May 31, 2022
Ukraine Invasion Updates May 2022
This page collects the Critical Threats Project (CTP) and the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) updates on the invasion of Ukraine for May 2022. Full list of Ukraine invasion updates are available here.
May 31, 2022 | 5:45pm ET
Moscow’s concentration on seizing Severodonetsk and Donbas generally continues to create vulnerabilities for Russia in Ukraine’s vital Kherson Oblast, where Ukrainian counter-offensives continue. Kherson is critical terrain because it is the only area of Ukraine in which Russian forces hold ground on the west bank of the Dnipro River. If Russia is able to retain a strong lodgment in Kherson when fighting stops it will be in a very strong position from which to launch a future invasion. If Ukraine regains Kherson, on the other hand, Ukraine will be in a much stronger position to defend itself against future Russian attack. This strategic calculus should in principle lead Russia to allocate sufficient combat power to hold Kherson. But Russian President Vladimir Putin has chosen instead to concentrate all the forces and resources that can be scraped together in a desperate and bloody push to seize areas of eastern Ukraine that will give him largely symbolic gains. Continuing successful Ukrainian counter-offensives in Kherson indicate that Ukraine’s commanders recognize these realities and are taking advantage of the vulnerabilities that Putin’s decisions have created.
The Ukrainian leadership has apparently wisely avoided matching Putin’s mistaken prioritization. Kyiv could have committed more reserves and resources to the defense of Severodonetsk, and its failure to do so has drawn criticism. Ukrainian forces are now apparently withdrawing from Severodonetsk rather than fighting to the end—a factor that has allowed the Russians to move into the city relatively rapidly after beginning their full-scale assault. Both the decision to avoid committing more resources to saving Severodonetsk and the decision to withdraw from it were strategically sound, however painful. Ukraine must husband its more limited resources and focus on regaining critical terrain rather than on defending ground whose control will not determine the outcome of the war or the conditions for the renewal of war.
Sound Ukrainian prioritization of counter-offensive and defensive operations pushed the Russians almost out of artillery range of Kharkiv City and have stopped the Russian advances from Izyum—both of which are more important accomplishments than the defense of Severodonetsk. Ukraine’s leadership has had to make incredibly difficult choices in this war and has generally made the right ones, at least at the level of strategic prioritization and in the pace, scale, and ambitiousness of its counter-offensives. That is why Ukraine still has a good chance to stop and then reverse the gains Russia is currently making.
Russian forces are likely attempting to exploit Belarusian equipment reserves to compensate for heavy material losses in Ukraine. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on May 31 that Belarusian forces are moving tanks and infantry fighting vehicles from storage facilities in Belarus to Russia to replenish combat losses. This report corroborates previous reporting that Russian forces have largely exhausted their own reserves and indicates that the Kremlin is still leveraging its influence over Belarus in order to use Belarusian equipment.
Some pro-Russian milbloggers began to capture the frustrating realities of limited warfare, which may further intensify societal tensions in Russia. Pro-Russian political figure and self-proclaimed “People’s Governor of Donetsk Oblast” Pavel Gubarev said that the limited mobilization of Russians for war has divided Russian society into two groups: a small proportion that is involved in the war and the “peacetime Russians” who distance themselves from the war effort and are inconvenienced by foreign sanctions. Gubarev blamed the “peacetime Russians” for failing to start collecting donations for Russian equipment, while criticizing the Kremlin for increasing propaganda about Russian successes during the “special military operation” in Ukraine. Gubarev also blamed the “peacetime Russians” for slowing down rotation rates due to fear of conscription. Guberev noted that mass mobilization could resolve the divide in society but opined that Russian commanders will not order such a mobilization to avoid mass casualties of unprepared conscripts as occurred, he notes, in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DNR and LNR).
Gubarev is accurately capturing a phenomenon that is normal in a limited war that nevertheless generates high casualties. Resentment by those fighting such a war and their families against those who are untouched by the horrors of combat can grow even in an all-volunteer professional military, as Western countries experienced during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It is likely to be even more pronounced in Russia, whose military relies so heavily on conscripts and involuntarily-recalled reservists. This resentment can erode morale and will to fight as well as the propensity to volunteer for military service.
Russian citizens continued to conduct a series of attacks on Russian military recruitment centers in late May, likely in protest of covert mobilization. Russian Telegram channel Baza reported that the Russian Federal Security Service arrested a former Moscow artist and opposition figure, Ilya Farber, for Molotov Cocktail attacks on military recruitment centers in Udmurtia in the Urals on May 21. A Russian court had previously sentenced Farber to an eight-year prison sentence for a bribery case. The case gained Farber significant support from Russian opposition leaders. Farber admitted to committing arson in court on May 30. Baza also reported two more attacks on recruitment centers in Simferopol and Tula Oblast on May 28 and May 31, respectively.
- Russian forces are increasingly focused on advancing on Slovyansk from the southeast of Izyum and west of Lyman.
- Russian forces are making gains within and around Severodonetsk.
- Russian forces are likely hoping to advance on Lysychansk from Toshkivka in order to avoid having to fight across the Severskyi Donets River from Severodonetsk.
- The Russian grouping in Kherson Oblast is likely feeling the pressure of the limited Ukrainian counteroffensive in northwestern Kherson Oblast, especially as much of the Russian operational focus is currently on the capture of Severodonetsk.
May 30, 2022 | 3:30pm ET
Mounting casualties among Russian junior officers will likely further degrade Russian capabilities and lead to further morale breakdowns. The UK Ministry of Defense stated on May 30 that Russian forces have suffered devastating losses amongst mid and junior ranking officers. The UK MoD reported that battalion and brigade level officers continue to deploy forwards and into harm's way—rather than commanding from rear areas and delegating to lower-ranking officers—due to senior Russian officers holding them to an “uncompromising level of responsibility” for their units. The British Defense Ministry further reported that junior officers are in charge of low-level tactical operations due to a lack of professionalism and modernization within the Russian Armed Forces and that the continued losses of these junior officers will complicate command and control efforts, particularly in Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) cobbled together from the survivors of multiple other units. ISW previously assessed that continued demoralization and poor command and control among Russian forces could present Ukrainian forces opportunities to conduct prudent counteroffensives, particularly as the Russian military continues to pour resources into the battle of Severodonetsk at the cost of other lines of effort.
Domestic dissent within Russian military circles, claiming that the Kremlin is not doing enough to win the war, continues to grow. Former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Igor Girkin (also known as Strelkov) condemned Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statements about the priority of the “special operation” in Ukraine being the liberation of the Donbas. Girkin claimed that the Kremlin has forgone the ideological underpinnings of the conflict by focusing the conflict on the Donbas, rather than the entirety of Ukraine. Girkin complained that Kremlin officials are no longer questioning the legitimacy of the existence of Ukraine and that the concepts of “denazification” and “demilitarization” have been forgotten. Girkin accused the Kremlin of appeasement policies and stated that the threat of defeat continues to grow.
Girkin’s dissent is emblematic of continued shifts within circles of Russian military enthusiasts and ex-servicemen. As ISW has previously reported, the Kremlin has repeatedly revised its objectives for the war in Ukraine downwards due to battlefield failures. The Kremlin is increasingly facing discontent not from Russians opposed to the war as a whole, but military and nationalist figures angry at Russian losses and frustrated with shifting Kremlin framing of the war. Russian officials are increasingly unable to employ the same ideological justifications for the invasion in the face of clear setbacks, and a lack of concrete military gains within Ukraine will continue to foment domestic dissatisfaction with the war.
- Russian forces continued to incrementally capture areas of Severodonetsk but have not yet fully encircled the city.
- Russian forces focused on regrouping near Izyum to renew offensives towards Slovyansk and Barvinkove and conducted only minor, unsuccessful, attacks. Russian forces are making incremental advances towards Slovyansk and seek to assault the city itself in the coming weeks, but are unlikely to achieve decisive gains.
- Russian forces in Kharkiv continue to focus efforts on preventing a Ukrainian counteroffensive from reaching the international border between Kharkiv and Belgorod, and Ukrainian forces have not conducted any significant operations in the area in recent days.
- The limited Ukrainian counterattack in northern Kherson Oblast did not take any further ground in the last 48 hours but has disrupted Russian operations. Russian forces launched several unsuccessful attacks against the Ukrainian bridgehead on the east bank of the Inhulets River.
- Mounting casualties among Russian junior officers will further degrade Russian morale and command and control capabilities.
May 29, 2022 | 5:30pm ET
New reports confirmed that Ukrainian forces conducted a successful limited counterattack near the Kherson-Mykolaiv oblast border on May 28, forcing Russian forces onto the defensive. This Ukrainian counterattack is likely intended to disrupt Russian efforts to establish strong defensive positions along the Southern Axis. While the Ukrainian counterattack does not appear likely to retake substantial territory in the near term, it will likely disrupt Russian operations and potentially force Russia to deploy reinforcements to the Kherson region, which is predominantly held by sub-standard units. Ukrainian counterattacks may additionally slow Russian efforts to consolidate administrative control of occupied southern Ukraine.[i]
Russian forces continued to assault Severodonetsk on May 29 but did not make any confirmed advances; Russian progress in intense urban combat will likely be slow. The Russian campaign in eastern Ukraine—which previously aimed to capture the entirety of Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts—is now focused almost entirely on Severodonetsk. Russian troops are unlikely to be able to conduct multiple simultaneous operations and will likely further deprioritize advances southeast of Izyum and west of Lyman in favor of concentrating available forces on Severodonetsk in the coming days.
- Russian forces continued attempts to take full control of Severodonetsk.
- Russian forces continued offensives southeast of Izyum but did not make any confirmed advances toward Slovyansk.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations to cut Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) northeast of Bakhmut and appear unlikely to attempt to directly assault the city.
- The Ukrainian counteroffensive in northwestern Kherson Oblast has forced Russian troops to take up defensive positions and will likely disrupt Russian efforts to effectively dig in and consolidate control of occupied areas along the Southern Axis.
