Some of the promised European-provided F-16s are expected to arrive in Ukraine in the summer of 2024, although ISW continues to assess that only the United States can rapidly provide aircraft and air defense systems to Ukraine at the scale necessary to significantly improve Ukraine’s air defense capabilities.[xxxvi]

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian forces are pursuing at least three operational-level efforts that are not mutually reinforcing but let Russian forces prioritize grinding, tactical gains on a single sector of their choice at a time. Ukrainian forces will increasingly struggle to defend against these Russian efforts the longer Ukraine lacks further US military assistance.
  • The Russian military command likely assesses that Ukrainian forces will be unable to defend against current and future Russian offensive operations due to delays in or the permanent end of US military assistance.
  • The offensive effort to seize Chasiv Yar offers Russian forces the most immediate prospects for operationally significant advances as the seizure of the town would likely allow Russian forces to launch subsequent offensive operations against the cities that form in effect a significant Ukrainian defensive belt in Donetsk Oblast.
  • Russian threats to Druzhkivka and Kostyantynivka are very operationally significant since these “fortress” cities help form the backbone of the Ukrainian defense in Donetsk Oblast and of eastern Ukraine in general.
  • Russian forces may not be able to seize Chasiv Yar rapidly and would likely struggle to leverage its operational significance immediately as long as Ukrainian forces have the resources needed to hold their positions.
  • Ukrainian artillery and air defense shortages resulting from the lack of US security assistance are allowing Russian mechanized forces to make marginal tactical advances, and future Russian mechanized assaults may be able to achieve more significant gains should the US continue to withhold assistance to Ukraine.
  • Germany announced that it will immediately transfer another Patriot air defense system to Ukraine in response to recent very urgent Ukrainian requests for additional Patriot systems to defend against the increased Russian strike campaign and ongoing Ukrainian efforts to expand Ukraine’s air defense capabilities.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances near Chasiv Yar (west of Bakhmut) and Donetsk City.
  • Bloomberg reported on April 12 that Russia still relies on Chinese companies to supply most of the foreign-produced machine tool components and microelectronics to Russia’s defense industry for Russian weapons production.

 

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 11, 2024

Russian forces conducted another large-scale series of missile and drones strikes against Ukraine on the night of April 10 to 11 that caused notable and likely long-term damage to Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. The Ukrainian Air Force reported that Russian forces launched 82 air targets at Ukraine on the night of April 10 to 11, including 20 Kh-101/555 cruise missiles from Saratov Oblast; six Kinzhal aeroballistic missiles from Tambov Oblast; 12 S-300 anti-aircraft missiles from Belgorod Oblast; four Kh-59 cruise missiles from occupied Zaporizhia Oblast; and 40 Shahed-136/131 drones from Primorsko-Akhtarsk, Krasnodar Krai and occupied Cape Chauda, Crimea.[1] Ukrainian forces reportedly shot down 57 air targets, including 16 Kh-101/555 missiles, two Kh-59 missiles, and 39 Shahed drones.[2] Ukrainian state electricity transmission operator Ukrenergo stated that this strike series was the third large-scale Russian strike on Ukrainian electricity generation in 2024, likely referring to the March 22 and 28 strikes that damaged Ukrainian thermal and hydroelectric power plants (TPPs/HPPs).[3] Ukrainian energy company Centrenergo reported that an unspecified Russian strike destroyed the Trypilska TPP in Kyiv Oblast — the largest supplier of electricity to Kyiv, Cherkasy, and Zhytomyr oblasts.[4] Ukrainian Kharkiv Oblast Military Administration Head Oleh Synehubov stated that Russian forces conducted at least 10 strikes on critical infrastructure in Kharkiv City and Oblast.[5] Lviv Oblast Military Administration Head Maksym Kozytskyi reported that Russian forces struck a gas distribution facility and electric substation in Lviv Oblast with drones and unspecified missiles.[6] Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported that Russian forces damaged an energy facility in Zaporizhia Oblast with unspecified missiles, that debris from a downed drone caused a fire at an energy facility in Odesa Oblast, and that Russian forces targeted Odesa City with a Kh-31 anti-radar missile, but that the missile malfunctioned over the Black Sea.[7] Ukrainian officials also reported that an unspecified number of Russian ballistic missiles struck Mykolaiv City and that Russian guided glide bombs struck a power plant in Sumy City during the day of April 11.[8] The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on April 11 that Russian strikes, not including the April 10–11 strike series, have disrupted 80 percent of the generation capacity of DTEK, Ukraine’s largest private energy company, which supplies about 20 percent of Ukraine’s power.[9] The WSJ reported that DTEK’s chief executive, Maksym Timchenko, stated that DTEK spent $110 million repairing damage during the war’s first year and that it will cost more than twice that much to fix the most recent destruction caused by Russian strikes.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated that Ukraine needs more Patriot air defense batteries to protect both Ukraine’s population centers and frontline areas. The Washington Post reported on April 10 that Kuleba is currently focusing on obtaining seven Patriot batteries from other countries as quickly as possible to defend Ukraine’s largest cities.[10] Kuleba reportedly stated that Ukraine would place at least one of these batteries closer to the frontline. Kuleba recently emphasized that Ukraine especially needs Patriot systems to defend against Russian ballistic missiles, such as Kinzhal missiles, as Ukraine’s Soviet-era air defense systems are unable to intercept these missiles.[11] Russian strikes have forced Ukraine to make difficult decisions between providing air defense coverage to large population centers in the rear and active areas on the frontline, and Russia appears to be exploiting Ukraine’s degraded air defense umbrella in an attempt to collapse Ukraine’s energy grid and constrain Ukraine’s defense industrial capacity while Russian ground forces take advantage of their ability to use air strikes on Ukrainian frontline positions to make slow but steady gains.[12] ISW continues to assess that sparse and inconsistent air defense coverage along the front has likely facilitated Russia’s intensification of guided and unguided glide bomb strikes, which Russian forces used to tactical effect in their seizure of Avdiivka in mid-February 2024 and which Russian forces appear to be using again during their current offensive operations near Chasiv Yar.[13]

The Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada adopted a new mobilization law on April 11, a significant step in addressing Ukraine’s manpower challenges amid growing manpower constraints in Ukrainian units defending on the frontline.[14] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that the new mobilization law will come into force after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signs the law in May.[15] Ukrainian Joint Forces and “Khortytsia” Group of Forces Commander Lieutenant General Yuriy Sodol addressed the Verkhovna Rada ahead of the vote and reiterated that one of Ukraine’s main problems is its manpower challenges.[16] Sodol stated that some Ukrainian units are severely undermanned and suggested that some Ukrainian detachments are undermanned to the point that the detachment can currently only defend roughly 20 of the 100 meters a detachment at full end strength is typically able to defend. Sodol suggested that the Ukrainian military is currently deploying three partially manned brigades to cover the same area that one fully manned brigade can typically defend, forcing Ukraine to allocate additional units to defensive actions that could otherwise be resting in rear areas or preparing for future counteroffensive actions. ISW continues to assess that Ukraine’s ability to defend against Russian offensive operations and eventually challenge the theater-wide initiative depends heavily on the provision of US military assistance and the continuation of non-US military support as well as on Ukraine’s efforts to restore and reconstitute existing units and create new units.[17]

US European Command (EUCOM) Commander and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) General Chistopher Cavoli reported that EUCOM and NATO are strengthening their ability to respond to the “chronic threat” that Russia poses to global stability and European security in hopes of deterring future Russian aggression against NATO. Cavoli stated during a briefing to the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee on April 10 that Russia poses a “chronic threat” to the world and warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not intend to limit or stop his aggression at the borders of Ukraine.[18] Cavoli reported that EUCOM is responding to the Russian threat by enhancing its deterrence posture across Europe, including strengthening EUCOM’s eastern flank with rotational force deployments, expanding EUCOM’s pre-positioned stocks, and modernizing EUCOM’s infrastructure to enable a rapid reception of reinforcing forces. Cavoli stated that EUCOM and NATO are exercising extensively to demonstrate their ability to defend against and deter future Russian aggression against NATO. Cavoli noted that China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia are forming “interlocking, strategic partnerships” that are antithetical to US national security interests and aim to challenge the existing global security framework. Kremlin officials, particularly Putin, are increasingly contextualizing the war in Ukraine as part of a long-term geopolitical confrontation between Russia and the West in order to justify Russia’s long-term war effort in Ukraine and future Russian aggression against other European countries.[19]

Ukraine and Latvia signed a bilateral security agreement on April 11 providing for long-term Latvian assistance and security commitments to Ukraine.[20] Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that the agreement will provide annual aid to Ukraine valued at 0.25 percent of Latvia’s GDP from 2024 through 2026 and confirms Latvia’s 10-year commitment to aid Ukraine in reconstruction, the protection of critical infrastructure, de-mining, unmanned technology, and cyber security.[21] Latvia will also provide about 112 million euros (about $120 million) worth of military aid to Ukraine in 2024.[22]

Russian authorities conducted a counterterrorism operation and reportedly killed two suspected terrorists in the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria on April 11. The Russian National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAK) stated that Russian authorities declared a counterterrorism regime in Nalchik and Chereksky Raion, Kabardino-Balkaria and killed two militants who were reportedly planning sabotage and terrorist attacks in Kabardino-Balkaria.[23] The NAK also conducted a counterterrorism operation and reportedly detained three militants in the Republic of Dagestan on March 31.[24] Russian security forces are likely intensifying counterterrorism operations in Russia — particularly in the North Caucasus, which has seen Islamic State-Caucasus Province (Wilayat al Qawqaz) and other jihadist activity over the years — due to heighted fears of terrorism in Russia following the March 22 Crocus City Hall attack. Continued Russian counterterrorism operations in the North Caucasus and intensified measures targeting Central Asian migrants in Russia are further evidence that Russian authorities actually assess that threats emanate from Russia’s Central Asian and Muslim communities instead of Ukraine despite Russian efforts to baselessly tie Ukraine to the Crocus City Hall attack.[25] ISW remains confident that Islamic State (IS) conducted the Crocus City Hall attack and has yet to observe independent reporting or evidence to suggest that an actor other than IS was responsible for or aided the attack.[26]

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian forces conducted another large-scale series of missile and drones strikes against Ukraine on the night of April 10 to 11 that caused notable and likely long-term damage to Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
  • Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated that Ukraine needs more Patriot air defense batteries to protect both Ukraine’s population centers and frontline areas.
  • The Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada adopted a new mobilization law on April 11, a significant step in addressing Ukraine’s manpower challenges amid growing manpower constraints in Ukrainian units defending on the frontline.
  • US European Command (EUCOM) Commander and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) General Chistopher Cavoli reported that EUCOM and NATO are strengthening their ability to respond to the “chronic threat” that Russia poses to global stability and European security in hopes of deterring future Russian aggression against NATO.
  • Ukraine and Latvia signed a bilateral security agreement on April 11 providing for long-term Latvian assistance and security commitments to Ukraine.
  • Russian authorities conducted a counterterrorism operation and reportedly killed two suspected terrorists in the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria on April 11.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Kreminna, in the direction of Chasiv Yar west of Bakhmut, and in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area on April 11.
  • Russian exiled opposition outlet Novaya Gazeta Europe reported on April 11 that Russian courts have commuted sentences in over half of all criminal cases against Russian veterans and active-duty servicemen due to military service in Ukraine.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 9, 2024

Russian state media highlighted Russia and China’s joint effort to combat perceived Western “dual containment” targeting Russia and China during Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing on April 9. Kremlin newswire TASS reported that Wang suggested that China and Russia engage in “dual counteraction” in response to alleged Western attempts at “dual containment” targeting Russia and China.[i] Lavrov claimed that the Russian–Chinese “comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction” have reached an “unprecedented level,” and that Russia and China have mutual international interests and will coordinate to solve internal and external problems.[ii] Lavrov claimed that Russian–Chinese relations extend beyond a “military-political alliance of the Cold War” and that both countries are working to create a “multipolar world order” through multilateral formats that include BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).[iii] Russia has consistently pushed the idea of a Russian-led “multipolar world order” that imagines Russia as the leader of a coalition of non-Western states in opposition to the US and West.[iv] Lavrov claimed that Russia and China will continue to cooperate on anti-terrorism measures and that Russia and China signed another plan for inter-Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) consultations in 2024.[v] The Russian MFA stated that China and Russia “exchanged views” on possible ways to resolve the war in Ukraine, that both sides called international meetings that discuss an end to the war without Russia “futile,” and that Russia “positively” assesses China’s suggestions for an end to the war, likely in reference to the 12-point peace plan that China released in February 2023.[vi] The Russian MFA notably did not mention bilateral military or technological cooperation, possibly due to recent reports that China is increasingly helping Russia’s defense industrial base (DIB) and even providing Russia with geospatial intelligence that Russia likely uses to support military operations in Ukraine.[vii] ISW continues to assess that the Kremlin continues to be concerned with China’s reticence to participate fully in the Kremlin's desired no-limits partnership, and that China continues to hold the upper hand in the Russian–Chinese relationship despite recent reports suggesting that China is increasingly willing to assist Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine.[viii]

US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced on April 9 that it transferred roughly a brigade’s worth of small arms and ammunition seized from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to Ukraine on April 4. CENTCOM reported that the US government transferred over 5,000 AK-47s, machine guns, sniper rifles, RPG-7s and over 500,000 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition to the Ukrainian military.[ix] CENTCOM stated that it obtained these munitions on December 1, 2023 through a Department of Justice (DoJ) civil forfeiture claim opened against the IRGC in July 2023.[x] CNN reported that CENTCOM had already transferred over one million rounds of seized IRGC ammunition to Ukraine as of October 2023.[xi]

The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) is likely responsible for a drone strike against the Borisoglebsk Airbase in Voronezh Oblast overnight on April 8 to 9. GUR Spokesperson Andriy Yusov told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) that two unspecified drones struck the aviation center in Borisoglebsk, which reportedly trains Russian frontline bomber and attack aviation flight crews, and that preliminary information suggests that the strike damaged unspecified production facilities at the airbase.[xii] Ukrainian outlet RBK-Ukraine cited its own source within GUR as confirming that the Borisoglebsk strike was a GUR operation.[xiii] Geolocated footage published on April 9 shows one drone striking the airbase.[xiv] Russian sources reported that one Ukrainian drone struck the facade of the Chlakov aviation training center near the airbase and another drone struck the same spot an hour later, only damaging the outside of the building.[xv] ISW has not yet observed visual confirmation of the type and extent of damage from the drone strike.