May 28, 2022 | 7:30pm ET
The Russian invasion of Ukraine that aimed to seize and occupy the entire country has become a desperate and bloody offensive to capture a single city in the east while defending important but limited gains in the south and east. Ukraine has twice forced Putin to define down his military objectives. Ukraine defeated Russia in the Battle of Kyiv, forcing Putin to reduce his subsequent military objectives to seizing Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine stopped him from achieving that aim as well, forcing him to focus on completing the seizure of Luhansk Oblast alone. Putin is now hurling men and munitions at the last remaining major population center in that oblast, Severodonetsk, as if taking it would win the war for the Kremlin. He is wrong. When the Battle of Severodonetsk ends, regardless of which side holds the city, the Russian offensive at the operational and strategic levels will likely have culminated, giving Ukraine the chance to restart its operational-level counteroffensives to push Russian forces back.
Russian forces are assaulting Severdonetsk even though they have not yet encircled it. They are making territorial gains and may succeed in taking the city and areas further west. The Ukrainian military is facing the most serious challenge it has encountered since the isolation of the Azovstal Plant in Mariupol and may well suffer a significant tactical defeat in the coming days if Severodonetsk falls, although such an outcome is by no means certain, and the Russian attacks may well stall again.
- Russian forces pressed the ground assault on Severodonetsk and its environs, making limited gains.
- Russian forces in Kharkiv continue to focus efforts on preventing a Ukrainian counteroffensive from reaching the international border between Kharkiv and Belgorod.
- Ukrainian forces began a counteroffensive near the Kherson-Mykolaiv oblast border approximately 70 km to the northeast of Kherson City that may have crossed the Inhulets River.
- Russia’s use of stored T-62 tanks in the southern axis indicates Russia’s continued materiel and force generation problems.
- Ukrainian partisan activity continues to impose costs on Russian occupation forces in Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts.
May 27, 2022 | 7:30pm ET
Russian forces began direct assaults on Severodonetsk on May 27 despite not yet having fully encircled the town. Russian forces have performed poorly in operations in built-up urban terrain throughout the war to date and are unlikely to be able to advance rapidly in Severodonetsk itself. Russian forces continue to make steady and incremental gains around the city but have not yet encircled the Ukrainian defenders. Ukrainian forces continue to maintain defenses across eastern Ukraine and have slowed most Russian lines of advance. Russian forces will likely continue to make incremental advances and may succeed in encircling Severodonetsk in the coming days, but Russian operations around Izyum remain stalled and Russian forces will likely be unable to increase the pace of their advances.
- Russian forces began direct assaults on built-up areas of Severodonetsk without having fully encircled the city and will likely struggle to take ground in the city itself.
- Russian forces in Lyman appear to be dividing their efforts—attacking both southwest to support stalled forces in Izyum and southeast to advance on Siversk; they will likely struggle to accomplish either objective in the coming days.
- Russian forces in Popasna seek to advance north to support the encirclement of Severodonestk rather than advancing west toward Bakhmut.
- Positions northeast of Kharkiv City remain largely static, with no major attacks by either Russian or Ukrainian forces.
- Russian forces continue to fortify their defensive positions along the southern axis and advance efforts to integrate the Kherson region into Russian economic and political structures.
May 26, 2022 | 6:30pm ET
Russian forces have made steady, incremental gains in heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine in the past several days, though Ukrainian defenses remain effective overall. Deputy Ukrainian Defense Minister Hanna Malyar stated that the fighting is currently at its "maximum intensity” compared to previous Russian assaults and will likely continue to escalate. Spokesperson for the Ukrainian Defense Ministry Oleksandr Motuzyanyk characterized Russian gains as “temporary success” and stated that Ukrainian forces are using a maneuver defense to put pressure on Russian advances in key areas. Russian forces have now taken control of over 95% of Luhansk Oblast and will likely continue efforts to complete the capture of Severodonetsk in the coming days. Russian forces have made several gains in the past week, but their offensive operations remain slow. Russian forces are heavily degraded and will struggle to replace further losses.
- Russian forces unsuccessfully attempted to advance southeast of Izyum near the Kharkiv-Donetsk Oblast border.
- Russian forces continued steady advances around Severodonetsk and likely seek to completely encircle the Severodonetsk-Lysychansk area in the coming days.
- Russian forces continued to make persistent advances south and west of Popasna toward Bakhmut, but the Russian pace of advance will likely slow as they approach the town itself.
- Russian forces in occupied areas of the Southern Axis are reportedly preparing a “third line of defense” to consolidate long-term control over the region and in preparation to repel likely future Ukrainian counteroffensives.
May 25, 2022 | 7:15 pm ET
Some pro-Russian milbloggers on Telegram continued to criticize the Kremlin for appalling treatment of forcefully mobilized Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DNR and LNR) servicemen–contradicting Russian information campaigns about progress of the Russian special military operation. Former Russian Federal Security Service officer Igor Girkin (also known by the alias Igor Strelkov) amplified a critique to his 360,000 followers from a smaller milblogger discussing a video wherein a DNR battalion appealed to DNR Head Denis Pushilin about maltreatment of forcefully mobilized forces. The milblogger blamed Russian leadership, not Pushilin, for beginning the invasion with insufficient reserves and unprepared, forcefully mobilized forces. The milblogger added that Russia did not provide the soldiers of its proxy republics with new weapons, despite claiming that Ukrainian forces prepared to attack occupied Donbas areas for a year prior to Russian invasion. The milblogger also claimed that the Kremlin failed to mobilize and adequately prepare the next batch of reserves, while Ukrainian forces are successfully preparing their troops for counteroffensives. Girkin also criticized the Kremlin for failing to pay the DNR battalion for three months. Some milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces staged the video, but the video still gathered attention of pro-Russian Telegram users.
The incident highlights a continuing shift in the Russian-language milblogger information space regardless of the video’s authenticity. Milbloggers would likely have either attacked or dismissed such a video loudly and in near-unison earlier in the war, when they all generally focused on presenting optimistic pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian narratives. The response to this video in the Russian-language milblogger space demonstrates the strong resonance anti-Kremlin narratives can now have. It is impossible to know what effect this change in this information space might have on general perceptions of the war in Russia, but it is one of the most visible and noteworthy inflections in the attitudes of previously strongly pro-Kremlin ostensibly independent Russian voices speaking to Russians that we have yet seen.
Today’s statement by DNR Militia Head Eduard Basurin explaining that Russian forces would focus on creating “smaller cauldrons” rather than on a single large encirclement is likely in part a response to a critique that surfaced both in the milblogger space and in the Russian Duma that Russian forces had failed to form and reduce “cauldrons” of the sort they used in 2014. Basurin’s statement, along with other changes in the ways in which Russian officials have spoken about cauldrons and Russian operations in the east following those critiques suggest that the Russian and proxy leadership is sensitive to shifts in this information space.
Russian forces are increasingly facing a deficiency in high-precision weaponry. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that due to an increasing lack of high-precision weapons Russian forces are seeking other methods of striking critical infrastructure and have intensified the use of aircraft to support offensives. The Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) noted that up to 60% of Russia’s high-precision stockpile has already been exhausted, which is consistent with previous reports by Western defense officials that Russian forces have been increasingly relying on “dumb bombs” because they are facing challenges replenishing their supplies of precision munitions in part due to sanctions targeting Russia’s defense-industrial production. A lack of high-precision weapons will likely result in an increase in indiscriminate attacks on critical and civilian infrastructure.
The Kremlin is attempting to expand the pool of Russian passport-holders in occupied areas. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on May 25 that will simplify the procedure for obtaining a Russian passport within Kherson and Zaporizhia Oblasts. This renewed campaign of so-called ”mass passportization” is occurring in occupied territories and likely represents an effort to set conditions for some sort of post-conflict political arrangement (the precise form of which Putin prefers remains unclear) through manipulating access to Russian citizenship. Occupation authorities may additionally attempt to exploit this new decree to carry out covert mobilization in occupied areas, as having a Russian passport would make conscription-eligible residents of occupied territories subject to forced military service.
The Kremlin and Russian military commanders are introducing new regulations aimed at addressing the diminishing level of combat-ready reserves. The Russian State Duma and the Russian Federation Council passed a bill raising the maximum age for voluntary enlistment into the Russian military from 40 to 50. Russian Telegram channels also reported that Russian leadership forced operational officers and commanders of the Russian Border Guards of southern Russian regions including Rostov Oblast and occupied Crimea to indefinitely cancel all summer vacations--a rather unsurprising step in light of the military situation in principle, but an indication of the next source of manpower to which Putin will apparently turn. Russian Border Guards will reportedly deploy to training grounds for unspecified exercises in late May. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian forces are forming new reserve units within the Southern Military District.
- Russian forces prioritized advances east and west of Popasna in order to cut Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) southwest of Severodonetsk and complete encirclement efforts in Luhansk Oblast.
- Russian forces have likely entered Lyman and may use this foothold to coordinate with advances southeast of Izyum to launch an offensive on Siversk.
- Russian forces may start the Battle of Severodonetsk prior to completely cutting off Ukrainian GLOCs southwest and northwest of Severodonetsk.
- Russian forces struck Zaporizhzhia City in an attempt to disrupt a key logistics hub for Ukrainian forces operating in the east.
May 24, 2022 | 7:00pm ET
Russian forces have likely abandoned efforts to complete a single large encirclement of Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine and are instead attempting to secure smaller encirclements—enabling them to make incremental measured gains. Russian forces are likely attempting to achieve several simultaneous encirclements of small pockets of Ukrainian forces in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts: the broader Severodonetsk area (including Rubizhne and Lysychansk), Bakhmut-Lysychansk, around Zolote (just northeast of Popasna), and around Ukrainian fortifications in Avdiivka. Russian forces have begun steadily advancing efforts in these different encirclements daily but have not achieved any major “breakthroughs” or made major progress towards their stated objectives of securing the Donetsk Oblast borders or seizing all of Donbas. Luhansk Oblast Administration Head Serhiy Haidai reported that Ukrainian forces only controlled approximately 10 percent of Luhansk Oblast as of May 15 (compared to 30 percent prior to the full-scale Russian invasion on February 24, 2022). Russian forces have secured more terrain in the past week than efforts earlier in May. However, they have done so by reducing the scope of their objectives—largely abandoning operations around Izyum and concentrating on key frontline towns: Russian performance remains poor.
Russian forces will additionally likely face protracted urban combat if they successfully encircle Severodonetsk (as well as in other large towns like Bakhmut), which Russian forces have struggled with throughout the war. Russian forces are committing a significant number of their troops, artillery, and aircraft to defeat Ukrainian defenders in Luhansk Oblast and are likely pulling necessary resources from the Izyum axis, defensive positions around Kharkiv City, Donetsk City, and the Zaporizhia area. Luhansk Oblast Administration Head Serhiy Haidai has previously compared Ukrainian forces in Luhansk Oblast to the previous defenders of Mariupol, which aimed to wear out Russian forces and prevent further offensive operations. The UK Defense Ministry also noted that a Russian victory over Severodonetsk will only worsen Russian logistical issues and extend Russian ground lines of communication (GLOCs). Russian forces are making greater advances in the past week than throughout the rest of May—but these advances remain slow, confined to smaller objectives than the Kremlin intended, and face continued Ukrainian defenses; they do not constitute a major breakthrough.
Senior Kremlin officials are increasingly openly admitting that the Russian offensive in Ukraine is moving slower than anticipated and are grasping for explanations to justify the slow pace. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu claimed that Russian operations in Ukraine are progressing slowly because Russian forces want to afford civilians the opportunity to evacuate, though Russian forces have targeted Ukrainian civilians throughout the war and repeatedly denied Ukrainian attempts to negotiate humanitarian evacuation corridors. Shoigu’s statement is notably his first admission that Russian forces are behind schedule and is the first official statement on the pace of the war since Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko stated that the operation was “dragging” on May 4. Russian milbloggers are criticizing Shoigu’s claimed consideration for civilians and claimed that Soviet troops would not have cared if “Nazi” civilians evacuated, part of the growing Russian nationalist reaction that the Kremlin is not doing enough to win the war in Ukraine. Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Sergey Naryshkin stated that the ultimate goal of the Russian offensive is to ensure “Nazism” is “100% eradicated, or it will rear its head in a few years, and in an even uglier form.” Naryshkin and Shoigu’s statements indicate that Russian officials are likely setting conditions for a protracted war in Ukraine in order to justify slower and more measured advances than initially anticipated.
Forcefully mobilized servicemen from the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics continued to protest the Russian and proxy military command. Servicemen of the 3rd Infantry Battalion of the 105th Infantry Regiment from the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) recorded a video appeal to DNR Head Denis Pushilin wherein they claimed they were mobilized on February 23 and that they have been forced to actively participate in hostilities despite their lack of military experience. The battalion stated that they served on the frontlines in Mariupol and have been redeployed to the territory of the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) with only 60% of their original personnel and are now dealing with severe morale issues and physical exhaustion. The battalion notably claimed that the servicemen did not go through routine medical inspection prior to service and that many are suffering from chronic illnesses that should have rendered them ineligible for service. The video appeal is consistent with numerous reports from Ukrainian and Western sources that proxy forces are largely forcibly mobilized, poorly trained, and suffering from declining morale, but is notable due to the willingness of the DNR servicemen to publicly express their discontent.
- Russian forces have likely abandoned efforts to encircle large Ukrainian formations in eastern Ukraine and are instead attempting to secure smaller encirclements and focus on Severodonetsk.
- This change in the Russian approach is enabling gradual advances—but at the cost of abandoning several intended lines of advance and abandoning the Kremlin’s intended deep encirclement of Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine.
- Ukrainian forces are likely conducting a controlled withdrawal southwest of Popasna near Bakhmut to protect Ukrainian supply lines against Russian offensives in the southeast of Bakhmut.
- Russian occupation authorities in Mariupol announced that they will hold war crimes trials against Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol in a likely effort to strengthen judicial control of the city and support false Kremlin narratives of Ukrainian crimes.
- Russian forces are attempting to retake Ternova in northern Kharkiv Oblast and seek to stabilize defensive positions near the Russian border against the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
- Russian forces are forming reserves and deploying S-400 missile systems in northwest Crimea to reinforce the southern axis.
- Several DNR servicemen openly released a video appeal to DNR leader Denis Pushilin stating they have been forced into combat operations without proper support, indicating increasing demoralization among Russian and proxy forces.
May 23, 2022 | 6:00pm ET
Russian nationalist figures are increasingly criticizing the failures of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine and are calling for further mobilization that the Kremlin likely remains unwilling and unable to pursue in the short term. The All-Russian Officers Assembly, an independent pro-Russian veterans’ association that seeks to reform Russian military strategy, called for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin to declare war on Ukraine and introduce partial mobilization in Russia on May 19. The Assembly said that Russia’s “special military operation” failed to achieve its goals in three months, especially after the failed Siverskyi Donets River crossings. ISW previously assessed that the destruction of nearly an entire Russian battalion tactical group (BTG) during a failed river crossing on May 11 shocked Russian military observers and prompted them to question Russian competence. The Assembly’s appeal called on Putin to recognize that Russian forces are no longer only “denazifying” Ukraine but are fighting a war for Russia’s historic territories and existence in the world order. The officers demanded that the Kremlin mobilize all regions bordering NATO countries (including Ukraine), form territorial defense squads, extend standard military service terms from one year to two, and form new supreme wartime administrations over Russia, the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DNR and LNR), and newly occupied Ukrainian settlements. The officers also demanded the death penalty for deserters.
The Assembly’s letter may be a leading indicator of elements of the Russian government and society setting informational conditions to declare partial mobilization. However, the Kremlin has so far declined to take this step likely due to concerns over domestic backlash and flaws in Russia’s mobilization systems. The All-Russian Officers Assembly called on Putin to recognize the independence of the DNR and LNR three weeks prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, setting conditions for the Russian “special military operation.” Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced on May 20 that Russia will form 12 new Western Military District units (of unspecified echelon) before the end of the year in response to NATO expansion. Russian forces may intend to man these units with newly mobilized personnel, as it is unclear how else the Kremlin could generate the manpower for new units. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian forces are withdrawing old T-62 tanks from storage to form new BTGs. Russia is likely continuing to exhaust its remaining combat-ready reserves to maintain the momentum of the Battle of Severodonetsk, rather than prioritizing preparations for new reinforcements. ISW previously assessed that Russian mobilization is unlikely to generate combat-ready force due to hasty training.
More Russians supportive of the Kremlin and the Russian invasion of Ukraine are beginning to criticize the Kremlin openly. Russian milbloggers claimed that the Kremlin will not honor the Officers Assembly appeal, indicating an intensifying negative perception of the Russian leadership among Russians supportive of the war in Ukraine. Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Anton Alikhanov publicly stated that the Russian war in Ukraine has disrupted transport routes and construction schedules in the region, a rare admission of the economic cost of the war from a Russian government official. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian military personnel are increasingly complaining about the ineffectiveness of offensive operations against Ukrainian troops.
Unidentified assailants continued attacks against military recruitment offices in Russia on May 23, indicating growing discontent with conscription. A Russian Telegram channel reported that an unknown attacker threw a Molotov cocktail at the military recruitment office in the Udmurtia region, which follows a May 19 incident wherein a Russian conscript shot at a recruitment office in Zheleznogorsk-Ilimsky (Irkutsk Oblast) with a pneumatic device. The Ukrainian General Staff previously reported that 12 total attacks on recruitment offices have happened since the beginning of the war, with five happening in the past few weeks alone. These attacks may represent growing domestic discontent with conscription and recruitment practices.
The UK Ministry of Defense reported that Russia has suffered a similar death toll within the first three months of the invasion of Ukraine as was experienced by the Soviet Union over the course of nine years in Afghanistan. The British Ministry of Defense stated that a combination of poor low-level tactics, poor air defense, lack of operational flexibility, and poor command methods have resulted in repeated mistakes and failures, which are continuing to be evident in Donbas. The report noted that the Russian public is sensitive to high casualty numbers, and assessed that as casualties suffered in Ukraine grow and become harder to conceal, public dissatisfaction will increase.
- Russian nationalist figures (including veterans and military commentators) are increasingly criticizing the failures of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine and are calling for further mobilization that the Kremlin likely remains unwilling and unable to pursue in the short term.
- Russian forces around Izyum increased their tempo of air and artillery strikes and likely intend to attempt to resume stalled offensive operations in the coming days.
- Russian operations to encircle Severodonetsk made minor gains in the past 24 hours, driving north through Zolote. Fighting is ongoing in Lyman (north of Severodonetsk) as Russian forces attempt to cut off Ukrainian supply lines
- Russian forces will likely make further minor gains west of Popasna in the near future but are unlikely to be able to quickly seize Bakhmut.
- The Ukrainian counteroffensive northeast of Kharkiv continues to threaten Russian positions and is forcing Russia to pull units from ongoing offensive operations in eastern Ukraine to shore up their defensive positions near Vovchansk.
May 22, 2022 | 4:00 pm ET
Russian forces made only minimal gains in eastern Ukraine on May 22. New reporting confirmed that Russian troops previously recaptured Rubizhne in northern Kharkiv Oblast, on May 19. Russian forces are likely committing additional reinforcements to hold their positions on the west bank of the Siverskyi Donets River in northern Kharkiv—rather than withdrawing across the river to use it as a defensive position—to prevent any further Ukrainian advances to the north or the east that could threaten Russian lines of communication to the Izyum axis. Ukrainian sources additionally confirmed previous Russian-claimed advances around Popasna, and Russian forces likely seek to open a new line of advance north from Popasna to complete the encirclement of Severodonetsk while simultaneously driving west toward Bakhmut, though Russian forces are unlikely to be able to fully resource both lines of advance simultaneously.
- Ukrainian sources confirmed that Russian forces have secured local advances to the north and west of Popasna since at least May 20. Russian forces likely seek to push further west toward Bakhmut and north to support the encirclement of Severodonetsk but remain unlikely to achieve rapid advances.
- Russian forces will likely attempt to hold positions west of the Siverskyi Donets River against Ukrainian attacks (rather than retreating across the river) to prevent further Ukrainian advances from threatening Russian lines of communication to Izyum.
- Russian occupying forces continued filtration and deportation procedures in and around Mariupol.
- Russian forces are likely preparing to resume offensives on the southern axis.
May 21, 2022 | 5:30 pm ET
Russian forces intensified efforts to encircle and capture Severodonetsk on May 21 and will likely continue to do so in the coming days as efforts on other axes of advance, including Izyum, remain largely stalled. Russian troops in Luhansk Oblast will likely move to capitalize on recent gains made in the Rubizhne-Severodonetsk-Luhansk-Popasna arc to encircle and besiege Severodonetsk—the final Ukrainian strongpoint in Luhansk Oblast. Russian milbloggers are hypothesizing on the success of Russian tactics in the area and have dubbed it the Battle of Severodonetsk—emphasizing that this is the preliminary line of effort in the Donbas theatre.