Russian ultranationalist milbloggers continue to employ virulently anti-migrant rhetoric and call for xenophobic domestic policies, but in doing so are exposing the inherent hypocrisy in Russia’s treatment of its own indigenous ethnic minority communities. Several ultranationalist milbloggers seized on an April 5 post by the Leningrad Oblast House of Friendship cultural center for awarding the local “Khorezm” Uzbek cultural organization with a grant for its work in “harmonization of interethnic relations and support for small indigenous peoples of Leningrad Oblast.”[xvi] Several milbloggers retorted that Uzbeks are not indigenous to Leningrad Oblast and questioned why an Uzbek cultural organization received an award from the Leningrad Oblast budget.[xvii] One milblogger emphasized that Leningrad Oblast has formally defined Vepsians, Vods, and Izhorians as the ethnic groups indigenous to Leningrad Oblast.[xviii] Another Russian milblogger published a post on April 9, which was later amplified by a Telegram channel affiliated with imprisoned Russian former officer and ultranationalist commentator Igor Girkin, calling the domestic situation in Russia a “migration catastrophe,” accusing migrants of attacking the Russian domestic rear and of “unleashing ethnic, economic, and religious terror against indigenous citizens of the Russian Federation of all ethnicities.”[xix] The milbloggers who criticized the Leningrad Oblast authorities and the post amplified by the Girkin-affiliated channel all narrowly define Muslim migrants from Central Asian countries as an explicit threat to “indigenous Russians.”[xx]

This same ultranationalist community, however, has been inconsistent and hypocritical in selectively defining who it believes to be an “indigenous Russian,” and the actual indigenous populations of Russia’s ethnic minority republics have faced discrimination and poor treatment at the hands of ethnic Russians, particularly against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine. Russian milbloggers have criticized Tuvans, an ethnic minority group indigenous to Siberia, for using indigenous Tuvan orthography on road signs, while accusing Tuvan activist groups of inciting “ethnic discord” in Russia.[xxi] The Kremlin has also heavily relied on the more geographically remote and economically disenfranchised Russian federal subjects, many of which are indigenous ethnic minority republics, to disproportionately bear the brunt of mobilization for the war in Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians in major population centers such as Moscow and St. Petersburg from high casualties and the realities of the war.[xxii] Indigenous Buryat, Kalmyk, Tuvan, and Sakha activist organizations have spoken out against the Kremlin’s heavy reliance on ethnic minority indigenous populations for force generation purposes.[xxiii] Russian authorities have also been trying to undermine cultural identity in the Republic of Tatarstan through amendments to state national policy that remove provisions on “strengthening Tatarstan’s identity.”[xxiv]

Russian ultranationalists’ anti-migrant rhetoric, which has increased exponentially following the March 22 Crocus City Hall terror attack, has exposed gaps in the Kremlin’s already strained relationship with migrant communities within Russia. The Kremlin is likely struggling to balance appeasing the anti-migrant calls of ultranationalist commentators, who comprise a major Kremlin support base, with its reliance on migrants and ethnic minority communities to fill roles both on the battlefield and in the domestic labor economy, as ISW has previously assessed.[xxv]

The Kremlin will likely be able to leverage a new agreement signed by the Kremlin-affiliated governor of the pro-Russian Moldovan autonomous region of Gagauzia, Yevgenia Gutsul, and a state-owned Russian bank to further its efforts to destabilize Moldovan society, attack Moldova’s democratic government, and prevent Moldova’s accession to the European Union (EU). Gutsul met with Petr Fradkov, the chairman and CEO of Russian state-owned bank Promsvyazbank (PSB), in Moscow on April 9.[xxvi] Petr Fradkov is the son of Mikhail Fradkov, the former long-time director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and current director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies.[xxvii] PSB will reportedly open accounts for an estimated 5,000 government employees and 20,000 pensioners in Gagauzia, who will reportedly receive cards for Russia’s Mir payment system, whose operator the US sanctioned in February 2024.[xxviii] Gutsul asked PBS to provide “humanitarian aid” and “additional funding” to Gagauzian pension payments and public sector salaries.[xxix] Gutsul claimed that Moldovan authorities may detain her upon her return to Chisinau, echoing previous claims by pro-Russian Moldovan actors that Moldovan authorities were going to detain Gutsul in Chisinau following her visit to Moscow in March 2024, though authorities did not detain Gutsul.[xxx] It is unclear if Gagauzia will be able to implement the agreement with PSB, however. Gagauzian outlet Notka reported that the head of the Gagauzian Department of Justice Petr Manol noted that the governor of Gagauzia does not have the power to independently sign international agreements under Moldovan law.[xxxi] The Mir system also does not work in Moldova except in the breakaway republic of Transnistria, the other pro-Russian region of Moldova.[xxxii] Fradkov mentioned that PSB will give “special services at PSB at a separate tariff” to Gagauzian residents’ relatives who live in Russia, but it is unclear if PSB payments to Gagauzian pensioners and public sector employees will only go through the Gagauzian diaspora in Russia.[xxxiii]

The current pro-Russian Gagauzian government previously attempted to use Russian money to finance increased pension payments that were part of a campaign promise from a Kremlin-affiliated political candidate, and the new Gagauzia-PSB deal may be part of propaganda efforts to portray Russia as the sole benefactor of the autonomous region. Ilan Shor, a US-sanctioned, pro-Kremlin Moldovan politician who founded the Kremlin-affiliated Shor Party under which Gutsul ran for governor of Gagauzia, promised to increase pensions in Gagauzia and other Shor Party-affiliated Moldovan regions in October 2023 in the lead up to the November 2023 local elections.[xxxiv] Moldovan outlet NewsMaker reported that a Russian citizen living in Israel, whose name repeatedly appears in documents related to Shor’s various promised deals, transferred 15 million Moldovan lei (about $850,000) to the Gagauzian regional pension payments account.[xxxv] Gutsul claimed that the Moldovan federal government blocked this money, and a spokesperson for leading Moldovan political Party of Solidarity and Action stated that the money came illegally from an organized crime group and that law enforcement agencies should investigate its origins.[xxxvi] The April 9 Gagauzia–PSB deal is noteworthy because Kremlin-affiliated actors are now directly and openly linked to Gagauzian government financial promises. Gutsul highlighted this relationship on April 9, claiming that Russia is the “friend” and “protector” who “saved” Gagauzia.[xxxvii] Gutsul also claimed that the Moldovan central government is enacting an “economic blockade” on Gagauzia — similar to language used by Kremlin and Transnistrian actors to promote Kremlin information operations about Tiraspol–Chisinau relations in recent months.[xxxviii] The Kremlin may be able to exploit the PSB deal regardless of the deal’s legality or how Moldovan authorities react. If Moldovan authorities prevent the deal from moving forward, pro-Russian Moldovan actors and the Kremlin will likely use the situation to promote the Kremlin’s ongoing narratives targeting the current Moldovan government and to stir up anger in Gagauzia. If the Gagauzian government is able to somehow enact the agreement, however, the Kremlin could use the payments to economically capture a segment of Gagauzia to do the Kremlin’s bidding, or could cut off the payments at a future time of Moscow’s choosing to foment a crisis.

The Kremlin may also hope to use the Gagauzia–PSB deal to recreate the way in which Kremlin-affiliated Moldovan political parties previously influenced Moldovan elections and public opinion. Shor reportedly paid demonstrators to protest against Moldovan President Maia Sandu in 2022, and Moldovan authorities raided Shor Party offices following the Gagauzia gubernatorial election in the summer of 2023 as part of investigations into voter bribery.[xxxix] The Kremlin may hope to use pro-Russian political parties in Moldova and the PSB payments to Gagauzia in similar tactics to influence Moldova’s upcoming elections, particularly the presidential election in late 2024 and parliamentary elections in the summer of 2025.

Russia is reportedly considering creating a new ministry for youth policy and patriotic education, likely as part of an ongoing attempt to instill pro-Kremlin and Kremlin-approved ideology in Russia’s next generation. Russian outlet Vedemosti reported on April 9 that four unnamed sources close to the Russian presidential administration stated that Russian authorities are considering creating a new ministry for youth policy and patriotic education that would be formed on the basis of the Russian Federal Agency of Youth Affairs (Rosmolodezh), which would then take over some patriotic education functions from the Ministry of Education.[xl] The sources also claimed that the Russian government is considering merging the Ministry of Science and Higher Education with the Ministry of Education (also known as the ”Ministry of Enlightenment” in its literal Russian translation), which the Russian government divided in 2018. Russian opposition outlet Verstka reported in October 2023 that the Russian federal budget significantly increased its allocations for funds promoting patriotic education. Verstka reported that Russia allocated 43.8 billion rubles for patriotic education in 2023, almost four times the number of funds that Russia allocated to patriotic education in 2022.[xli] Verstka also noted that Russia increased funding in 2023 to patriotic youth projects including the World Youth Festival and Yunarmia, a military-patriotic movement that instills pro-Russian and militarized ideals in youth in Russia and occupied Ukraine. Russia is likely trying to expand efforts to disseminate pro-Kremlin and Kremlin-approved ideology to create a generation of Russians pliant to the Kremlin’s goals, especially as Russia sets domestic information conditions for a long war effort in Ukraine and increasingly postures against the West.

Russian military authorities in Armenia detained another Russian citizen in Armenia, likely in an effort to assert military and political power over Armenia and to challenge Armenia’s sovereignty amid a continued deterioration of Armenian–Russian relations. The Armenian branch of the international human rights organization Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly in Vanadzor reported on April 9 that Russian military police at the Russian 102nd Military Base in Gyumri, Armenia, detained Russian citizen Anatoly Shchetin in Armenia for desertion and intend to forcibly transfer him to Russia.[xlii] Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly’s lawyer Ani Chatinyan told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Armenian service Radio Azatutyun that the organization sent a report of the crime to the Armenian Prosecutor General’s Office and that Russian law enforcement agencies do not have the right to detain people in Armenia and instead should transfer operations to Armenian law enforcement.[xliii] The Armenian Prosecutor General’s office told Radio Azatutyun that it has processed the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly’s report in accordance with its procedures. Russian military police at the 102nd Military Base previously detained a Russian citizen in Armenia for desertion in December 2023.[xliv] Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan responded to the December 2023 arrest in February 2024 and stated that Armenian authorities are investigating the incident and that Armenia “cannot tolerate illegal actions on [its] territory.”[xlv]

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian state media highlighted Russia and China’s joint effort to combat perceived Western “dual containment” targeting Russia and China during Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing on April 9.
  • US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced on April 9 that it transferred roughly a brigade’s worth of small arms and ammunition seized from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to Ukraine on April 4.
  • The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) is likely responsible for a drone strike against the Borisoglebsk Airbase in Voronezh Oblast overnight on April 8 to 9.
  • Russian ultranationalist milbloggers continue to employ virulently anti-migrant rhetoric and calls for xenophobic domestic policies, but in doing so are exposing the inherent hypocrisy in Russia’s treatment of its own indigenous ethnic minority communities.
  • The Kremlin will likely be able to leverage a new agreement signed by the Kremlin-affiliated governor of the pro-Russian Moldovan autonomous region of Gagauzia, Yevgenia Gutsul, and a state-owned Russian bank to further its efforts to destabilize Moldovan society, attack Moldova’s democratic government, and prevent Moldova’s accession to the European Union (EU).
  • Russia is reportedly considering creating a new ministry for youth policy and patriotic education, likely as part of an ongoing attempt to instill pro-Kremlin and Kremlin-approved ideology in Russia’s next generation.
  • Russian military authorities in Armenia detained another Russian citizen in Armenia, likely in an effort to assert military and political power over Armenia and to challenge Armenia’s sovereignty amid a continued deterioration of Armenian–Russian relations.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Kreminna, west of Avdiivka, and south and southwest of Donetsk City on April 9.
  • Kremlin officials continue efforts to ease public fears about another possible wave of partial mobilization.
  • The Russian occupation regime in Crimea is systematically persecuting clergy and parishes affiliated with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) in occupied Crimea.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 8, 2024

Ukrainian drone strikes against Russian oil refineries are reportedly forcing Russia to seek gasoline imports from Kazakhstan. Three unnamed industry sources told Reuters in an article published on April 8 that Russia asked Kazakhstan to establish an “emergency reserve” of 100,000 metric tons of gasoline that Kazakhstan could supply to Russia in case of shortages exacerbated by Ukrainian drone strikes and resulting refinery outages.[1] One of the unnamed sources stated that Kazakhstan and Russia have already reached an agreement allowing Russia to use Kazakh gasoline reserves in some unspecified capacity. Advisor to the Kazakh Energy Minister Shyngys Ilyasov denied that the Kazakh Energy Ministry had received such requests from Russia, however.[2] Reuters reported on April 2, citing its own data, that constant Ukrainian drone strikes have shut down about 14 percent of Russia’s overall oil refining capacity.[3] Reuters also previously reported on March 27 that Russia has significantly increased its gasoline imports from Belarus following Ukrainian drone strikes on Russian oil refineries and that Russia has imported 3,000 metric tons of gasoline from Belarus in the first half of March as compared to 590 metric tons in February and no gasoline imports in January.[4] Recent Russian efforts to import gasoline from Belarus and Kazakhstan indicate that Russia is likely increasingly concerned about the immediate domestic supply of distillate petroleum products following Ukrainian strikes on Russian oil refineries.

Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) indirectly suggested that it may have been responsible for an explosion that disabled a Russian Baltic Fleet small missile carrier at the naval base in Baltiysk, Kaliningrad Oblast on April 7. The GUR published footage on April 8 allegedly of an explosive detonating in the control room of the Russian Baltic Fleet’s Serpukhov Project 21631 Buyan-M class corvette on April 7.[5] The GUR reported that the resulting fire destroyed the Serpukhov’s automation and communications systems and that repairs will take a long time to complete. Some Ukrainian media outlets cited their sources within GUR as stating that GUR conducted the attack against the ship.[6] ISW has not observed independent confirmation of damage to the Serpukhov. Baltic Fleet elements in Kaliningrad Oblast have notably conducted several recent electronic warfare (EW) exercises, and Estonian and United Kingdom (UK) officials have linked Russian EW forces in Kaliningrad with multiple recent GPS jamming incidents in the Baltic region since December 2023, including one incident that jammed the satellite signal of a plane carrying UK Defense Secretary Grant Shapps.[7]

Recent discourse among select Russian milbloggers highlights contradictory Russian rhetoric in the Russian information space between narratives that seek to portray Russian forces as more capable than Ukrainian forces and other narratives that criticize the Russian military for shortcomings that result in high Russian infantry casualties. Several milbloggers recently discussed and criticized the tactic of having infantry ride atop armored vehicles to frontline positions before dismounting to conduct frontal assaults.[8] This is not a novel tactic for either Russian or Ukrainian forces, but the tactic, which exposes unprotected infantry to threats, recently appears to have attracted more scrutiny from Russian military commentators. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) posted footage on April 8 that shows elements of the 98th Guards Airborne (VDV) Division apparently employing this tactic on the outskirts of Chasiv Yar (east of Bakhmut), wherein armored vehicles transported infantry to frontline positions, the infantry dismounted, and the armored vehicles quickly withdrew.[9] One milblogger responded to separate footage that reportedly shows about 25 Russian personnel riding on the side of a tank in an unspecified area, before Ukrainian forces either struck the tank or the tank ran over a mine, forcing the personnel to rapidly dismount and run across an open area without cover or concealment.[10] The milblogger called this kind of tactic “extremely crazy,” but another milblogger refuted this characterization and claimed that this practice of using armored vehicles to rapidly transport and dismount infantry reveals more about the lack of Russian armored vehicles on certain sectors of the front than it does about the underlying tactics of such assaults.[11] The second milblogger claimed that Ukrainian fires have significantly attrited Russian armored vehicle numbers especially near Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast, and Krynky, Kherson Oblast, so Russian troops must make do with very few armored vehicles to transport personnel to compensate for losses in armor and prevent further such losses.[12]

Another milblogger questioned why Russian media fixated on footage of failed Ukrainian armored attacks during the summer 2023 counteroffensive even though Russian forces themselves struggle with many of the same tactical issues when conducting similar attacks, especially due to the saturation of drones in the battlespace.[13] A milblogger affirmatively responded and noted the reality of Russian soldiers on the ground in Ukraine differs dramatically from conversations propagated in the Russian information space, emphasizing that Russian commentators can “laugh at [Ukraine’s] counteroffensive in the Zaporizhia direction, and then lose many times more [Russian soldiers] on the Avdiivka front,” and concluding that Russia is lying to itself about the losses it is suffering in the war.[14] The discourse between Russian milbloggers about the use of Russian armored vehicles and their survivability on the battlefield, as well as about the conduct of Russian assaults, highlights arguments that many Russian milbloggers continue to have over how the war is being fought and suggests that many milbloggers are very attuned to the impacts these conversations are having on the wider understanding of the war.

The Kremlin-affiliated governor of the pro-Russian Moldova autonomous region of Gagauzia, Yevgenia Gutsul, insinuated that Romanian officials control the Moldovan government — the latest in a series of recent Kremlin efforts to question European pro-Western governments’ sovereignty. Gutsul claimed on April 8 during an interview on Russian state television channel Channel One (Perviy Kanal) that if Gagauzia begins the process of seceding from Moldova, there will be a reaction not only from the Moldovan government in Chisinau, but also from Bucharest, Romania, which Gutsul claimed “controls” Moldovan authorities, implying that Moldova is not sovereign.[15] Gutsul claimed that Moldovan authorities may respond to Gagauzian secession with “loud, threatening statements” or deploy forces to Gagauzia and claimed that unification between Moldova and Romania would be the “death” of Moldova and Moldovan language and culture.[16] Gutsul claimed on April 5 that Gagauzia would “immediately” begin the process of seceding from Moldova should Moldova unify with Romania.[17] Gutsul’s April 8 interview on Russian state television is likely aimed at setting conditions to justify potential future Russian aggression against Moldova to Russian-speakers and pro-Russian audiences in Gagauzia, Moldova’s pro-Russian breakaway republic of Transnistria, and other pro-Russian areas of Europe and Central Asia and in Russia itself. The Kremlin likely views its efforts in Moldova as part of Russia’s wider existential geopolitical conflict with the West. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and MFA officials recently insinuated that Western countries are somehow guiding the Armenian government‘s national security policy and claimed that Finland has “lost its independence in making foreign policy decisions” since its accession to NATO.[18] The Kremlin previously made similar false claims that NATO controls Ukraine and is using Ukraine to threaten Russia in order to undermine Ukrainian sovereignty and justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.[19] The Kremlin will likely continue claiming that its various target states are not fully sovereign to set information conditions for Russian hybrid or conventional operations against them. ISW continues to assess that the Kremlin is likely attempting to use pro-Russian actors in Moldova to destabilize Moldovan democracy and society, prevent Moldova’s accession to the European Union (EU), or even justify future hybrid or conventional operations against in Moldova.[20]

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian drone strikes against Russian oil refineries are reportedly forcing Russia to seek gasoline imports from Kazakhstan.
  • Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) indirectly suggested that it may have been responsible for an explosion that disabled a Russian Baltic Fleet small missile carrier at the naval base in Baltiysk, Kaliningrad Oblast on April 7.
  • Recent discourse among select Russian milbloggers highlights contradictory Russian rhetoric in the Russian information space between narratives that seek to portray Russian forces as more capable than Ukrainian forces and other narratives that seek to criticize the Russian military for shortcomings that result in high Russian infantry casualties.
  • The Kremlin-affiliated governor of the pro-Russian Moldova autonomous region of Gagauzia, Yevgenia Gutsul, insinuated that Romanian officials control the Moldovan government — the latest in a series of recent Kremlin efforts to question European pro-Western governments’ sovereignty.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Kreminna, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Donetsk City.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed the Russian Cabinet of Ministers and Russian machine construction company KONAR JSC to increase the production of components for the domestic machine tools industry, likely as part of ongoing efforts to expand the Russian defense industrial base (DIB) and mitigate the effects of international sanctions.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 7, 2024

Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate Head Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov reported that Ukraine anticipates Russian offensive operations to intensify in late spring and early summer. Budanov stated in an interview with German broadcaster ARD published on April 7 that Ukraine expects that Russian offensive operations will especially intensify in the Donbas.[i] Budanov also reported that Russian forces will likely attempt to advance to Chasiv Yar (west of Bakhmut) and in the direction of Pokrovsk (about 43km northwest of Avdiivka). Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky previously stated in a CBS News interview published on March 28 that the major Russian offensive effort may start in late May or June.[ii] ISW has recently observed that Russian forces intensified the tempo of their offensive operations across the theater, including by conducting a roughly reinforced company-sized mechanized assault toward Chasiv Yar on April 4, and continues to assess that the Russian military appears to be successfully mitigating likely increased manpower and materiel losses.[iii] Zelensky and senior Ukrainian military officials have recently warned that delays in security assistance have forced Ukraine to cede the battlefield initiative to Russia and that the Ukrainian military cannot plan a successful counteroffensive nor defensive effort without knowing when and what kind of aid Ukraine will receive. ISW continues to assess that delays in Western military assistance have forced the Ukrainian military to husband materiel and that Ukrainian forces likely must make difficult decisions prioritizing certain aspects of its defense at the expense of contesting the initiative to constrain Russian military capabilities or plan for a future counteroffensive operations as prolonged US debates about military aid continue.[iv]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet with Chinese officials in China on April 8 and 9 amid Western warnings that China is increasingly helping Russia’s defense industrial base (DIB) and even providing Russia with geospatial intelligence. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) stated that Lavrov will meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to discuss bilateral cooperation and “hot topics,” including the war in Ukraine.[v] NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told the BBC on April 6 that China is “propping up the Russian war economy” and supporting the Russian DIB.[vi] Bloomberg reported on April 6 that unspecified sources stated that China’s support for Russia has “deepened” recently.[vii] Bloomberg reported that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken briefed unspecified European allies on China’s support and asked them to directly speak to China about the issue. Bloomberg’s sources reportedly stated that China and Russia have increased space cooperation and that China has given Russia microelectronics, optics, machine tools for tanks, and propellants for missiles. Bloomberg reported that White House National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson said that China has also provided Russia with nitrocellulose — an intermediary good used in producing gunpower and explosives — and turbojet engines. Bloomberg reported that China is also providing Russia with geospatial intelligence, including satellite imagery which the Russian military likely uses to support military operations in Ukraine. The Atlantic reported on March 18 that Ukrainian military sources believe that Russia may be using unspecified third parties to buy satellite imagery from US companies for targeting data to conduct long-range strikes.[viii]

Russian forces reportedly continue to systematically use prohibited chemical weapons in Ukraine and are attacking Ukrainian positions with chemical substances almost daily throughout the frontline. The Telegraph published an investigation into the systematic use of Russian chemical weapons in Ukraine on April 6 and found that Ukrainian soldiers report near daily Russian attacks using K-51 grenades with CS-gas — a riot control agent (RCA) that causes harmful but not necessarily lethal effects and that is prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), to which Russia is a signatory.[ix] Ukrainian soldiers told the Telegraph that these attacks are not immediately incapacitating but do usually cause panic at Ukrainian positions that Russian forces try to exploit when conducting assaults.[x] A Ukrainian commander near Robotyne, Zaporizhia Oblast reportedly stated that soldiers in his unit regularly carry gas masks due to the high frequency of Russian CS attacks in the area.[xi] The Telegraph reported that there are unconfirmed reports that Russian forces have used chlorine, chloropicrin, and possibly even hydrogen cyanide substances against Ukrainian forces.[xii] The Ukrainian Support Forces Command stated on April 5 that Ukrainian forces had recorded 371 cases of Russian forces using munitions containing chemical substances during March 2024 alone and 1,412 cases of Russian forces using chemical weapons between February 2023 and March 2024.[xiii] The Russian 810th Naval Infantry Brigade acknowledged in a now-deleted post that elements of the brigade deliberately used K-51 grenades with CS gas on Ukrainian positions near Krynky in the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast in December 2023.[xiv]

Russian officials accused Ukraine of launching a series of drone strikes against the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) on April 7, but the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) did not attribute responsibility for the strikes. ZNPP occupation officials claimed that a Ukrainian drone struck a canteen located on the territory of the ZNPP and damaged a truck unloading food in the area.[xv] ZNPP occupation officials claimed that other Ukrainian drones later struck the ZNPP’s cargo port area and the dome of the 6th Power Reactor, which did not result in any critical damages or casualties.[xvi] Russian officials called on the international community to condemn Ukraine for “nuclear terrorism.”[xvii] IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi stated that ZNPP occupation authorities informed IAEA experts that a drone detonated at the ZNPP and that the report is consistent with IAEA observations.[xviii] Grossi did not specify the party responsible for the drone strike and called on both parties to refrain from such actions in order to not “jeopardize nuclear safety.”[xix] Russian authorities have repeatedly attempted to use Russia’s physical control over the ZNPP to force international organizations, including the IAEA, to meet with Russian occupation officials to legitimize Russia’s occupation of the ZNPP and by extension Russia’s occupation of sovereign Ukrainian land.[xx]

Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi openly condemned and is taking action following reports that members of Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) may have purposefully intimidated a Ukrainian journalist investigating corruption within the SBU by issuing the journalist a draft summons. Ukrainian outlet Slidstvo.Info stated on April 6 that some SBU personnel may have instructed employees of a military registration and enlistment office to deliver draft summons to a Slidstvo.Info journalist who had been investigating corruption in the SBU’s cybersecurity department.[xxi] Syrskyi condemned the reported intimidation scandal, denounced any attempts by Ukrainian military officials to harass or otherwise compromise the integrity of journalists, and ordered an official investigation into the matter on April 7.[xxii] ISW continues to assess that corruption is endemic to rapid wartime mobilization in any country and that Ukrainian officials are actively and openly identifying and resolving corruption problems, including by leveraging the robust and expansive Ukrainian community of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).[xxiii]

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate Head Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov reported that Ukraine anticipates Russian offensive operations to intensify in late spring and early summer.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet with Chinese officials in China on April 8 and 9 amid Western warnings that China is increasingly helping Russia’s defense industrial base (DIB) and even providing China with geospatial intelligence.
  • Russian forces reportedly continue to systematically use prohibited chemical weapons in Ukraine and are attacking Ukrainian positions with chemical substances almost daily throughout the frontline.
  • Russian officials accused Ukraine of launching a series of drone strikes against the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) on April 7, but the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) did not attribute responsibility for the strikes.
  • Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi openly condemned and is taking action following reports that members of Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) may have purposefully intimidated a Ukrainian journalist investigating corruption within the SBU by issuing the journalist a draft summons.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Avdiivka amid continued positional fighting along the entire line of contact on April 7.
  • Chieftan of the All-Russian Cossack Society and Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Nationalities Nikolai Doluda claimed on April 7 that more than 30,000 Cossack personnel have fought in Ukraine.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 6, 2024

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky indicated that Ukraine does not have enough materiel to contest the battlefield initiative. Zelensky stated during an interview aired on April 6 that Ukrainian forces currently do not have enough ammunition to initiate and sustain future counteroffensive operations and reiterated that Ukrainian forces are currently using drones to partially compensate for artillery ammunition shortages across the theater.[1] Zelensky stressed that Ukraine must conduct countermeasures to deprive Russian forces of the ability to prepare and conduct significant offensive efforts and not only rely on defensive operations. Zelensky stated that striking Russian force concentrations is one such countermeasure but that Ukrainian forces lack long-range weapons to strike Russian force concentrations and other targets necessary to undermine Russian operations. Senior Ukrainian officials have long called for timely and sustained Western military assistance that would enable Ukraine to conduct both defensive and counteroffensive operations when the timing is optimal for Ukraine to undertake such efforts, as opposed to having materiel shortages constrain Ukraine’s ability to plan and execute operations and losing opportunities to exploit Russian weaknesses.[2] Zelensky recently stated that delays in security assistance forced Ukraine to cede the battlefield initiative to Russia, and Ukrainian officials have warned that Ukraine cannot plan either a successful counteroffensive or defensive effort without knowing when and what kind of aid Ukraine will receive. ISW continues to assess that shortages in Western military assistance have forced Ukrainian forces to husband materiel, and Zelensky’s statement suggests that Ukrainian forces are now having to make difficult decisions about prioritizing certain aspects of its defense over constraining Russian military capabilities or preparing for counteroffensive operations.[3] The New York Times similarly reported on April 5 that Ukrainian forces are close to running out of some types of munitions and that Ukrainian officials have observed a five-to-one Russian artillery advantage throughout the frontline.[4] Ukrainian soldiers reportedly told the New York Times that Ukrainian forces currently have enough cluster munitions that are effective at repelling Russian infantry assaults but are low on high-explosive artillery shells needed to repel mechanized assaults.[5]

Zelensky stressed that additional Western security assistance is necessary for Ukrainian forces to effectively defend Ukraine’s airspace against the intensified Russian strike campaign and increased Russian aviation operations along the frontline. Zelensky stated that Ukraine will need an additional 25 Patriot air defense systems, likely meaning launchers, to extend full air defense coverage to all of Ukraine’s territory.[6] Zelensky warned that if Russian forces sustain the tempo of their current missile and drone strikes then Ukraine will likely lack the air defense missile stocks needed to protect Ukrainian cities and critical infrastructure.[7] Russian forces appear to be exploiting Ukraine’s already degraded air defense umbrella in an attempt to collapse Ukraine’s energy grid, likely in an effort to constrain Ukraine’s long-term defense industrial capacity.[8] Russian missile and drone strikes have consistently pressured Ukraine’s limited air defense and have forced Ukraine to make difficult decisions about providing air defense coverage between large population centers in the rear and active areas of the frontline.[9] Sparse and inconsistent air defense coverage along the front has likely facilitated Russia’s intensification of guided and unguided glide bomb strikes, which Russian forces used to tactical effect in their seizure of Avdiivka in mid-February 2024.[10] Zelensky stated that the previous downing of Russian aircraft has temporarily constrained glide bomb strikes and that Russian forces are now conducting glide bomb strikes from further away, increasing the need for long-range air defense systems.[11]

Zelensky cautioned that the arrival of all promised F-16 fighter jets from Ukraine’s Western partners in 2024 will provide Ukraine with only 10 percent of the fighter aircraft Ukraine would need to completely defeat Russian aviation and restore Ukraine’s ability to operate effectively in the air domain.[12] Zelensky stated that Ukraine will need a combination of air defense systems and fighter aircraft to combat the Russian aviation threat, namely to prevent the Russian use of KAB guided glide bombs.[13] Zelensky also added that Ukraine is currently developing new weapons to defend against Russian KAB guided glide bombs as part of this combined air defense. The further degradation of Ukraine’s air defense umbrella would not only limit Ukraine’s ability to protect critical elements of its war effort in the rear but would also likely afford Russian aviation prolonged secure operation along the frontline. Such security would allow Russian forces to significantly increase glide bomb strikes at scale and possibly even allow Russian forces to conduct routine large-scale aviation operations against near rear Ukrainian logistics and cities to devastating effect.[14] Western security assistance that allows Ukraine to establish a robust combined air defense system will enable Ukraine to protect its cities while providing air defense to potentially operationally significant defensive and counteroffensive operations.

Continued delays in US security assistance are specifically impacting the capabilities that Ukrainian forces need to respond to the increased tempo of Russian mechanized assaults in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi warned on April 6 that a particularly difficult situation has emerged east of Chasiv Yar and west of Avdiivka in Donetsk Oblast, both areas where ISW has observed a recent intensification of Russian mechanized assaults ranging from platoon-sized to battalion-sized attacks.[15] Syrskyi also observed that Russian forces are conducting platoon-, company-, and sometimes battalion-sized infantry assaults in separate directions. The Press Service of the Ukrainian Airborne Forces stated that Russian forces with massed armored vehicle support are still attempting to break through Ukrainian defenses west of Avdiivka despite not yet repeating mechanized assaults as large as the ones that they conducted in the area between March 29 and March 31.[16] Geolocated footage published on April 6 indicates that elements of the Russian 90th Guards Tank Division (41st Combined Arms Army [CAA], Central Military District [CMD]) recently conducted a  likely company-sized mechanized assault southeast of Umanske (west of Avdiivka), and a Ukrainian airborne assault brigade reported that its personnel destroyed 10 Russian tanks, five BMP infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), and a MT-LB IFV during 11 mechanized assaults in the area.[17] Ukrainian forces have so far successfully repelled intensified Russian mechanized assaults throughout eastern Ukraine in the past week but have done so despite persisting materiel shortages.

The Kremlin explicitly threatened its long-term ally Armenia on April 5 over Armenian outreach to the West following Russia’s failure to prevent Armenia’s loss of Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2023. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Union (EU) High Representative Josep Borell, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and US Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Powers met on April 5 in Brussels to discuss continued Western support of Armenian democratic and economic development.[18] The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) released a statement later on April 5 responding to the meeting, in which the Russian MFA claimed that the West is attempting to “drag the South Caucasus [region] into a geopolitical confrontation" between Russia and the West.[19] The Russian MFA stated that "extra-regional interference” in the South Caucasus region is “irresponsible” and “destructive” and aims to drive a wedge between the South Caucasus countries and Russia. The Russian MFA threatened that Western interference could result in the “most negative consequences for [regional] stability, security, and economic development” and an “uncontrollable increase in tension” in the region. The Russian MFA explicitly threatened the Armenian government and warned that Armenia could “go down the wrong path,” which the MFA claimed is fraught with security and economic issues, could result in an “outflow of the population,” and is reminiscent of the issues that Russia’s invasion has caused Ukraine. The Russian MFA accused the West of attempting to “deceive” Armenia into withdrawing from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and requesting that Russia withdraw from Russia’s military base in Armenia and from the Yerevan International Airport.      

The Russian MFA's April 5 statement follows several months of Kremlin threats against Armenia in response to ongoing Armenian efforts to secure new, Western security guarantees and efforts to blame Armenia for deteriorating Russian-Armenian relations.[20] Armenian officials recently stated that Armenia is considering withdrawing from the CSTO and applying to join the EU and recently asked Russia to withdraw Russian border guards from the Yerevan International Airport.[21] The Russian MFA’s statement insinuates that the Armenian government is not independently making decisions about its security, and that Western countries are somehow guiding the Armenian government’s decisions. The Kremlin has made similar ridiculous claims that the West controls the Ukrainian government as part of Kremlin efforts to question and undermine Ukrainian sovereignty.[22] The Kremlin has previously conducted hybrid wars against former Soviet states that have sought EU accession.

The Russian MFA also continues to threaten Finland and claimed that Finland has “lost its independence in making foreign policy decisions” since its accession to NATO — a narrative that the Kremlin routinely used to falsely claim that NATO was controlling Ukraine and using Ukraine to threaten Russia. Russian Ambassador to Finland Pavel Kuznetsov stated during an interview with Kremlin newswire TASS on April 6 that Finland is on a “destructive course” in its relationship with Russia and that Finland’s accession to NATO is making the Baltic region a “zone of potential escalation.”[23] Kuznetsov threatened Finland and the NATO alliance broadly, claiming that Russia would have to respond to a buildup of NATO material and manpower or the deployment of a nuclear weapon in Finland and that Russia’s response would be “adequate but not necessarily symmetrical.” Kuznetsov claimed that Finland has joined the “party of war until victory over Russia” by joining NATO and accused perceived Finnish “Russophobia” of causing a complete breakdown of the Russian-Finnish relationship. Kuznetsov insinuated that Finland has no option but to improve its relationship with Russia, given that “we can’t escape geography," but blamed Finland unilaterally for the poor state of Russian–Finnish relations, despite the artificial migrant crisis that Russia created on the Russian–Finnish border in fall 2023 and repeated Russian threats against Finland and the wider NATO alliance.[24] ISW continues to assess that Russian threats against NATO member states are aimed at leading the West to deter itself and that Russian claims of imagined threats originating from NATO are aimed at setting informational conditions to justify and support an envisioned long-term geopolitical confrontation with the West.[25]

Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov announced on April 5 that 3,000 former Wagner Group personnel will join the Akhmat Spetsnaz unit following successful negotiations between Akhmat and Wagner commanders.[26] Kadyrov claimed that Commander of the Akhmat Spetsnaz (and deputy commander of the 2nd Luhansk People’s Republic’s [LNR] Army Corps [AC]) Apty Alaudinov reached an agreement with Wagner leadership that Wagner commander Alexander Kuznetsov (call sign “Ratibor”) will join Akhmat Spetsnaz along with 3,000 Wagner personnel. Kadyrov added that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) already allocated a required number of vacancies within the Akhmat Spetsnaz unit to accommodate the Wagner personnel, and that Wagner personnel can start combat missions after resolving all organizational issues. Kadyrov’s mention of the Russian MoD indicates that these Wagner elements will be subordinated under the Russian MoD’s authority rather than Rosgvardia. Alaudinov also amplified a Kremlin-affiliated milblogger’s claim that the main group of Wagner commanders and 5,000 Wagner personnel are transferring to the 2nd AC under the Russian MoD.[27] The milblogger added that the Russian military is still discussing whether these 5,000 Wagner personnel will form a regiment like the unit under Kuznetsov, form a new separate brigade, or be distributed among existing brigades.