- Russian forces are conducting operations to cut off Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) between Severodonetsk and Lysychansk across the Severskyi Donetsk River.
- The information space in Mariupol will likely become increasingly restricted in the coming weeks as Russian forces shift focus from completing the capture of the Azovstal Steel Plant to consolidating occupational control of the city.
- Russian troops are likely reinforcing their grouping around Kharkiv City to prevent further Ukrainian advances toward the international border.
- Russian forces may be assembling forces in certain areas of Zaporizhia and Kherson oblasts to initiate further offensive operations on the southern axis.
May 20, 2022 | 5:30pm ET
Russian forces are focusing on digging in and reinforcing defensive positions in Kharkiv and along the Southern Axis in preparation for Ukrainian counteroffensives, while the majority of active offensive operations remain confined to Izyum-Donetsk City arc and especially the Popasna-Severodonetsk area. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces are creating secondary defensive lines on the Southern Axis, indicating that the Russian grouping in this area may be preparing for a major Ukrainian counter-offensive and a protracted conflict. Russian forces reportedly are holding defensive positions north of Kharkiv City following the success of the Ukrainian counteroffensive since May 5 and have conducted limited spoiling attacks either to give Russian forces time to complete their redeployment back to Russia in good order or to allow reinforcements to arrive to defend territory in Kharkiv Oblast. Significant Russian offensive operations are confined to the area of Severodonetsk. Russian troops have made marginal gains to the north, west, and south of the city, especially around Popasna, in order to attempt to take control of Severodonetsk.
- Russian forces may have made marginal gains to the north, west, and south of Popasna in order to continue their offensive on Severodonetsk from the south.
- Russian sources may be overstating the number of Ukrainian defenders who have been evacuated from Azovstal to either maximize the number of Russian prisoners of war who may be exchanged for Ukrainian soldiers or to avoid the embarrassment of admitting they have been locked into a months-long siege against only “hundreds” of Ukrainian soldiers.
- Russian troops reportedly regained certain positions taken by the Ukrainian counteroffensive north of Kharkiv City.
- Russian forces are likely preparing for a major Ukrainian counteroffensive and protracted conflict on the Southern Axis.
May 19, 2022 | 5:30 pm ET
Ukrainian military officials reported that some Russian troops withdrawn from the Kharkiv City axis have redeployed to western Donetsk Oblast on May 19. The Ukrainian General Staff said that 260 servicemen withdrawn from the Kharkiv City axis arrived to replace the significant combat losses that the 107th Motorized Rifle Battalion has taken approximately 20 km southwest of Donetsk City. The Ukrainian Military Directorate (GUR) intercepted a Russian serviceman’s call suggesting that some of the 400 servicemen from the Kharkiv City axis who had arrived elsewhere in Donbas were shocked by the intensity of the fighting there compared with what they had experienced in Kharkiv Oblast.
Russian forces are continuing to suffer shortages of reserve manpower, causing the Russian military command to consolidate depleted battalion tactical groups (BTGs). An unnamed US defense official reported that Russian forces still have 106 BTGs operating in Ukraine but had to disband and combine some to compensate for losses. Ukrainian General Staff Main Operations Deputy Chief Oleksiy Gromov reported that Russian forces are combining units of the Pacific and Northern Fleets at the permanent locations of the 40th Separate Marine Brigade and the 200th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, respectively. Gromov added that Russian forces are training servicemen in Krasnodar Krai to replenish units of the 49th Combined Arms Army and are trying to restore combat power of Russian units withdrawn from the battlefront in occupied Crimea.
Unknown Russian perpetrators conducted a series of Molotov cocktail attacks on Russian military commissariats throughout the country in May, likely in protest of covert mobilization. Russian media and local Telegram channels reported deliberate acts of arson against military commissariats in three Moscow Oblast settlements—Omsk, Volgograd, Ryazan Oblast, and Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District—between May 4 and May 18. Ukrainian General Staff Main Operations Deputy Chief Oleksiy Gromov said that there were at least 12 cases of deliberate arson against military commissariats in total and five last week. Russian officials caught two 16-year-olds in the act in one Moscow Oblast settlement, which suggests that Russian citizens are likely responsible for the attacks on military commissariats.
- Russian forces are intensifying operations to advance north and west of Popasna in preparation for an offensive toward Severodonetsk.
- Russian and proxy authorities in Mariupol are struggling to establish coherent administrative control of the city.
- Russian forces reportedly attempted to regain control of the settlements they lost during the Ukrainian counteroffensive north of Kharkiv City.
- Russian forces are bolstering their naval presence around Snake Island to fortify their grouping on the island.
May 18, 2022 | 6:15 PM ET
Russian occupation authorities announced plans to destroy the Azovstal Steel Plant and turn Mariupol into a resort city, depriving Russia of some of the most important economic benefits it hoped to reap by taking the city in the first place. Head of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Denis Pushilin stated that DNR authorities are planning to level Azovstal after completing its capture. Azovstal was a major element of Mariupol’s economy before the war because of its unique function as a full-cycle metallurgical complex, the 10,000 jobs associated with production at the plant, the billions of dollars of foreign exchange earnings and taxes it generated, and its production output of 7,000 tons of steel, 6 million tons of iron, and 4.5 million tons of rolled metal, according to the Mariupol City Council. Pushilin stated that the DNR intends to rebuild Mariupol to be a “resort city,” while admitting that 60% of the structures in Mariupol have been destroyed to the point where they cannot be rebuilt. The announced plan to turn Mariupol into a center of tourism and leisure following the complete destruction of a major center of economic activity in Mariupol, is indicative of the damage that Russian troops have inflicted on themselves through the destruction of Mariupol. Russia does not need another resort town on the Black Sea. It does need the kind of hard currency that a plant like Azovstal had generated. This announcement epitomizes the kind of Pyrrhic victories Russian forces have won in Ukraine, to the extent that they have won victories at all.
The Kremlin may hope to offset the loss of revenues from Azovstal and other destroyed infrastructure in Ukraine by profiting from the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant that is forces have seized. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin announced that he will allocate maximum integration assistance for Zaporizhia Oblast to work in a “friendly Russian family” during his visit to Melitopol on May 18. Khusnullin added that the Zaporihia Nuclear Power Plant will exclusively work for Russia and will sell electricity to Ukraine. This statement is a clear Russian recognition that there will be an independent Ukraine at the end of this war and that Russia seeks to restore its energy leverage over Ukraine and possibly the West more broadly that has been reduced by sanctions and efforts to reduce reliance on Russian energy. It also reinforces the urgency of helping Ukraine regain control of Enerhodar City and the rest of its occupied territory to forestall this renewed economic thralldom. ISW previously reported that Russian forces started digging trenches and blocking highways to Enerhodar City. The Zaporizhia Oblast Military Administration reported that Russian occupation authorities continued to prepare for a referendum in Enerhodar City on May 18.
Ukrainian officials reported protests in Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DNR and LNR) over forced mobilizations on May 16-17. The Ukrainian Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that relatives of the forcefully mobilized LNR servicemen demanded an immediate return of their family members from combat in Luhansk City and Rovenky approximately 50 kilometers west of Russian border. The GUR noted that perceptions of war and resentment of mobilization in LNR worsened because of the high casualties Russian forces have suffered and the fact that Russian authorities are reportedly evading payments to the families of wounded and killed servicemen. Mariupol Mayor’s Advisor Petro Andryushenko had previously reported that a protest against mobilization had occurred in Donetsk City on May 16.
- Russian forces are continuing to inflict air and artillery strikes on the Azovstal Steel Plant, indicating that a remnant of Ukrainian defense is still in the plant despite evacuations over the last few days.
- Russian occupying authorities are reportedly planning to level the Azovstal Steel Plant after completing its capture, which directly undermines the large strategic economic importance of capturing the plant.
- Russian forces continued to prepare for an assault on Severodonetsk and intensified operations around Lyman.
- Russian forces continued to prioritize holding positions around the Russian border to prevent further Ukrainian advances north of Kharkiv City and will likely continue to do so at the expense of deploying additional reinforcements to other axes of advance.
- Russian troops focused on maintaining their positions on the Southern Axis and on conducting rocket, missile, and artillery strikes along the frontline.
May 17, 2022 | 7:00 PM ET
Mariupol defenders trapped in the Azovstal Steel Plant likely surrendered after Ukrainian officials negotiated evacuation measures with the Kremlin. Russian forces began evacuating wounded Ukrainian forces to Russian-occupied settlements in Donetsk Oblast on May 16 after the Russian Defense Ministry proposed the agreement earlier in the day. Ukrainian officials said that they will seek to return the Mariupol defenders to Ukraine in a prisoner exchange and continue to undertake appropriate measures to rescue all Ukrainian servicemen from Azovstal.
The Kremlin might have agreed to the conditional surrender of the Azovstal defenders to accelerate Russia’s ability to declare Mariupol fully under its control. The Ukrainian Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that the Russian Defense Ministry’s Department of Information and Mass Communications is hastily preparing a press tour of foreign journalists through occupied territories of Ukraine between May 18 and May 21. The Kremlin also could have agreed to such a deal to secure a victory in order to deflect criticism on social media of the failed Russian Siverskyi Donets River crossings and the overall slow pace of the invasion.
The Kremlin might refuse to exchange the Mariupol defenders. Some Russian State Duma members are petitioning to pass laws that would prohibit prisoner exchanges for individuals accused of “Nazism.” Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin claimed that the Mariupol defenders must be charged with war crimes and cannot be exchanged for Russian prisoners of war. The Kremlin may ignore the Russian State Duma’s concerns or use them to sabotage negotiations with Ukraine.
The surrender agreement generated some outrage and confusion on pro-Russian social media, rather than the celebration of the full capitulation of Mariupol that the Kremlin likely expected—possibly undermining Russian information operations. Some Russian Telegram channels ridiculed the Russian Defense Ministry for negotiating with Ukrainian “terrorists” and “Nazis.” Some bloggers criticized the Donetsk People’s Republic for organizing the evacuation proceedings and blamed negotiating authorities for creating conditions for Ukrainian martyrdom. Several Russian bloggers also called for the imprisonment or murder of surrendered Ukrainian servicemen. Russian audiences are likely dissatisfied with the surrender agreement because they expected Russian forces to destroy Ukrainian defenders at Azovstal. The Kremlin has created large amounts of propaganda that portrayed successful Russian assaults on Azovstal without clearly setting conditions for surrender negotiations. Some Russians may find it difficult to reconcile the triumphant messaging with the abrupt negotiations leading to a negotiated surrender.
Russian forces have intensified artillery fire on Ukrainian border settlements in Chernihiv and Sumy oblasts over the past few weeks. The Ukrainian Northern Operational Command reported that Russian forces shelled the border between Sumy Oblast and Russia over 70 times on May 17. Sumy Oblast Administration Head Dmytro Zhyvytskyi said that Russian saboteurs unsuccessfully attempted to break through the Ukrainian border on May 17.
- The Ukrainian military command ordered the remaining defenders of Azovstal to surrender, likely conditionally, in hopes of returning them to Ukraine as part of yet-to-be-negotiated prisoner exchanges.
- The announcement of the likely conditional surrender generated outrage in the Russian information space and demands in the Russian Duma for laws prohibiting exchanging the surrendered defenders of Azovstal.
- Russian forces continued to make limited advances in Donbas, primarily focused on setting conditions for the Battle of Severodonetsk.
May 16, 2022 | 6:00 PM ET
Russian forces conducted limited and largely unsuccessful ground offensives along the front line in Ukraine on May 16. The Russian grouping around Kharkiv City is notably trying to hold the border and prevent Ukrainian troops from advancing further north. This activity is different from previous Russian withdrawals from around Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy earlier in the war when the Russians pulled completely back to Russian territory. Russian troops may seek to retain positions in Ukraine and continue artillery strikes on Ukrainian positions in order to prevent Ukrainian forces from getting into tube or rocket-artillery range of the outskirts of Belgorod, a major city in Russia and a key hub of the Russian military effort. The Russians might alternatively hope to conduct a counter-counter-offensive to push back south toward Kharkiv, although such an effort is highly unlikely to succeed.
Russian military bloggers continued to post analysis that is skeptical of Russian efforts and increasingly in-line with Western assessments of Russian military failures in Ukraine. One such blogger, Igor Strelkov, claimed that the Russian offensive to take Donbas has ultimately failed and that “not a single large settlement “has been liberated. Strelkov even noted that the capture of Rubizhne is relatively insignificant because it happened before the new offensive in Donbas had begun. Strelkov stated that Russian forces are unlikely to liberate Donbas by the summer and that Ukrainian troops will hold their positions around Donetsk City. Strelkov notably claimed that Russian failures thus far have not surprised him because the intent of Russian command has been so evident throughout the operation that Ukrainian troops are aware of exactly how to best respond and warns that Russian troops are fighting to the point of exhaustion under “rules proposed by the enemy.” The continued disenchantment of pro-Russian milbloggers with the Russian war effort may fuel dissatisfaction in Russia itself, especially if Moscow continues to press recruitment and conscription efforts that send poorly-trained cannon-fodder to the front lines.
Over 260 Mariupol defenders evacuated from the Azovstal Steel Plant to Russian occupied settlements in Donetsk Oblast on May 16. Ukrainian and Russian authorities negotiated evacuation for wounded Ukrainian servicemen via humanitarian corridors. Ukrainian officials previously called for the evacuation of 60 medics and critically wounded servicemen on May 13. The Kremlin may extend humanitarian corridors for remaining Ukrainian defenders in an effort to fully control Mariupol.
Frictions between Russian occupation administrations and pro-Russian collaborators is growing in occupied areas of Ukraine. The Zaporizhia Oblast Military Administration reported that Russian forces are having serious conflicts with collaborators due to interpersonal power conflicts. A well-known collaborator in Zaporizhia accused the Russian-installed governor of the area of stealing his 10,000 ruble compensation. Advisor to the Mayor of Mariupol Petro Andryshchenko additionally claimed that relatives of those mobilized into the forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) are holding a mass protest against mobilization in Donetsk City. While ISW cannot independently verify these claims, such discontent amongst occupation elements suggests a general lack of planning by Russian authorities in occupied areas, now compounded by increasingly evident Russian losses.
- Russian and Ukrainian authorities negotiated the evacuation of 264 wounded Ukrainian servicemen from the Azovstal Steel Plant on May 16.
- Ukrainian forces reached the Russian border north of Kharkiv City.
- Russian forces continued unsuccessful ground operations in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts and did not make any confirmed advances on May 16.
- Russian forces continued to fortify their positions in Zaporizhia Oblast.
May 15, 2022 | 6:30 pm ET
Russian forces have likely abandoned the objective of completing a large-scale encirclement of Ukrainian units from Donetsk City to Izyum in favor of completing the seizure of Luhansk Oblast. Luhansk Oblast Administration Head Serhiy Haidai said that the Russian military command likely understands that it will not be able to seize Donetsk Oblast but believes that it has the capacity to reach the administrative borders of Luhansk Oblast. His observations are generally consistent with our analysis. The Russian military command will likely prioritize the Battle of Severodonetsk going forward, with some efforts dedicated to disrupting Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) in eastern Donetsk Oblast. Russian forces are continuing a coordinated effort to seize Severodonetsk from the north and the south, which would result in a shallower encirclement of Ukrainian troops than originally expected. The failed Russian attempts to cross the Siverskyi Donets River near Kreminna may shift Russian encirclement operations further east, closer to Severodonetsk via Rubizhne, rather than conducting a wider encirclement along multiple axes. Russian forces have also likely been scaling down advances to Slovyansk from Izyum, possibly due to the slow pace of the offensive operation there.
Russian forces have likely run out of combat-ready reservists, forcing the Russian military command to amalgamate soldiers from many different elements, including private military companies and proxy militias, into ostensibly regular army units and naval infantry. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that approximately 2,500 Russian reservists are training in Belgorod, Voronezh, and Rostov oblasts to reinforce Russian offensive operations in Ukraine. That number of reservists is unlikely to generate enough force to replenish Russian units that have reportedly lost up to 20 percent of staffing in some areas—to say nothing of the battalion tactical group that was largely destroyed recently while attempting to cross the Siverskyi Donets River. The Ukrainian Military Intelligence Directorate stated that Russian forces are conducting covert mobilization and creating new units with newly mobilized personnel who likely have insufficient training to be effective and little motivation to fight. Russian forces also deployed new conscripts from occupied settlements in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts to maintain an offensive around Kharkiv City, likely due to the lack of Russian reserves.
Russian private military companies are reportedly forming combined units with airborne elements due to significant losses in manpower. Denaturing elite airborne units with mercenaries is shocking, and would be the clearest indication yet that Russia has exhausted its available combat-ready manpower reserves. The Russian 810th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade is reportedly receiving personnel from other Black Sea Fleet units, including navy ship crewmembers. Newly formed or regrouped units are unlikely to be effective in combat.
Russian forces are likely fortifying occupied settlements in southern Ukraine, indicating that the Russians are seeking to establish permanent control in the region. Ukrainian officials reported that Russian forces began digging trenches and building concrete revetments in unspecified areas of Mykolaiv and Kherson Oblast, near Melitopol, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast.
- Russian forces will likely prioritize winning the Battle of Severodonetsk over reaching the administrative borders of Donetsk Oblast.
- Russian forces did not advance in the Slovyansk direction due to unsuccessful offensive operations in the Izyum area. Ukrainian aviation continues to operate north and east of Izyum.
- Russian forces continued to launch artillery, air, and naval assaults on the Azovstal Steel Plant, but Mariupol defenders maintained their positions.
- Russian forces are fortifying occupied settlements along the southern axis, indicative of Russian objectives for permanent control of the area.
May 14, 2022| 7:00pm ET
The Ukrainian destruction of significant elements of a Russian motorized rifle brigade that tried to cross a pontoon bridge over the Siverskyi Donets River on May 11 has shocked prominent Russian milbloggers. Those bloggers have begun commenting on the incompetence of the Russian military to their hundreds of thousands of followers. The attempted river crossing showed a stunning lack of tactical sense as satellite images show (destroyed) Russian vehicles tightly bunched up at both ends of the (destroyed) bridge, clearly allowing Ukrainian artillerymen to kill hundreds and destroy scores of vehicles with concentrated strikes. The milbloggers who have hitherto been cheering on the Russian military criticized Russian armed forces leadership for failing to learn from experience in the war. They also expressed the concern that the constant pushing of Russia’s propaganda lines was making it hard for them to understand what was actually going on.
The effects of this change in tone and discourse by these milbloggers are uncertain but could be potent. People living under tightly censored regimes often trust individuals who seem to be independent of but generally aligned with the government more than the government line (even more than do citizens of democratic societies). The commentary by these widely read milbloggers may fuel burgeoning doubts in Russia about Russia’s prospects in this war and the competence of Russia’s military leaders (at least).
The destruction of the motorized rifle elements may also severely disrupt Russian efforts to isolate Severodonetsk and Lysychansk from the north. Russian troops made no attempts to advance in that area in the last 24 hours.
Russian forces continued operations to set conditions for the Battle of Severodonetsk from the south, however, advancing on the town of Zolote, roughly 30 km south of Severodonetsk. Russian troops likely seek to secure the highway north from Zolote to Severodonetsk for their advance, but they may also seek to cut the last highway linking Severodonetsk with the rest of Ukraine via Bakhmut. They could try to strike northwest across the country from their current positions to cut that highway closer to Lysychansk and Severodonetsk. The Russians are extremely unlikely to be able to take Bakhmut but they may be able to cut or render unusable the highway from Bakhmut to Severodonetsk if they can advance far enough along either of these possible routes.
Ukrainian forces will likely conduct counteroffensive operations to dislodge the Russians from around Izyum, according to Ukrainian officials. We have previously noted that Russian artillery fire directed to the west from around Izyum was more likely intended to disrupt such a counter-offensive than to set conditions for a Russian attack.
Russian forces continued their withdrawal from Kharkiv Oblast but will likely seek to hold a line east of Vovchansk to secure the ground line of communication (GLOC) running from Belgorod through Vovchansk to Izyum. The terrain in this area generally favors the defender, and the Russians have other GLOCs with which to supply Izyum, so the Ukrainians may not try to advance much farther to the east at this time.
Ukrainian defenders continued to fight in the Azovstal Plant in Mariupol despite horrific conditions and continued Russian attacks. The Ukrainian defense of Azovstal is still tying down Russian combat forces and inflicting casualties.