The claimed transfer of 3,000 Wagner personnel into MoD’s Akhmat Spetsnaz indicates that the Russian MoD is successfully formalizing control over some elements of the remaining Wagner Group force — an objective it has been pursuing since 2023. ISW previously assessed that the Russian MoD launched a campaign in early-to-mid-2023 which aimed to directly subordinate Wagner forces under the Russian MoD. ISW also assessed that deceased Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin and Wagner personnel started the mutiny in June 2023 in protest of the Russian MoD’s efforts to consolidate control over Wagner forces.[28] The transfer of Wagner personnel to Akhmat Spetsnaz units sparked some criticism from Wagner-affiliated irregular formations, such as the Rusich Sabotage Assault Reconnaissance Group which accused these Wagner personnel of selling out to the Russian MoD.[29] One Russian milblogger also accused Kadyrov of exaggerating the number of transferred Wagner personnel, claiming that most Wagner personnel hate Kuznetsov and are located in Africa.[30] Kremlin-affiliated milbloggers largely celebrated the claimed transfer, claiming that Wagner personnel had two options: to either hold on to their past grudges or let them go to serve the Russian state.[31] One Kremlin-affiliated milblogger claimed that former Wagner forces previously formed the Kamerton detachment under Akhmat Spetsnaz and that the Russian MoD did not ban this detachment from using Wagner symbology, networks, and management systems.[32]

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky indicated that Ukraine does not have enough materiel to contest the battlefield initiative.
  • Zelensky stressed that additional Western security assistance is necessary for Ukrainian forces to effectively defend Ukraine’s airspace against the intensified Russian strike campaign and increased Russian aviation operations along the frontline.
  • Zelensky cautioned that the arrival of all promised F-16 fighter jets from Ukraine’s Western partners in 2024 will provide Ukraine with only 10 percent of the fighter aircraft Ukraine would need to completely defeat Russian aviation and restore Ukraine’s ability to operate effectively in the air domain.
  • Continued delays in US security assistance are specifically impacting the capabilities that Ukrainian forces need to respond to the increased tempo of Russian mechanized assaults in eastern Ukraine.
  • The Kremlin explicitly threatened its long-term ally Armenia on April 5 over Armenian outreach to the West following Russia’s failure to prevent Armenia’s loss of Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2023.
  • The Russian MFA also continues to threaten Finland and claimed that Finland has “lost its independence in making foreign policy decisions” since its accession to NATO — a narrative that the Kremlin routinely used to falsely claim that NATO was controlling Ukraine and using Ukraine to threaten Russia.
  • Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov announced on April 5 that 3,000 former Wagner Group personnel will join the Akhmat Spetsnaz unit following successful negotiations between Akhmat and Wagner commanders.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Avdiivka and Donetsk City.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin passed two laws on April 6, offering Russian society some concession for its sacrifices to support Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 5, 2024

Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) and Ukrainian forces reportedly conducted one of the largest series of drone strikes against military facilities within Russia, targeting at least four Russian airbases, on the night of April 4 to 5. Ukrainian media reported that sources within Ukrainian security services, including the Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR), stated that the SBU and Ukrainian forces conducted successful strikes on airfields near Kursk City and Yeysk, Krasnodar Krai; the Engels Airbase in Saratov Oblast; and the Morozovsk Airbase in Rostov Oblast.[1] These Ukrainian security sources reportedly stated that the Ukrainian drone strikes significantly damaged three Tu-95MS strategic bombers at Engels airbase, damaged two Su-25 fixed-wing aircraft at the airbase near Yeysk, and destroyed six unidentified aircraft and significantly damaged another eight unidentified aircraft at the Morozovsk Airbase.[2] The Ukrainian strikes reportedly killed four Russian military personnel at the airbase near Yeysk and seven Russian personnel at the Engels Airbase and wounded and killed up to 20 Russian personnel at the Morozovsk Airbase.[3] Geolocated footage shows explosions and Russian air defenses activating near all the airbases except for the one near Yeysk.[4] ISW has not yet observed any visual confirmation that Ukrainian forces damaged or destroyed aircraft or infrastructure at any of the airbases. Satellite imagery collected on April 4 indicates that there were three Tu-160 heavy strategic bombers, five Tu-95 strategic bombers, an Il-76 transport aircraft, and a Tu-22 bomber at Engels Airbase; ten L-39 training and combat aircraft, five An-26 transport aircraft, an An-74 transport aircraft, an An-12 transport aircraft, four Su-27 fixed-winged aircraft, four Su-25 fixed-wing aircraft, one Su-30 fixed-wing aircraft, and several Ka-52 and Mi-8 helicopters at the Yeysk Airbase; and 29 fixed-wing aircraft, primarily Su-34s, at the Morozovsk airfield.[5] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian forces intercepted 44 drones over Rostov Oblast, six drones over Krasnodar Krai, and a drone each in Saratov, Kursk, and Belgorod oblasts on the night of April 4 and into the morning on April 5.[6] Ukrainian drone strikes have typically only targeted individual airbases within Russia, and Ukraine’s ability to strike four separate airbases in one strike series represents a notable inflection in the capabilities that Ukrainian forces are employing in their campaign against Russian military infrastructure, critical infrastructure, and strategic industries within Russia.

ISW continues to assess that Ukrainian strikes against targets within Russia are a necessary component of Ukraine’s campaign to degrade industries that support the Russian war effort and military capabilities deployed in the Russian rear through asymmetric means. Russian forces routinely use Tu-95 strategic bombers stationed at Engels Airbase to launch Kh-101/Kh-555 cruise missiles at targets in Ukraine, and the Russian military had roughly 60 Tu-95 aircraft as of 2023.[7] If confirmed, the possible loss of roughly five percent of Russia’s strategic Tu-95 bombers in a single strike would be notable. ISW has also previously observed that the loss of fixed-wing aircraft is not negligible since Russia likely has about 300 various Sukhoi fixed-wing aircraft.[8] Russian forces are currently using Sukhoi fixed-wing aircraft to conduct guided and unguided glide bomb strikes along the entire frontline in Ukraine and have previously leveraged significantly intensified glide bomb strikes to make tactical gains.[9] Sustained Ukrainian strikes against Russian airfields within Russia will degrade the Russian Aerospace Force’s (VKS) ability to conduct missile and air strikes throughout Ukraine.

The recently intensified tempo of Russian offensive operations in Ukraine will likely result in increased manpower and materiel losses, but the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) appears to be successfully mitigating these losses. Russian forces have conducted several mechanized assaults roughly at the platoon, company, and battalion levels west of Bakhmut near Chasiv Yar, west of Kreminna near Terny, and west of Avdiivka near Berdychi, Semenivka, and Tonenke over the past week after primarily conducting infantry-led “meat” assaults across the theater following the start of the campaign to seize Avdiivka in October 2023.[10] The previous pattern of Russian infantry-led attacks did not employ armored vehicles at scale at the expense of greater manpower losses, and Russia appears to have successfully leveraged its ongoing crypto-mobilization efforts to make up for increased manpower losses.[11] Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Deputy Chief Major General Vadym Skibitskyi stated on January 15 that Russia recruits around 30,000 personnel per month, which the Russian military uses to replenish personnel losses in Ukraine and form tactical and operational-level reserves.[12] The observed new trend in which Russian forces are now employing more vehicles than was the previously observed standard for tactical assaults suggests that the Russian military may no longer be as constrained or concerned about its armored vehicle and tank losses. The British International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think tank reported on February 12 that Russia is likely able to sustain its current rate of vehicle losses (over 3,000 armored fighting vehicles annually) for at least two or three years by mainly reactivating vehicles from storage.[13] Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets reported on February 4 that the Russian defense industry can produce 250-300 ”new and thoroughly modernized” tanks per year and can repair around 250-300 additional damaged tanks per year, suggesting that Russia can currently compensate for its vehicle losses in Ukraine by refurbishing vehicles from Soviet-era storage.[14] The Kremlin is unlikely to conduct unpopular manpower or economic mobilization efforts in the short term unless Russia’s manpower or materiel losses significantly increase past the point that Russia’s current crypto-mobilization campaign and defense production capacity can accommodate. The recent intensification of mechanized attacks in eastern Ukraine indicates that the Russian command appears to believe that Russia is capable of compensating for losses in these intensified mechanized assaults while preparing for a forecasted offensive effort in Summer 2024.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal indicated that Ukraine is starting to staff new units, but that Ukraine needs further Western military assistance to properly equip them. Shmyhal stated in an interview with Estonian outlet Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR) published on April 4 that Ukrainian forces are staffing an unspecified number of new brigades with new personnel but are waiting for Western partners to deliver military equipment, weapons, and ammunition to equip these brigades at their full end strength.[15] Shmyhal stated that Ukraine can meet its necessary objectives with ”usual mobilization” and that Ukraine has begun rotating out frontline personnel, which is consistent with Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi’s recent statements that Ukraine does not need to conduct a proposed effort to mobilize 500,000 new personnel.[16] Ukrainian forces have recently transferred rear area personnel in noncombat units to frontline units to enable force rotations and lowered the mobilization age from 27 to 25 to address ongoing manpower issues.[17] Shmyhal’s statement highlights Ukraine’s need for continued timely and consistent Western military assistance in the short- and medium-term to maintain its defense.

Shmyhal also reported that Russian missile and drone strikes have damaged or disrupted roughly 80 percent of electricity generation at Ukrainian thermal power plants (TPPs) in recent weeks, as Russian forces continue to exploit the degraded Ukrainian air defense umbrella in an effort to collapse Ukraine’s energy grid.[18] Russian forces intensified missile and drone strikes on March 22 and have since been primarily targeting Ukrainian critical energy infrastructure, and Shmyhal added that these strikes have damaged or disrupted more than six gigawatts of power generation at Ukrainian TPPs and hydroelectric power plants (HPPs).[19] Recent Russian drone and missile strikes have notably expanded their target sets to include Ukrainian HPPs.[20] The increasing damage and disruptions to major Ukrainian power plants threaten to accelerate the degradation of Ukraine’s energy generation capabilities and constrain Ukraine’s ability to stabilize future disruptions to its energy grind in the long term.[21] The Russian effort to collapse the Ukrainian energy grid may aim to heavily degrade the critical defense industrial capacity that Ukraine needs to support a long war effort against Russia.[22] Continued delays in US security assistance will continue to degrade Ukrainian air defense capabilities and present Russian forces with greater opportunities to severely damage Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.[23]

Ukrainian officials continue to warn that Russian forces are systematically and increasingly using chemical weapons and other likely-banned chemical substances in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Support Forces Command stated on April 5 that Ukrainian forces have recorded 371 cases of Russian forces using munitions containing chemical substances during the last month and 1,412 cases of Russian forces using chemical weapons between February 2023 and March 2024.[24] The Ukrainian Support Forces Command reported that Russian forces primarily use K-51 and RG-VO grenade launchers to launch munitions containing chemical agents. Ukrainian officials, and a Russian military unit, have previously reported on increasingly common instances of Russian forces using chemical substances in combat that are banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), to which Russia is a signatory.[25]

An unattributed drone reportedly struck a military unit in the pro-Russian Moldovan breakaway republic of Transnistria on April 5 amidst an assessed ongoing Kremlin hybrid operation aimed at destabilizing Moldova from within. The Transnistria Ministry of State Security (MGB) claimed that unspecified actors conducted a drone strike against a Transnistrian Ministry of Defense (MoD) military unit in Ribnita on the Dniester River on the afternoon of April 5.[26] The Transnistrian MGB claimed that the drone strike targeted a radar station, which sustained minor damage. Transnistrian authorities did not report any casualties. The Transnistrian MGB did not specify the actor behind the drone strike but noted in their press release that Ribnita is six kilometers from the Transnistrian-Ukrainian border, likely to vaguely allege Ukrainian involvement. Transnistrian sources posted footage of a drone allegedly flying in the area and posted photos of where the drone allegedly hit the ground, but neither the footage nor the photos showed the drone hitting a target or any radar station.[27] Kremlin newswire TASS and other Russian outlets amplified the Transnistrian MGB’s claims.[28] Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Spokesperson Andriy Yusov stated that Ukraine had nothing to do with the drone strike and ”would not waste valuable drones for such minor provocations.”[29] ISW cannot independently verify the details of the reported drone strike or identify the responsible actors, but it is unlikely that Ukrainian forces conducted the strike given the limited means used in the strike. Russian authorities previously baselessly accused Ukraine of conducting a reported drone strike against a military base in Transnistria on March 17 and may similarly blame Ukraine for the reported April 5 strike as part of ongoing Kremlin hybrid operations against Moldova.[30] Yevgenia Gutsul, the governor of the other pro-Russian Moldovan region, Gagauzia, claimed on April 5 that Gagauzia would ”immediately” begin the process to secede from Moldova should Moldova unify with Romania, a NATO and European Union (EU) member state.[31] ISW continues to assess that the Kremlin is likely trying to exploit both Transnistria and Gagauzia to forward its efforts to destabilize Moldova from within and prevent Moldovan EU accession.[32]

Russia reportedly has conducted thousands of cyber-attacks against Czechia’s rail transport infrastructure and that of other European states as part of a broader effort to degrade NATO members’ transport logistics since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Czech Transport Minister Martin Kupka reportedly told Financial Times (FT) in an article published on April 4 that Czechia suspects Russia of conducting a hacking campaign consisting of thousands of attacks against Czech national railway operator České dráhy to destabilize the EU and destroy critical infrastructure.[33] Kupka noted that Czechia is capable of defending against all the attacks. The European Union Agency for Cyber Security (ENISA) published its first threat report in March 2023 consisting of data collected between January 2021 and October 2022 and found that pro-Russian hacker groups had escalated major cyberattacks against railway companies in Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Estonia.[34] ENISA’s March 2023 report also found pro-Russian major cyberattacks against air and maritime transport in the EU more broadly.[35]