- Catastrophic Russian losses in a failed river crossing and the military incompetence displayed in that crossing have shaken the confidence of some prominent Russian milbloggers.
- Russian forces continue shaping operations for the Battle of Severodonetsk from the south even though those losses have at least temporarily disrupted their efforts from the north.
- Ukrainian forces announced that they will conduct a counteroffensive around Izyum.
- Russian forces continued to withdraw from northern Kharkiv Oblast, but will likely seek to hold a line defending their ground lines of communication from Belgorod via Vovchansk to Izyum.
May 13, 2022 | 7:00pm ET
The Russian military has likely decided to withdraw fully from its positions around Kharkiv City in the face of Ukrainian counteroffensives and the limited availability of reinforcements. Russian units have generally not attempted to hold ground against counterattacking Ukrainian forces over the past several days, with a few exceptions. Reports from Western officials and a video from an officer of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) indicate that Moscow is focused on conducting an orderly withdrawal and prioritizing getting Russians back home before allowing proxy forces to enter Russia rather than trying to hold its positions near the city.
Ukraine thus appears to have won the Battle of Kharkiv. Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone seizing Kharkiv, and then expelled them from around the city, as they did to Russian forces attempting to seize Kyiv. Ukrainian forces will likely attempt to disrupt at least the westernmost of the ground lines of communication (GLOCs) between Belgorod and Russian forces concentrated around Izyum, although Russia is using several GLOCs, including some further away from current Ukrainian positions than any Ukrainian counteroffensive is likely to reach soon. The terrain east of current Ukrainian positions may also favor the Russians attempting to defend their GLOCs, as large water features canalize movement and create chokepoints that the Ukrainians would have to breakthrough.
Russian troops continued efforts to advance all along the periphery of the Izyum-Donetsk city salient but made little progress. Russian forces attempted a ground offensive from Izyum that made no progress. We had previously hypothesized that Russia might give up on attempts to advance from Izyum, but the Russians have either not made such a decision or have not fully committed to it yet. Small-scale and unsuccessful attacks on the southern end of the salient near Donetsk City continued but made no real progress.
The main Russian effort continues to be the attempt to encircle Severodonetsk and Lysychansk from the north and from the south. Russian troops attacking from Popasna to the north made no significant progress in the last 24 hours. Russian forces coming north-to-south have failed to cross the Siverskyi Donets River and taken devastating losses in their attempts. The Russians may not have enough additional fresh combat power to offset those losses and continue the offensive on a large enough scale to complete the encirclement, although they will likely continue to try to do so.
The Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol continue to fight despite the odds, although Russian attackers appear to have penetrated into the Azovstal facility.
- Ukraine has likely won the Battle of Kharkiv. Russian forces continued to withdraw from the northern settlements around Kharkiv City. Ukrainian forces will likely attempt to disrupt Russian ground lines of communication to Izyum.
- Ukrainian forces have likely disrupted the Russian attempt to cross the Siverskyi Donets River in force, undermining Russian efforts to mass troops in northern Donbas and complete the encirclement of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.
- Russian forces have likely secured the highway near the western entrance to the Azovstal Steel Plant but fighting for the facility continues.
- Russian forces in Zaporizhia Oblast are likely attempting to reach artillery range outside Zaporizhia City.
- Ukrainian forces are reportedly attempting to regain control of Snake Island off the Romanian coast or at least disrupt Russia’s ability to use it.
May 12, 2022 | 6:45pm ET
Russian forces may be abandoning efforts at a wide encirclement of Ukrainian troops along the Izyum-Slovyansk-Debaltseve line in favor of shallower encirclements of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. Russian forces likely control almost all of Rubizhne as of May 12 and have likely seized the town of Voevodivka, north of Severdonetsk. They will likely launch a ground offensive on or around Severodonetsk in the coming days. The relative success of Russian operations in this area combined with their failure to advance from Izyum and the notable decline in the energy of that attempted advance suggest that they may be giving up on the Izyum axis. Reports that Russian forces in Popasna are advancing north, toward Severodonetsk-Lysychansk, rather than east toward the Slovyansk-Debaltseve highway, support this hypothesis.
It is unclear if Russian forces can encircle, let alone capture, Severodonetsk and Lysychansk even if they focus their efforts on that much-reduced objective. Russian offensives have bogged down every time they hit a built-up area throughout this war, and these areas are unlikely to be different. Continued and expanding reports of demoralization and refusals to fight among Russian units suggest that the effective combat power of Russian troops in the east continues to be low and may drop further. If the Russians abandon efforts to advance from Izyum, moreover, Ukrainian forces would be able to concentrate their efforts on defending Severodonetsk-Lysychansk or, in the worst case, breaking a Russian encirclement before those settlements fall.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive around Kharkiv is also forcing the Russian command to make hard choices, as it was likely intended to do. The UK Ministry of Defense reports that Russian forces pulled back from Kharkiv have been sent toward Rubizhne and Severodonetsk but at the cost of ceding ground in Kharkiv from which the Russians had been shelling the city. The counteroffensive is also forcing Russian units still near the city to focus their bombardment on the attacking Ukrainian troops rather than continuing their attacks on the city itself. The Ukrainian counteroffensive near Kharkiv is starting to look very similar to the counteroffensive that ultimately drove Russian troops away from Kyiv and out of western Ukraine entirely, although it is too soon to tell if the Russians will make a similar decision here.
- Russian forces made marginal gains to the north of Severodonetsk and have likely captured Rubizhne and Voevodivka.
- Russian forces fired intensively on Ukrainian positions in northern Kharkiv to stop the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive around Kharkiv City. The artillery focus on Ukrainian positions has likely diverted the Russian artillery that remains in range of Kharkiv to the more urgent task of stopping the Ukrainian advance.
- Russian forces are strengthening their position on Snake Island in an effort to block Ukrainian maritime communications and capabilities in the northwestern Black Sea on the approaches to Odesa.
May 11, 2022 | 5:30pm ET
Russian forces did not make any significant advances anywhere in Ukraine on May 11, and Ukrainian forces took further ground northeast of Kharkiv. The Ukrainian counteroffensive north of Kharkiv City has forced Russian troops onto the defensive and necessitated reinforcement and replenishment efforts intended to prevent further Ukrainian advances towards the Russian border. Russian efforts along the Southern Axis and in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts remain similarly stalled, and Russian forces have not made any significant gains in the face of continued successful Ukrainian defenses.
- The Ukrainian counteroffensive north of Kharkiv City has forced Russian troops onto the defensive and has successfully alleviated artillery pressure on Kharkiv City.
- Russian forces continued efforts to encircle Ukrainian positions in the Severodonetsk-Rubizhne-Lysychansk area but did not make any confirmed advances.
- Russian forces may be initiating a new advance towards Bakhmut after capturing Popasna in order to secure highway access north to Slovyansk.
- Russian forces are attempting to consolidate their positions in western Kherson Oblast to push into Mykolaiv Oblast.
- Pro-Russian Telegram sources reported Ukrainian forces may be conducting a counterattack 40km north of Izyum to cut off Russian units in this key town, though ISW cannot confirm these reports at this time.
May 10, 2022 | 7:15pm ET
The Ukrainian counteroffensive north of Kharkiv City continued to successfully push Russian forces toward the Russia-Ukraine border on May 10. Ukrainian forces liberated several towns north of Kharkiv City and continued pushing north of the recently liberated Staryi Saltiv to capture several towns northeast of Kharkiv: a Russian source claimed that Ukrainian troops advanced to within 10km of the Russian border, though ISW cannot independently confirm these specific claims. Russian forces from the Izyum area are reportedly redeploying northwards to attempt to alleviate the pressure of this counteroffensive and stymie further northward advances toward the Russian border. The Ukrainian counteroffensive will likely continue to divert Russian troops and resources from deployment to other axes of advance where fighting has been similarly stalled out by the successful Ukrainian defense. The counteroffensive will impede the ability of Russian artillery to target the northeastern suburbs of Kharkiv City, will potentially enable Ukrainian forces to threaten Russian rear areas with their own shelling and further attacks, and—if Ukrainian forces are able to further advance the counteroffensive or Russian forces collapse along the Kharkiv axis and withdraw further—unhinge Russian offensive operations around Izyum.
The Belarusian Ministry of Defense escalated its false claims of US and NATO preparations to attack Belarus while announcing the start of a second stage of ongoing military exercises on May 10. However, Belarus remains unlikely to join the war in Ukraine. Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin announced the second stage of ongoing rapid response forces exercises on May 10 in response to what he falsely claimed were NATO escalations. Belarusian First Deputy Minister of Defense Victor Gulevich accused the US and its allies of building up a military presence around Belarusian borders and claimed that Poland and the Baltic states are threatening Belarusian territory through reconnaissance, sabotage, and special operations. Gulevich announced that Belarusian battalion tactical groups (BTGs) will subsequently advance to the Western and Northwestern operational zones as part of a ”whole range of measures aimed at countering possible threats” in these areas. Gulevich additionally stated that the presence of 20,000 Ukrainian troops in Belarus’ Southern Operational District have necessitated a deployment of unspecified Belarusian troops to three tactical directions near the Ukrainian border, which is consistent with Ukrainian General Staff reporting that certain Belarusian units have deployed to the Ukraine-Belarus border area for a combat readiness check.
The rhetoric of threats to Belarus’ borders is not new and was frequently employed by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in the early stages of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Belarusian exercises, which are concentrated on Belarus’ borders with Poland and the Baltic States rather than Ukraine, are likely primarily demonstrative and signal Belarus’ continued political support for Russia‘s war in Ukraine. The exercises are likely additionally intended to draw NATO attention and possibly disrupt NATO aid to Ukraine, rather than threatening an actual military operation—similar to Russian efforts to destabilize Moldova that are likely intended to distract Romania and NATO rather than directly threaten Odesa. Belarus remains unlikely to join the war in Ukraine. Lukashenko successfully repressed domestic opposition in 2020 and 2021 but remains vulnerable to further domestic unrest if his security apparatus weakens; he is likely unwilling to risk losing his military in a stalled and deteriorating Russian war in Ukraine.
- The Ukrainian counteroffensive in northern Kharkiv took further ground and have possibly closed to within 10km of the Russian border.
- Belarusian authorities are escalating rhetoric accusing NATO and the US of threatening Belarusian borders, but Belarus remains unlikely to join the war.
- Russian operations around Izyum remain stalled.
- DNR and Russian forces are advancing efforts to consolidate their control of the ruins of Mariupol, including reportedly attempting to reopen steel plants to produce military equipment.
- Russian forces in eastern Ukraine continued attempts to encircle the Severodonetsk area and reportedly reached the Donetsk-Luhansk administrative border from Popasna.
- Russian and Ukrainian forces did not conduct any significant attacks on the southern axis.
May 9, 2022 | 7:15pm ET
Russian forces continue to face widespread force generation challenges. A senior US defense official stated on May 9 that the US has not observed any indicators of a “new major Russian mobilization” and that members of the private military company Wagner Group “urgently” requested hundreds of thousands of additional troops to reinforce Russian efforts in Donbas. The official noted that Russia currently has 97 battalion tactical groups (BTGs) in Ukraine, but that BTGs have been moving in and out of Ukraine to refit and resupply, suggesting that Russian troops continue to sustain substantial damage in combat. ISW has previously assessed that most Russian BTGs are heavily degraded and counting BTGs is not a useful metric of Russian combat power. The Main Ukrainian Intelligence Directorate (GUR) claimed that under-trained, ill-equipped Russian conscripts are still being sent into active combat despite the Kremlin denying this practice. A prisoner of war from the BARS-7 detachment of the Wagner Group claimed that a ”covert mobilization” is underway in Russian to send conscripts to clean damage caused by combat in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.
Russian troops in Ukraine continue to display low morale and poor discipline as fighting in many areas has stalled out against Ukrainian resistance. A senior US defense official claimed that Russian troops in Donbas are failing to obey orders from top generals. Russian forces deployed to the Zaporizhzhia area reportedly are experiencing very low morale and psychological conditions, complain about the ineffectiveness of operations in the area, frequently abuse alcohol, and shoot at their own vehicles in order to avoid going to the frontline. This is consistent with reports made by the Ukrainian General Staff that the extent of Russian losses is having widespread impacts on the willingness of Russian troops to engage in offensive operations.
Russian authorities are likely setting conditions to integrate occupied Ukrainian territories directly into Russia, as opposed to creating proxy “People’s Republics.” The Kherson occupation Deputy Chairman of Military Civil Administration Kirill Stremousov stated on May 9 that the Kherson region intends to become part of Russia and that Kherson authorities do not intend to hold a referendum to create an independent republic. Spokesperson for the Ukrainian Defense Ministry Oleksandr Motuzyanyk reported that Russian occupation authorities are intensifying reconnaissance measures and increasing checkpoints and patrols in occupied areas in order to prepare to integrate these regions directly into Russia. Motuzyanyk noted that Russian and Crimean groups have been arriving to occupied regions to intensify propaganda measures to prepare for integration. ISW will publish our assessment of the Kremlin’s most likely course of actions towards their occupied territories in Ukraine in the coming days.
- Russian forces did not make any confirmed advances to the southeast or southwest of Izyum on May 9 but are likely attempting to concentrate the forces necessary to resume offensive operations in the coming days.
- Russian forces made marginal gains around Severodonetsk in the past 24 hours.
- Russian forces are likely continuing to amass troops in Belgorod Oblast to stop Ukrainian counterattacks around Kharkiv City from reaching the Ukrainian-Russian border.
- Russian units in Zaporizhia Oblast are regrouping and will likely receive reinforcements from forces previously deployed in Mariupol.
- The Kremlin continues to face severe force mobilization challenges, and ongoing “covert mobilization” efforts are unlikely to generate substantial combat power.
- Russian authorities are likely setting conditions to integrate occupied Ukrainian territories directly into Russia, as opposed to creating proxy “People’s Republics.”
May 8, 2022 | 4:00 pm ET
Russian forces did not make any significant advances on any axis of advance on May 8. The Ukrainian counteroffensive northeast of Kharkiv City has likely forced Russian troops to redeploy to Kharkiv instead of reinforcing stalled Russian offensive operations elsewhere in eastern Ukraine. Russian forces are continuing their attempt to reach the administrative borders of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts but have not made substantial territorial gains since securing Popasna on May 7.
- Russian forces are likely amassing in Belgorod to reinforce Russian efforts in northern Kharkiv to prevent the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive from pushing closer to the Ukraine-Russia border.
- Russian forces near Izyum focused on regrouping, replenishing, and reconnoitering Ukrainian positions in order to continue advances to the southwest and southeast of Izyum.
- Russian forces continued their ground attacks to drive to the borders of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts but did not make any territorial gains
- Russian troops continued to assault the Azovstal Steel Plant and advanced efforts to economically integrate occupied Mariupol into the wider Russian economy.
- Russian troops may be preparing for a renewed offensive on the Southern Axis but are unlikely to be successful in this endeavor.
May 7, 2022 | 6:45 pm ET
The Ukrainian counteroffensive northeast of Kharkiv is making significant progress and will likely advance to the Russian border in the coming days or weeks. Russian forces may be conducting a limited withdrawal in the face of successful Ukrainian attacks and reportedly destroyed three bridges to slow the Ukrainian advance. Armies generally only destroy bridges if they have largely decided they will not attempt to cross the river in the other direction anytime soon; Russian forces are therefore unlikely to launch operations to retake the northeast outskirts of Kharkiv liberated by Ukrainian forces in the near future. Russian forces previously destroyed several bridges during their retreat from Chernihiv Oblast—as did Ukrainian forces withdrawing in the face of the Russian offensive in the initial days of the war.
This Ukrainian offensive is likely intended to push Russian forces out of artillery range of Kharkiv city and drive to the border of Russia’s Belgorod Oblast. As ISW previously forecasted, the Ukrainian counteroffensive is forcing Russian units intended for deployment elsewhere to redeploy to the Kharkiv front to halt Ukrainian attacks. Given the current rate of Ukrainian advances, Russian forces may be unable to prevent Ukrainian forces from reaching the Russian border, even with additional reinforcements. Ukrainian forces are not directly threatening Russian lines of communication to Izyum (and ISW cannot verify claims of a separate Ukrainian counteroffensive toward Izyum at this time), but the Ukrainian counteroffensive demonstrates promising Ukrainian capabilities and may set conditions for further offensive operations into northeastern Kharkiv Oblast.
By all indications, Russian forces will announce the creation of a Kherson People’s Republic or possibly forcibly annex Kherson Oblast in the near future and are intensifying occupation measures in Mariupol. Russian forces are reportedly increasing their security presence in both Kherson and Mariupol, including withdrawing personnel from frontline combat units to protect Russian dignitaries in Mariupol. Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Leader Denis Pushilin arrived in Kherson on May 6, and local occupation officials stated the region will “strive to become a subject of Russia” and “will resemble something close to Crimea in terms of the pace of development,” echoing longstanding rhetoric used by Russia’s existing proxies in eastern Ukraine. As ISW has previously assessed, the Kremlin will likely form illegal proxy republics or directly annex occupied areas of southern and eastern Ukraine to cement its occupation administration and attempt to permanently strip these territories from Ukraine.
- Russian forces destroyed several bridges to slow Ukrainian forces and may be conducting a limited withdrawal northeast of Kharkiv city in the face of the successful Ukrainian counteroffensive.
- Ukrainian forces are making significant progress around Kharkiv and will likely advance to the Russian border in the coming days.
- Ukrainian forces continued to repel Russian advances toward Barvinvoke and Russian forces have likely abandoned efforts to drive directly southeast toward Slovyansk. ISW cannot confirm claims of a Ukrainian counteroffensive toward Izyum at this time.
- Russian forces claimed to capture Popasna on May 7 but remain largely stalled in eastern Ukraine.
- The Ukrainian government confirmed the last remaining civilians trapped in the Azovstal plant evacuated on May 7, though the remaining Ukrainian defenders appear unlikely to surrender. ISW will likely be unable to report any discrete changes in control of terrain until Russian forces capture the plant as a whole due to the poor information environment in Mariupol.
- By all indications, Russian forces will announce the creation of a Kherson People’s Republic or possibly forcibly annex Kherson Oblast in the coming weeks to cement its occupation administration and attempt to permanently strip these territories from Ukraine.
- Russian forces continued to target Odesa with cruise missile strikes and conduct false-flag attacks in Transnistria over the past several days.
May 6, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET
The Ukrainian counteroffensive north and east of Kharkiv city secured further gains in the last 24 hours and may successfully push Russian forces out of artillery range of Kharkiv in the coming days. Ukrainian forces captured several settlements north and east of Kharkiv in the last 24 hours, reducing the ability of Russian forces to threaten Ukraine’s second-largest city. This Ukrainian operation is developing into a successful, broader counteroffensive—as opposed to the more localized counterattacks that Ukrainian forces have conducted throughout the war to secure key terrain and disrupt Russian offensive operations. Ukrainian forces are notably retaking territory along a broad arc around Kharkiv rather than focusing on a narrow thrust, indicating an ability to launch larger-scale offensive operations than we have observed so far in the war (as Ukrainian forces predominantly retook the outskirts of Kyiv following Russian withdrawals rather than in a major counteroffensive). The willingness of Ukrainian forces to concentrate the forces necessary for this scale of offensive operations, rather than deploying these available forces to defenses in eastern Ukraine, additionally indicates the Ukrainian military’s confidence in repelling ongoing Russian operations to encircle Ukrainian forces in the Severodonetsk area. While Ukrainian forces are unlikely to directly threaten Russian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) to Izyum (as they run further to the east of recent Ukrainian advances), Ukrainian forces may be able to relieve Russian pressure on Kharkiv and possibly threaten to make further advances to the Russian border.
ISW cannot confirm initial reports of a Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missile strike on the Russian frigate Admiral Makarov on May 6. Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby said the United States cannot confirm the reported strike and added “we’ve been looking at this all day.” ISW will update this assessment with further information as it becomes available.
- The Ukrainian counteroffensive along a broad arc north and east of Kharkiv city took further terrain and will likely push Russian forces out of tube artillery range of the city in the coming days. The ability—and willingness—of the Ukrainian military to concentrate the forces in Kharkiv necessary to conduct this operation indicates Ukrainian confidence in repelling ongoing Russian attacks with their existing forces in the region.
- Russian forces did not make any progress on the Izyum axis.