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) and Ukrainian forces reportedly conducted one of the largest series of drone strikes against military facilities within Russia, targeting at least four Russian airbases, on the night of April 4 to 5.
  • The recently intensified tempo of Russian offensive operations in Ukraine will likely result in increased manpower and materiel losses, but the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) appears to be successfully mitigating these losses.
  • Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal indicated that Ukraine is starting to staff new units, but that Ukraine needs further Western military assistance to properly equip them.
  • Shmyhal also reported that Russian missile and drone strikes have damaged or disrupted roughly 80 percent of electricity generation at Ukrainian thermal power plants (TPPs) in recent weeks, as Russian forces continue to exploit the degraded Ukrainian air defense umbrella in an effort to collapse Ukraine’s energy grid.
  • Ukrainian officials continue to warn that Russian forces are systematically and increasingly using chemical weapons and other likely-banned chemical substances in Ukraine.
  • An unattributed drone reportedly struck a military unit in the pro-Russian Moldovan breakaway republic of Transnistria on April 5 amidst an assessed ongoing Kremlin hybrid operation aimed at destabilizing Moldova from within.
  • Russia reportedly has conducted thousands of cyber-attacks against Czechia’s rail transport infrastructure and that of other European states as part of a broader effort to degrade NATO members’ transport logistics since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Avdiivka amidst ongoing positional fighting along the entire line of contact on April 5.
  • Russia’s defense industry continues to mobilize to meet the Russian military’s needs in Ukraine.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on April 4 that Russia will open two youth centers aimed at indoctrinating Ukrainian youth into Russian culture and historical narratives in occupied Zaporizhia and Kherson Oblasts in the near future.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 4, 2024

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov claimed that NATO and Russia are in “direct confrontation,” likely as part of ongoing Kremlin efforts to intensify existing information operations meant to force the West into self-deterrence. Peskov claimed on April 4 that relations between Russia and NATO have “slipped to the level of direct confrontation” and that NATO is “already involved in the conflict surrounding Ukraine.”[1] Peskov accused NATO of moving towards Russia’s borders, likely referencing Finland and Sweden’s recent accessions to the alliance, and claimed that NATO is expanding its military infrastructure closer to Russia. Russian officials have long attempted to frame NATO and the West as an existential threat to Russia as part of the Kremlin’s justifications for its war in Ukraine.[2] Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed on March 18 that a full-scale war between NATO and Russia is undesirable but possible.[3] Peskov’s repeated claims that NATO and Russia are already in “direct confrontation” represents an intensification of this ongoing narrative but is likely still part of Russia‘s reflexive control campaign that uses threatening language to delay and influence important decisions regarding Western support for Ukraine.[4] This Kremlin narrative is also likely an attempt to pose NATO’s defensive activity in response to Russia’s outright aggression as provocative.[5] ISW continues to assess that Russia has been preparing for a potential conventional war with NATO, including through ongoing conventional military reforms and by recreating the Leningrad Military District (LMD) and Moscow Military District (MMD) in western Russia.[6] Russian officials have accused NATO of giving Russia a reason to reconstitute the LMD directly on the border with Finland.[7]

Russian Chief of the General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov appealed to Commonwealth of Independent State (CIS) members to increase cooperation against perceived Western threats as part of the effort to posture against the West. Gerasimov claimed on April 4 at a meeting of the chiefs of the general staffs of CIS member states that CIS countries are currently facing “increasingly real and diverse challenges, which requires [them] to have well-equipped and well-trained armed forces” as the West consistently destroys the “fundamental foundations of strategic stability and international security institutions.”[8] Gerasimov also reiterated false Russian accusations that the West sponsors international terrorism. Gerasimov called on the chiefs of general staff of CIS members to analyze the military-political situation developing in the world and on CIS members’ borders, develop integrated military systems, conduct combat training using member states’ combat experience, and increase multilateral military cooperation. Gerasimov is attempting to frame the West as a wider security threat to the CIS countries to portray Russia as the leader of an imagined coalition of countries that oppose the collective West. Russia has routinely attempted to posture against the West by casting Russia as the leader of the “world majority,“ a group of countries including post-Soviet and non-Western states that Russia intends to rally to oppose the West.[9] CIS countries’ governments apart from Belarus have not expressed open support for Russia’s war in Ukraine and have not recognized Russia’s illegal annexation of occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, and Zaporizhia and Kherson oblasts in September 2022, although Russia likely uses commerce through CIS countries to evade international sanctions.[10]

The Kremlin leveraged this overall information operation about escalation with NATO to target France specifically, following French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent calls for the West to expand the level and types of security assistance it sends to Ukraine. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu held a phone conversation on April 4, reportedly their first contact since October 2022.[11] Shoigu threatened that the potential deployment of French troops to Ukraine would “create problems for France itself” in response to French President Emmanuel Macron’s March 16 statement that “perhaps at some point” it would be necessary for French troops to operate in Ukraine. Shoigu’s call with Lecornu is likely an attempt to directly influence recent French calls for Europe and the West to provide more military aid and other support to Ukraine. Shoigu likely attempted to single out France since Macron initiated the ongoing conversation about the West removing self-imposed constraints on its support for Ukraine. Shoigu is also likely attempting to deter future attempts from any Western states to increase military aid to Ukraine and intensify support for Ukraine by forcing Western leaders to self-deter out of fear of Russian retaliation. Shoigu had similar calls with senior US, UK, French, and Turkish officials in October 2022 in which he promoted Kremlin information operations threatening nuclear escalation in a likely attempt to deter the West from providing tanks to Ukraine.[12] Shoigu also claimed that he and Lecornu noted a “readiness for dialogue on Ukraine” that could resemble the Russian-Ukrainian peace negotiations that occurred in Istanbul in April 2022, although a French government source told Reuters that “at no moment did [France] show any willingness to dialogue on Ukraine or negotiations.”[13] Shoigu’s attempts to threaten France and deter continued Western support for Ukraine while feigning interest in peace negotiations are part of a wider Russian information operation aimed at convincing Western countries to push Ukraine into unfavorable and unequal negotiations on Russia’s terms.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also promoted information operations feigning interest in negotiations, and Lavrov’s and Shoigu’s likely coordinated informational efforts may signal a new round of intensified Russian rhetoric about negotiations.[14] Lavrov used a meeting of dozens of foreign ambassadors from non-Western states to denounce Ukraine’s “peace formula” while claiming that Russia is ready to negotiate on terms favorable to the Kremlin. Lavrov spoke at a “round table” of more than 70 foreign ambassadors at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Diplomatic Academy on April 4 and reiterated several boilerplate narratives claiming that Ukraine was responsible for starting the war in 2014 and about Ukraine’s alleged involvement in the recent terrorist attack in Moscow. Lavrov also used the ambassadorial meeting to criticize Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s “peace formula” and urge the countries present to not support it. Lavrov told journalists following the meeting that Russia thinks it is “not necessary to talk with Zelensky” but that Russia should negotiate instead with the West.[15] Lavrov claimed that the West, however, is not ready for negotiations. Lavrov also claimed that the current situation on the battlefield has created “new realities” and that Russia is ready for “honest talks based on these new realities and on Russia’s security interests.”[16] Russian officials have repeatedly falsely blamed Ukraine and the West for the lack of peace negotiations, despite numerous public Russian statements suggesting or explicitly stating that Russia is not interested in good-faith negotiations with Ukraine.[17] ISW continues to assess that Russia’s maximalist objectives – which are tantamount to full Ukrainian and Western surrender – remain unchanged and that any Russian statements suggesting that Russia is interested in peace negotiations are very likely efforts to force the West to make concessions on Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.[18]

Russian President Vladimir Putin continues attempts to balance the Kremlin’s opposing efforts to set social expectations for a protracted Russian war effort and to assuage Russian society’s concerns about the economic consequences of the war and labor migration. Putin stated during a speech at the 12th Congress of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia in Moscow on April 4 that Russia will experience a high demand for human capital and face labor shortages in the coming years.[19] Putin stated that Russia’s future labor shortage is “absolutely certain” and that it is “critically important” for Russia to increase labor productivity and modernize and automate various economic sectors, such as industrial production, service industries, and the agro-industrial sphere. Putin stated that Russia does not “have much of a choice: either [Russia] needs to import labor from abroad or [Russia] needs to increase labor productivity.” Putin appears to be telling Russia‘s xenophobic ultra-nationalist community that Russia must continue to rely on migration to address Russia’s labor shortages, likely to signal to Russian ultranationalist constituents to stop their calls for anti-migrant policies, especially in the wake of the March 22 Crocus City Hall terror attack.[20] ISW previously assessed that anti-migrant policies could worsen Russian labor shortages and degrade Russia’s crypto-mobilization efforts and that Russian authorities are unlikely to fully give into ultranationalist xenophobic demands to drastically reduce – if not eliminate –  immigration to Russia at the expense of Russia’s war effort and economic needs.[21]

Putin also claimed that Russia has not transferred its economy to a wartime footing and that Russia’s economy is instead “quite balanced” and fulfilling all social guarantees.[22] Putin did note that the Russian government is concentrating its efforts and administrative and financial resources on developing Russia’s defense industry, however. Putin’s suggestions that the Russian economy either is or is not on a wartime footing depending on the constituency he is addressing is a false binary as Russia has been gradually but effectively mobilizing its defense industry to support its invasion of Ukraine over the past several years.[23] Russia is currently allocating roughly a third or more of its annual federal budget to defense spending, and Polish President Andrzej Duda warned on March 20, citing unspecified German research, that Putin is intensifying efforts to shift Russia to a war economy with the intention of being able to attack NATO as early as 2026 or 2027.[24] The Kremlin has not, and likely cannot, rapidly transition the Russian economy to total economic mobilization as the Soviet Union did during the Great Patriotic War (Second World War), although the Kremlin consistently appeals to the mythos of the Great Patriotic War to suggest that Russia is capable of such an effort.[25] Putin invoked the idea of a wider Russian social and economic mobilization reminiscent of that of the Soviet Union’s total mobilization during a speech to Russian workers on February 2 and may have been gauging domestic reactions to a wider economic or military mobilization.[26] Putin’s claim of a peacetime Russian economy is part of a wider pattern wherein the Kremlin oscillates between appeals to a wider economic mobilization to support its war effort on one hand and appeals to domestic economic stability to cater to an increasingly apathetic domestic populace on the other hand. The Kremlin’s routine invocations of a wider economic mobilization likely aim to shore up domestic support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and create fear within the West of the Kremlin’s ability to bring to bear a significant amount of materiel in Ukraine.[27] The Kremlin’s efforts to reassure Russian citizens about Russia’s economic and social stability likely aim to avoid generating public discontent over the prospect of future economic disruptions.[28]

Key Takeaways:

  • Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov claimed that NATO and Russia are in “direct confrontation,” likely as part of ongoing Kremlin efforts to intensify existing information operations meant to force the West into self-deterrence.
  • Russian Chief of the General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov appealed to Commonwealth of Independent State (CIS) members to increase cooperation against perceived Western threats as part of the effort to posture against the West.
  • The Kremlin leveraged this overall information operation about escalation with NATO to target France specifically, following French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent calls for the West to expand the level and types of security assistance it sends to Ukraine.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also promoted information operations feigning interest in negotiations, and Lavrov’s and Shoigu’s likely coordinated informational efforts may signal a new round of intensified Russian rhetoric about negotiations.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin continues attempts to balance the Kremlin’s opposing efforts to set social expectations for a protracted Russian war effort and to assuage Russian society’s concerns about the economic consequences of the war and labor migration.
  • Russian forces conducted a roughly reinforced company-sized mechanized assault towards Chasiv Yar (west of Bakhmut) on April 4 and advanced up to the eastern outskirts of the settlement.
  • Russian forces also recently made confirmed advances near Bakhmut and Donetsk City.
  • An unspecified senior NATO official reportedly told Russian opposition news outlet Vazhnye Istorii that NATO intelligence agencies have not observed indications that Russia is preparing for a large-scale partial mobilization wave.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 3, 2024

Russian forces appear to have increased the number and size of mechanized ground assaults on select sectors of the frontline within the past two weeks, marking a notable overall increase in Russian mechanized assaults across the theater. Ukrainian officials stated on March 20 that Ukrainian forces repelled a large Russian assault in the Lyman direction and published geolocated footage showing Ukrainian forces damaging or destroying several Russian armored vehicles east of Terny (west of Kreminna).[i] Ukrainian forces later defeated a battalion-sized Russian mechanized assault near Tonenke (west of Avdiivka) on March 30 to which Russian forces reportedly committed at least 36 tanks and 12 BMP infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs).[ii] A Ukrainian serviceman stated that Ukrainian forces destroyed 12 Russian tanks and eight IFVs during the assault near Tonenke, and Russian forces have likely only conducted one other mechanized assault of that scale along the entire frontline since the beginning of the Russian campaign to seize Avdiivka in October 2023, which was also near Terny on January 20.[iii] Geolocated footage published on April 3 shows Ukrainian forces repelling a roughly reinforced platoon-sized mechanized Russian assault near Terny.[iv] The April 3 footage is likely recent and is distinct from the March 20 footage of Russian assaults near Terny. Russian forces may be intensifying mechanized assaults before muddy terrain becomes more pronounced in the spring and makes mechanized maneuver warfare more difficult. Russian forces may also be intensifying mechanized assaults to take advantage of Ukrainian materiel shortages before the arrival of expected Western security assistance.[v]

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian forces appear to have increased the number and size of mechanized ground assaults on select sectors of the frontline within the past two weeks, marking a notable overall increase in Russian mechanized assaults across the theater.
  • Russian forces may be intensifying the overall tempo of their offensive operations in Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian sources continue to stress that the piecemeal and delayed arrival of new Western systems to Ukraine will allow Russian forces to adapt to and offset the likely operational benefits these systems would otherwise provide to Ukrainian forces.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that the March 22 Crocus City Hall attack has caused a significant increase in Russian contract service applicants amid reported Russian efforts to increase force generation this spring.
  • Republic of Tatarstan Head Rustam Minnikhanov warned that Russian companies and local authorities must defend themselves against Ukrainian drone strikes and not rely on Russian air defenses following the April 2 Ukrainian strikes on Russian military production and oil refinery infrastructure in Tatarstan.
  • Russian-backed former Ukrainian separatist politician Oleg Tsaryov complained on April 3 that no current Russian political party adequately represents the political interests of Russian ultranationalists, highlighting a possible source of discontent between the pro-Russian ultranationalist community and the Kremlin.
  • Ukraine and Finland signed a 10-year bilateral security agreement on April 3.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Bakhmut and Donetsk City and in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area.
  • Russian authorities continue to expand social benefits for Russian military personnel.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 2, 2024

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a law on April 2 that lowers the Ukrainian military’s mobilization age from 27 to 25 years of age. The Verkhovna Rada approved the law in May 2023, and the law will come into force on April 3, 2024.[i] Lowering the mobilization age is one of many measures that Ukraine has been considering in an ongoing effort to create a sustainable wartime force-generation apparatus.[ii] Lowering the mobilization age from 27 to 25 years of age will support the Ukrainian military’s ability to restore and reconstitute existing units and to create new units.[iii] Ukraine will need to equip any newly mobilized military personnel with weapons, and prolonged US debates about military aid to Ukraine and delays in Western aid may impact the speed at which Ukraine can restore degraded and stand up new units. ISW continues assess that Western-provided materiel continues to be the greatest deciding factor for the Ukrainian military’s ability to restore and augment its combat power.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed on April 2 that Russian forces seized about 400 square kilometers of Ukrainian territory in the first three months of 2024 — a rate of advance not necessarily reflective of wider Russian offensive prospects due to the impact of US security assistance delays. Shoigu claimed during a conference call with Russian military leadership on April 2 that Russian forces have seized 403 square kilometers of territory in Ukraine since the beginning of 2024.[iv] ISW has only observed visual evidence allowing ISW to confirm that Russian forces seized approximately 305 square kilometers between January 1 and April 1, 2024. ISW continues to assess that material shortages are forcing Ukraine to conserve ammunition and prioritize limited resources to critical sectors of the front, however, increasing the risk of a Russian breakthrough in other less-well-provisioned sectors and making the frontline overall more fragile than the current relatively slow rate of Russian advances makes it appear.[v] Ukraine’s materiel constraints also offer Russian forces flexibility in how they conduct offensive operations, which can lead to compounding and non-linear opportunities for Russian forces to make operationally significant gains in the future.[vi]

Ukraine conducted long-range unidentified unmanned aerial systems (UAS) strikes against Russian military production and oil refinery infrastructure in the Republic of Tatarstan, over 1,200 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. Russian Telegram channels posted footage on April 2 showing three UAS striking the territory of the Alabuga Special Economic Zone (SEZ) near Yelabuga and causing a large explosion upon impact.[vii] Geolocated footage of the strike shows that the UAS hit a dormitory area near the Yelabuga Polytechnical College.[viii] Russia notably uses the production facilities at the Alabuga SEZ to make Shahed-136/131 drones to attack Ukraine.[ix] Additional geolocated footage published on April 2 shows a drone strike against the Taneko oil refinery in Nizhnekamsk, Tatarstan, and Russian sources claimed that Russian electronic warfare suppressed the drone, causing it to fall on refinery infrastructure and start a fire.[x] Reuters reported that the Ukrainian drone strike on Taneko, Russia’s third-largest oil refinery, impacted a core refining unit at the facility responsible for roughly half of the facility’s oil refining.[xi] Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) and Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) claimed responsibility for conducting the strikes, and GUR sources reported that the strike on Yelabuga caused “significant destruction” to Shahed production facilities.[xii] Russian sources, including Tatarstan Head Rustam Minnikhanov, denied that the strikes caused any significant damage to either the drone production plants within the Alabuga SEZ or the Taneko refinery.[xiii] Reuters noted that its own data shows that constant Ukrainian drone strikes against Russian oil refineries, such as Taneko, have shut down about 14 percent of Russia’s overall refining capacity.[xiv] The April 2 strikes are the first Ukrainian strikes on Tatarstan, and the distance of the targets from Ukraine’s borders represents a significant inflection in Ukraine’s demonstrated capability to conduct long-range strikes far into the Russian rear. ISW continues to assess that such Ukrainian strikes are a necessary component of Ukraine’s campaign to use asymmetric means to degrade industries that supply and support the Russian military.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s address at the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) board meeting on April 2 illustrated Russia’s dissonant response to the March 22 Crocus City Hall terrorist attack as Russian authorities simultaneously pursue law enforcement actions against migrant communities while also baselessly implicating Ukraine. Putin stated that Russian authorities are assessing the actions of all Russian law enforcement, management, supervisory services, and commercial organizations responsible for the Crocus City Hall concert venue and instructed the MVD to increase security and emergency preparedness at large public gathering areas.[xv] Putin explicitly stated that the MVD needs to address several unresolved problems, including its response to extremist groups, likely to preemptively scapegoat possible criticism about the Russian intelligence failure to prevent the Crocus City Hall attack amid reports that Russia ignored international warnings, including from its allies, about the attack.[xvi] Putin and other Kremlin officials have struggled to reconcile information operations aimed at blaming Ukraine and the West for the attack with the reality of the Kremlin’s intelligence failure, and Putin’s indirect public criticism of the MVD likely aims to signal to the Russian public that he is addressing the failures that contributed to the attack.[xvii]

Putin continued to suggest that there are other beneficiaries of the attack that the MVD needs to investigate, however, and Russian MVD Head Vladimir Kolokoltsev proceeded to baselessly portray Ukraine as a transitional criminal and terrorist threat to Russia.[xviii] The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) baselessly claimed on April 1 that the US is attempting to cover up alleged Ukrainian responsibility for the Crocus City Hall attack, including by blaming the attack on the Islamic State’s Afghan branch IS-Khorasan (IS-K).[xix] Russian law enforcement and intelligence responses in the North Caucasus — such as a counterterrorism raid in Dagestan on March 31 and intensified measures targeting Central Asian migrants in Russia are further evidence that Russian authorities in practice assess that the terrorist threat is emanating from Russia’s Central Asian and Muslim minority communities instead of Ukraine.[xx] The Kremlin will likely continue efforts to capitalize on domestic fear and anger about the attack to generate perceptions of Ukrainian and Western involvement in the Crocus City Hall attack and wider alleged “terrorist” attacks within Russia in hopes of increasing Russian domestic support for the war in Ukraine.[xxi] ISW remains confident that IS conducted the Crocus City Hall attack and has yet to observe independent reporting or evidence to suggest that an actor other than IS was responsible for or aided the attack.[xxii]

Putin also attempted to address intensified debates about migration that have emerged following the Crocus City Hall attack but continued to express an inconsistent and vague stance on the issue. Putin stated that illegal migration can be a breeding ground for extremist activity and asserted that Russia needs to improve its migration database since the alleged attackers were able to legally stay in Russia without speaking Russian.[xxiii] Putin called for Russia to radically update its approach to migration policy and instructed the MVD to draft its own new migration policy.[xxiv] Putin did not expound upon what this new policy should entail beyond vague demands that it should preserve interethnic and interreligious harmony and Russia’s cultural and linguistic identity.[xxv] Putin reiterated that it is unacceptable to use the Crocus City Hall attack to provoke ethnic, Islamophobic, or xenophobic hatred, a rhetorical position that may collide with the Kremlin’s and Russian Orthodox Church’s contradictory appeals to ultranationalists' anti-migration fervor.[xxvi] Anti-migrant policies could worsen Russian labor shortages and degrade Russia’s crypto-mobilization efforts if Russia deports large numbers of migrants or if significant portions of Russia’s migrant communities emigrate due to anti-migrant sentiment, and Russian authorities are generally unlikely to fully give into ultranationalist xenophobic demands to drastically reduce if not eliminate foreign immigration to Russia at the expense of Russia’s war effort. The Kremlin’s attempts to appeal to ultranationalists may generate further inconsistencies and contradictions within the Kremlin’s migration policy, however.[xxvii]

Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Deputy Chief Major General Vadym Skibitskyi stated on April 2 that the GUR believes that Russian forces will likely temporarily pause strikes against Ukrainian energy infrastructure in order to replenish low missile stockpiles.[xxviii] Skibitskyi stated that the Russian military currently has about 950 high-precision operational-strategic and strategic level missiles with a range of or exceeding 350 kilometers available in its arsenal.[xxix] Skibitskyi stated that the Russian military tries to prevent the missile stockpile from falling below 900 missiles and that Russian forces will temporarily pause missile strikes to accumulate more missiles to a level above this threshold.[xxx] Skibitskyi stated that Russia plans to produce 40 Kh-101 cruise missiles in April and suggested that Russia will have roughly at least 90 missiles to conduct two or three more large strike series against Ukrainian targets before pausing to restock missiles.[xxxi] Skibitskyi noted that Russian forces have not launched any Kalibr cruise missiles since September 2023 and that Russia has accumulated at least 260 of these missiles and aims to produce 30 more in April. Skibitskyi added that Russian forces may not be launching Kalibr cruise missiles either because Ukrainian air defenses can easily intercept them or because Ukrainian strikes have damaged Black Sea Fleet (BSF) Kalibr missile carriers.[xxxii] Skibitskyi and Ukrainian Southern Operational Command Spokesperson Colonel Nataliya Humenyuk stated that Russian forces are increasingly launching unknown ballistic missiles from occupied Crimea at Ukraine, but noted that it is unclear if Russian forces are using Zircon hypersonic cruise missiles or modernized Onyx-M anti-ship cruise missiles.[xxxiii] Russian forces can launch Zircon missiles at semi-ballistic trajectories, however.[xxxiv] Humenyuk reported on March 27 that Russian forces had accumulated “several dozen” Zircon missiles in military facilities in occupied Crimea.[xxxv] Skibitskyi stated that Russian forces have accumulated 440 Onyx anti-ship cruise missiles, and that Russia can produce about six to eight of these missiles per month.[xxxvi] Russian forces temporarily reduced the intensity of its missile strikes and relied more heavily on Shahed drone strikes in summer and fall 2023 to marginally replenish stocks of high-precision missiles ahead of the intensification of the Russian strike campaign in winter 2023-2024 and spring 2024.[xxxvii]

US sanctions against Russia continue to impact Russian financial ties to post-Soviet countries, as Kyrgyzstan’s national payment system Elkart announced on April 2 that it would stop processing transactions using the Russian “Mir” payment system to prevent secondary sanctions. Elkart’s operator Interbank Processing Center stated that Elkart would stop processing all transactions with the “Mir” payment system starting on April 5 since the US sanctioned “Mir” system’s operator, the National Payment Card System Joint Stock Company, in February 2024.[xxxviii] Ten of 23 Kyrgyz commercial banks completely or partially suspended their use of the “Mir” payment system in October 2022 after the US Department of the Treasury reported that it would impose sanctions on financial institutions that enter contracts with the National Payment Card System.[xxxix] ISW recently reported that several Kazakh banks and Armenia’s Central Bank also suspended the use of Mir payment systems to prevent secondary sanctions.[xl]

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed on April 2 that Vice Admiral Sergei Pinchuk became the commander of the Black Sea Fleet (BSF).[xli] Pinchuk replaced former BSF Commander Admiral Viktor Sokolov, who likely died as a result of a Ukrainian strike on the BSF headquarters in occupied Sevastopol, Crimea in September 2023.[xlii]

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reportedly proposed a NATO aid package that would send $100 billion of military assistance to Ukraine over five years.[xliii] Bloomberg reported that all NATO members need to approve the proposal and that the details will likely change during negotiations between member states.[xliv] Bloomberg reported that the proposal gives NATO control of the US-led Ukraine Contact Defense Group that coordinates weapons supplies to Ukraine and that sources familiar with the talks stated that NATO members are discussing whether the total sum should include bilateral aid to Ukraine. Financial Times reported that NATO foreign ministers will discuss the proposal on April 3 and that discussions will likely continue in the lead up to the NATO summit in Washington in July 2024.[xlv]

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a law on April 2 that lowers the Ukrainian military’s mobilization age from 27 to 25 years of age.
  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed on April 2 that Russian forces seized about 400 square kilometers of Ukrainian territory in the first three months of 2024 — a rate of advance not necessarily reflective of wider Russian offensive prospects due to the impact of US security assistance delays.
  • Ukraine conducted long-range unidentified unmanned aerial systems (UAS) strikes against Russian military production and oil refinery infrastructure in the Republic of Tatarstan, over 1,200 kilometers from the Ukrainian border.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s address at the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) board meeting on April 2 illustrated Russia’s dissonant response to the March 22 Crocus City Hall terrorist attack as Russian authorities simultaneously pursue law enforcement actions against migrant communities while also baselessly implicating Ukraine. Putin also attempted to address intensified debates about migration that have emerged following the Crocus City Hall attack but continued to express an inconsistent and vague stance on the issue.
  • Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Deputy Chief Major General Vadym Skibitskyi stated on April 2 that the GUR believes that Russian forces will likely temporarily pause strikes against Ukrainian energy infrastructure in order to replenish low missile stockpiles.
  • US sanctions against Russia continue to impact Russian financial ties to post-Soviet countries, as Kyrgyzstan’s national payment system Elkart announced on April 2 that it would stop processing transactions using the Russian “Mir” payment system to prevent secondary sanctions.
  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reportedly proposed a NATO aid package that would send $100 billion of military assistance to Ukraine over five years.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Kreminna and Avdiivka amid continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact on April 2.
  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated on April 2 that the Russian military intends to finish and deploy several newly constructed small missile and patrol ships in 2024.
  • The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) is increasing its law enforcement presence in occupied Ukraine in order to intensify Russian control over Ukrainian civilians and strengthen security over critical infrastructure.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 1, 2024

A joint investigation by 60 Minutes, the Insider, and Der Spiegel strongly suggests that the Kremlin has waged a sustained kinetic campaign directly targeting US government personnel both in the United States and internationally for a decade, with the likely objective of physically incapacitating US government personnel. The investigation, which the outlets published on March 31, indicates that the infamous Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU) Unit 29155 (the same unit whose operatives attempted to assassinate Sergei Skripal with the Novichok nerve agent in the United Kingdom in 2018) may be using nonlethal directed energy or acoustic weapons to target a large number of US government personnel, each of whom has reported experiencing an “anomalous health incident” (also called “Havana Syndrome”) of varying severity between 2014 and as recently as 2023.[i] The investigation cites intercepted Russian intelligence documents, travel logs, call metadata, and eyewitness testimony that places GRU Unit 29155 operatives at many of the locations where US officials experienced Havana Syndrome, either shortly before or during each attack. The investigation suggested that GRU operatives conducted a directed energy attack against an FBI agent in Florida a few months after the agent interviewed detained undercover GRU officer Vitaliy Kovalev at some point between June and December 2020.[ii] Other US government officials claimed they were attacked by the directed energy weapons while they were in the United States, including in Washington, DC. The joint investigation interviewed US Army Colonel Greg Edgreen, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)’s working group investigating Havana Syndrome, who believes that Russia is behind the Havana Syndrome incidents and that the incidents consistently have a “Russia nexus.”[iii] Edgreen stated that the incidents all targeted the top five to ten percent “performing DIA officers” and that the victims were either experts on Russia or had otherwise worked to defend US national security interests against Russia. The investigation noted that many affected personnel were assigned to roles aimed at countering Russia following the 2014 invasion of Ukraine after these personnel had previously worked on other portfolios. The investigation reported that these incidents have affected senior US personnel, including a senior official in the National Security Council who served at some point in 2020-2024 and CIA Director Bill Burns’ then-deputy chief of staff who experienced an anomalous health incident in September 2021 in Delhi. Several of the US officials who experienced Havana Syndrome have severe life-altering and career-ending injuries. Many US officials’ spouses and children also experienced Havana Syndrome while deployed overseas.

Retired CIA officer Marc Polymeropolous, who experienced Havana Syndrome while in Moscow in December 2017 and ended his career as Chief of Operation for the CIA’s Europe and Eurasia Mission Center, stated that if the investigation’s attribution of the attacks to Russia’s GRU is true, then the attacks fit a pattern of the Kremlin “seeking retribution for events” for which it believes the United States is responsible.[iv] Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh confirmed that a senior unnamed Department of Defense official at the NATO Vilnius summit in July 2023 experienced similar symptoms to other anomalous health incidents.[v] Senior US intelligence officials have previously publicly stated that the intelligence community cannot attribute a foreign adversary to any of the anomalous health incidents, and White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated in response to the joint investigation on April 1 that the intelligence community “has not concluded” that Russian military intelligence was involved in the incidents.[vi] If the Russian GRU is confirmed to be responsible for numerous attacks against US military, diplomatic, and intelligence personnel and their families, however, then this would amount to a significant sustained Russian campaign of kinetic attacks against the United States designed to degrade US intelligence capabilities against Russia to which the United States has not publicly responded.

The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) is intensifying efforts to falsely implicate Ukraine in the March 22 Crocus City Hall terrorist attack while denying any Islamic State (IS) responsibility or involvement in the attack. The SVR baselessly claimed on April 1 that the United States is attempting to cover up Ukraine’s alleged responsibility for the Crocus City Hall attack, including by blaming the attack on the Islamic State’s Afghan branch IS-Khorasan (IS-K).[vii] The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) recently demanded that Ukrainian authorities arrest and extradite people allegedly involved in the Crocus City Hall attack and a wider set of alleged “terrorist” attacks in Russia.[viii] ISW continues to assess with high confidence that IS conducted the Crocus City Hall attack and has yet to observe independent reporting or evidence to suggest that an actor other than IS was responsible for or aided the attack.[ix] The Kremlin likely intends to capitalize on domestic fear and anger about the attack and hopes that perceptions of Ukrainian and Western involvement in the Crocus City Hall attack and wider alleged “terrorist” attacks in Russia will increase Russian domestic support for the war in Ukraine.[x]

Reuters reported on April 1 that Iran warned Russia about a possible “major terrorist operation” at an unspecified date prior to the Crocus City Hall attack, according to “three sources familiar with the matter.”[xi] Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov and Russian Presidential Representative for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov denied the report that Iran warned Russia of a terrorist attack.[xii] The Russian government will likely continue to deny any reports that the Kremlin received a warning of a potential terrorist attack before the Crocus City Hall attack to deflect blame from Russia’s law enforcement and intelligence failure and divert accusations towards Ukraine.

The Russian MFA announced on April 1 that it is working to remove the Taliban’s status as a designated terrorist organization in Russia and announced that Russia invited the Taliban to participate in the May 14-19 Russia-Islamic World Forum in Kazan, Tatarstan Republic.[xiii] The Kremlin’s hyper fixation on pinning the blame for the attack on Ukraine, as opposed to addressing very real and necessary terrorist threats, will likely continue to pose a security threat to Russia in the long term.

Russian authorities are taking measures to further crackdown against migrant communities in Russia following the Crocus City Hall attack. The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) stated on April 1 that it is preparing a bill that introduces various measures tightening Russia’s migration policy.[xiv] The proposed bill includes requirements that all foreigners undergo mandatory fingerprinting and photographing upon entering Russia; the creation of a government system containing the digital profiles of foreigners; requirements that all foreigners receive a new identification document confirming their right to live and work in Russia; reductions on the limits on how long foreigners can temporarily stay in Russia from 90 days per every six months to 90 days per year; and authorizations for courts and certain federal executive bodies outside of courts to deport foreigners who “pose a security threat.” The MVD’s proposals to tighten the government's tracking of and control over migrants in Russia will also likely make it easier for authorities to target and coerce migrants into the Russian military as part of ongoing crypto-mobilization efforts, as such efforts will build out a database of personal information that makes migrant communities more immediately identifiable.[xv] Kremlin newswire TASS also reported on April 1 that Russian authorities detained the tenth person allegedly complicit in the Crocus City Hall attack and that Russian authorities detained him as part of an ongoing Russian operation, called Operation “Illegal,” which Russian authorities have reportedly regularly conducted in previous years.[xvi] Russian human rights project First Department reported on March 29 that Russian authorities launched “Operation Anti-Migrant,” a large-scale operation to identify and deport migrants, in St. Petersburg, and Russian authorities are likely increasing their searches on migrants in the wake of the Crocus City Hall attack.[xvii] It is unclear if Operation “Illegal” and “Operation Anti-Migrant” are related programs.

The Kremlin is reportedly taking steps to directly strengthen its control over government bodies that oversee migration policy. Russian outlet Vedomosti reported on April 1 that sources close to the Russian presidential administration and government stated that Russian authorities are considering creating a new department to oversee interethnic and migration policy and that the department will be directly subordinated to the Russian president.[xviii] Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated in response that there are no official decisions about creating a department for interethnic and migration policy yet.[xix] Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized during his annual “Direct Line” speech in December 2023 that Russia needs a “special organ, not just the Ministry of Internal Affairs” to address Russia’s migration issues.[xx] Putin may scapegoat certain MVD personnel for Russia’s recent migration issues. A Russian insider source claimed on April 1 that Putin is expected to attend the MVD’s extended board meeting on April 2 which will summarize the MVD’s 2023 activities.[xxi] The insider source claimed that the meeting will include discussions of migration issues and that unspecified actors will “attack” the head of the MVD‘s Main Directorate for Migration Affairs, Valentina Kazakova, and her “curator” MVD Deputy Minister Alexander Gorovoy, likely due to their perceived inaction and inefficacy. The insider source claimed that the Kremlin will likely dismiss MVD leaders, including Internal Affairs Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, after Putin’s inauguration on May 7 and that the Kremlin offered the minister position to the head of the Economic Security Service of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Sergei Alpatov.

Key Takeaways:

  • A joint investigation by 60 Minutes, the Insider, and Der Spiegel strongly suggests that the Kremlin has waged a sustained kinetic campaign directly targeting US government personnel both in the United States and internationally for a decade, with the likely objective of physically incapacitating US government personnel.
  • The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) is intensifying efforts to falsely implicate Ukraine in the March 22 Crocus City Hall terrorist attack while denying any Islamic State (IS) responsibility or involvement in the attack.
  • Russian authorities are taking measures to further crack down against migrant communities in Russia following the Crocus City Hall attack.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Avdiivka and in the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast amid continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact on April 1.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) continues to reassure the Russian public that Russian military conscripts will not deploy to most of occupied Ukraine nor participate in combat operations in Ukraine amid the start of the spring semi-annual military conscription call-up that started on April 1.

 

Previous Updates


Related Reads


In the winter of 2021-2022, CTP and ISW launched a forecast series in response to the Russian military build-up on Ukraine's border. The reports in this series are listed below. CTP and ISW have also maintained this indicators document with daily information on the crisis through February 17, 2022.

Putin’s Likely Course of Action in Ukraine - Part 3: Updated Course of Action Assessment

January 27, 2022

Russian President Vladimir Putin is using the crisis he created by mobilizing a large military force around Ukraine to achieve two major objectives: first, advancing and possibly completing his efforts to regain effective control of Ukraine itself, and second, fragmenting and neutralizing the NATO alliance. Russian military preparations can support a massive invasion of Ukraine from the north, east, and south that could give Putin physical control of Kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities, allowing him to dictate terms that would accomplish the first objective. Such an invasion, however, might undermine his efforts to achieve the second objective because it could rally the NATO alliance around the need to respond to such a dramatic act of aggression. An invasion would also entail significant risks and definite high costs. A Russian military action centered around limited military operations in southern and southeastern Ukraine coupled with a brief but widespread and intense air and missile campaign could better position Putin to achieve both aims as well as reduce the likely costs and risks to Russia.

Putin's Likely Course of Action in Ukraine - Part 2

December 11, 2021

Russian President Vladimir Putin is amassing a military force on and near Ukraine’s borders large enough to conduct a full-scale invasion. Western intelligence agencies have reportedly intercepted Russian military plans to do so by early February. Visible Russian military activities and these plans so clearly support preparations for an invasion that it seems obvious that Putin really might invade if his demands are not met.

Putin is rarely so obvious, however, and a massive Russian invasion of Ukraine would mark a fundamental transformation of the approach he has taken for two decades to advance his interests and respond to threats. We cannot dismiss the possibility that such a transformation has occurred. The United States, NATO, and Ukraine must seriously consider the risk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine and prepare military, diplomatic, and economic measures to deter and respond to that threat.

Putin's Likely Course of Action in Ukraine - Part 1

December 10, 2021

Russian President Vladimir Putin is amassing a large force near the Ukrainian border and reportedly has a military plan to invade and conquer most of unoccupied Ukraine.  Western leaders are rightly taking the threat of such an invasion very seriously, and we cannot dismiss the possibility that Putin will order his military to execute it.  However, the close look at what such an invasion would entail presented in this report and the risks and costs Putin would have to accept in ordering it leads us to forecast that he is very unlikely to launch an invasion of unoccupied Ukraine this winter. Putin is much more likely to send Russian forces into Belarus and possibly overtly into Russian-occupied Donbas. He might launch a limited incursion into unoccupied southeastern Ukraine that falls short of a full-scale invasion. 

A full-scale Russian invasion of unoccupied Ukraine would be by far the largest, boldest, and riskiest military operation Moscow has launched since the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. It would be far more complex than the US wars against Iraq in 1991 or 2003. It would be a marked departure from the approaches Putin has relied on since 2015, and a major step-change in his willingness to use Russian conventional military power overtly. It would cost Russia enormous sums of money and likely many thousands of casualties and destroyed vehicles and aircraft.  Even in victory, such an invasion would impose on Russian President Vladimir Putin the requirement to reconstruct Ukraine and then establish a new government and security forces there more suitable for his objectives.