- Russian forces likely secured small gains on the outskirts of Severodonetsk in the last 24 hours but are unlikely to successfully surround the town.
- Russian forces continued assaults on the Azovstal plant, but ISW cannot confirm any specific advances. Likely widespread civilian resistance to the Russian occupation may additionally be disrupting previously announced Russian plans to conduct a Victory Day exhibition in Mariupol.
- There were no significant changes on the southern axis in the last 24 hours and Russian forces continued to reinforce their forward positions.
- ISW cannot confirm reports of a Ukrainian anti-ship missile strike on the Admiral Makarov at this time.
May 5, 2022 | 7:00 pm ET
The Ukrainian counteroffensive out of Kharkiv city may disrupt Russian forces northeast of Kharkiv and will likely force Russian forces to decide whether to reinforce positions near Kharkiv or risk losing most or all of their positions within artillery range of the city. Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zalyzhnyi stated on May 5 that Ukrainian forces are transitioning to counteroffensive operations around Kharkiv and Izyum, the first direct Ukrainian military statement of a shift to offensive operations. Ukrainian forces did not make any confirmed advances in the last 24 hours but repelled Russian attempts to regain lost positions. Russian forces made few advances in continued attacks in eastern Ukraine, and Ukrainian forces may be able to build their ongoing counterattacks and successful repulse of Russian attacks along the Izyum axis into a wider counteroffensive to retake Russian-occupied territory in Kharkiv Oblast.
- Russian forces continued ineffectual offensive operations in southern Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts without securing any significant territorial gains in the past 24 hours.
- Ukrainian officials and military officers confirmed that Russian forces have breached the Azovstal facility itself and confirmed that Ukrainian forces are losing ground. Russian forces will likely capture the facility in the coming days.
- Ukrainian offensive operations around Kharkiv likely intend to push Russian forces out of artillery range of Kharkiv city, force Russian units to redeploy from the Izyum axis, and potentially threaten Russian lines of communication.
- Russian forces conducted limited offensive operations toward Zaporizhia City but did not conduct any attacks in Kherson and Mykolaiv oblasts in the last 24 hours. Ukrainian forces claimed to recapture additional territory west of Kherson, but ISW cannot independently confirm any advances.
Key Takeaways April 22-May 4
- The Kremlin is establishing economic, governmental, and informational control over occupied Ukrainian territory, indicating that Russia may be preparing to create a series of Russian proxy “people’s republics” and/or to directly annex some occupied Ukrainian territory.
- The Kremlin continues to falsely claim that Ukraine is stalling negotiations that the Kremlin is also not seriously pursuing.
- Ukraine may suspend negotiations entirely in the coming weeks in response to Russian-sponsored “independence referendums” in occupied Ukrainian territory.
- Russian forces are likely considering the use of chemical weapons to achieve battlefield advantages in the battle for Donbas.
- Russian false-flag attacks in Transnistria and missile attacks in Odesa likely do not indicate an imminent Russian escalation in Transnistria or Moldova. The Kremlin likely intends to pin Ukrainian forces in the south to prevent them from reinforcing eastern Ukraine.
- The Kremlin is likely attempting to consolidate control over and surveillance of Russian government officials.
- The Kremlin continues to project economic confidence to its domestic audience despite a Russian Central Bank report that Russia’s economy will constrict by 8-10% in 2022
- The Kremlin made an example out of Poland and Bulgaria by cutting off natural gas shipments in an attempt to coerce Germany, Italy, and other EU consumers of Russian natural gas to pay for their Russian gas imports in rubles, thereby propping up Russia’s sanctions-battered economy.
- NATO and EU countries continued supplying Ukraine with military assistance, including high-end capabilities to counter Russian aggression, as Sweden and Finland consider NATO membership.
- The Kremlin’s antisemitism may drive Israel away from its current neutral position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
May 4, 2022 | 7:15 pm ET
Ukrainian defenses have largely stalled Russian advances in Eastern Ukraine. Russian troops conducted a number of unsuccessful attacks in Eastern Ukraine on May 4 and were unable to make any confirmed advances. Russian forces attacking south of Izyum appear increasingly unlikely to successfully encircle Ukrainian forces in the Rubizhne area. Ukrainian forces have so far prevented Russian forces from merging their offensives to the southeast of Izyum and the west of Lyman, Slovyansk, and Kramatorsk, as Russian forces likely intended.
Russian forces reportedly entered the Azovstal Steel Plant – rather than its outskirts – for the first time on May 4. The extent of this Russian advance remains unclear, and Russian forces likely face further costly fighting if they intend to clear the entire facility. The Kremlin likely hopes that the successful capture of Azovstal through a ground assault will cement the Kremlin’s growing effort to claim complete control of Mariupol by May 9, with Russian propagandists recently arriving in the city to set conditions for further claims of a Russian victory. The Kremlin likely intends to claim some sort of victory in Mariupol to present a success to the Russian people, though Russian forces are highly unlikely to halt offensive operations across Ukraine on this date.
Russian forces intensified airstrikes against transportation infrastructure in Western Ukraine on May 4 but remain unable to interdict Western aid shipments to Ukraine. Six Russian cruise missiles hit electrical substations near railway stations in Lviv and Transcarpathia (the southwestern Oblast of Ukraine) on May 4.[i] A senior US defense official reported that Russian aircraft conducted 200 to 300 airstrikes largely targeting transportation infrastructure in the last 24 hours.[ii] The US official added that these Russian strikes are likely intended disrupt Ukrainian transportation capabilities and slow down weapon re-supply efforts but have been unable to do so.[iii]
- Russian forces engaged in several unsuccessful ground offensives to the south of Izyum and did not significantly advance efforts to encircle Ukrainian troops in the cauldron to the southeast of Izyum and west of the Donetsk-Luhansk frontline.
- Russian forces reportedly stormed the Azovstal Steel Plant on May 4 and are likely operating inside the plant’s facilities.
- Russian and Ukrainian sources confirmed that a Ukrainian counteroffensive pushed Russian troops back 40 kilometers from Kharkiv City.
- Russian forces conducted a number of unsuccessful counteroffensives on the southern axis.
May 3, 2022 | 6:45 pm ET
Ukrainian officials reported with increasing confidence that the Kremlin will announce mobilization on May 9. Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate Chief Kyrylo Budanov said on May 2 that the Kremlin has begun to prepare mobilization processes and personnel ahead of the expected May 9 announcement and has already carried out covert mobilization. Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council said that high-ranking Russian officials are trying to legitimize a prolonged war effort as the Third World War against the West, rather than the "special military operation” against Ukraine, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has hitherto framed Russia’s invasion. ISW has no independent confirmation of Russian preparations for mobilization.
A significant Ukrainian counteroffensive pushed Russian forces roughly 40 km east of Kharkiv City. A senior American defense official reported the Ukrainian operation, which is consistent with social media reports from both Ukrainian and Russian sources that Ukrainian troops took control of Staryi Saltiv on May 2. This Ukrainian counteroffensive is very unlikely to affect Russian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) to Izyum, as the Russians have not been relying on GLOCs from Kharkiv to support their operations in Izyum but have been using routes further to the east and well beyond the most recent Ukrainian counteroffensive’s limit of advance. The Ukrainian counteroffensive may, however, unhinge the Russian positions northeast of Kharkiv and could set conditions for a broader operation to drive the Russians from most of their positions around the city. This possibility may pose a dilemma for the Russians—whether to reinforce their positions near Kharkiv to prevent such a broader Ukrainian operation or to risk losing most or all of their positions in artillery range of the city.
Russia’s long-term intentions regarding the status of Mariupol and other occupied areas seem confused. Some anecdotes from Mariupol indicate that Russia may plan to incorporate Mariupol and the surrounding environs into the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), and possibly annex the DNR to the Russian Federation. Other anecdotes suggest that Russia could directly absorb Mariupol into Rostov Oblast. These inconsistencies could simply be artifacts of reporting or confusion on the ground, but they could also indicate actual confusion about Russia’s long-term plans for governing the Ukrainian regions that Moscow’s forces currently occupy. These anecdotes clearly support the assessment that Putin has no intention of ceding occupied territories back to an independent Ukraine and is, at most, considering exactly how he intends to govern regions that Russia has illegally seized.
- Russian forces resumed air, artillery, and ground assaults on the Azovstal Steel Plant following the conclusion of the May 2 evacuation efforts.
- Russian forces continued to regroup on the Donetsk-Luhansk axis in likely preparation for a westward advance in the direction of Lyman and Slovyansk.
- The Ukrainian Armed Forces conducted a counteroffensive that likely pushed Russian forces up to 40 km east of Kharkiv City.
- Russian forces conducted limited ground offensives in Zaporizhia Oblast in the vicinity of Huliapole and intensified reconnaissance operations in the vicinity of Odesa amid growing tensions in Transnistria.
May 2, 2022 | 5:15 pm ET
Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed ground attacks in Ukraine on May 2. The April 30 Ukrainian artillery strike on the Russian command post in Izyum may be continuing to disrupt Russian efforts on the Izyum axis. Russian troops on the Donetsk-Luhansk frontline and Southern Axis continued to regroup, likely in preparation for renewed offensives or to resist or reverse Ukrainian counter-offensives.
- Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed ground attacks along any axes of advance and instead shelled Ukrainian positions on the frontlines.
- The April 30 Ukrainian artillery strike on Russian command headquarters near Izyum likely disrupted Russian operations on the Izyum axis and may hinder Russian offensives from Izyum for the next few days.
- Russian forces on the Southern Axis continued to regroup and reconnoiter likely in preparation for ground assaults in the direction of Kryvyi Rih, Mykolaiv, and Zaporizhia.
May 1, 2022 | 6:15 ET
Russian forces are setting conditions to establish permanent control over the areas of southern Ukraine they currently occupy, either as nominally independent “People’s Republics” or by annexing them to Russia. Russian sources reported that stores in occupied Melitopol and Volnovakha are beginning to transition to using the Russian ruble. British Defense Intelligence reported that the ruble will be used in Kherson City starting on May 1 as part of a 4-month currency transition scheme enacted by the occupation administration. These measures, which are not necessary or normal in military occupation administrations, indicate that Russian President Vladimir Putin likely intends to retain control over these areas and that his ambitions are not confined to Donbas.
Western and Ukrainian sources claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin may announce a “general mobilization” of the Russian military on May 9th. British Defense Minister Ben Wallace claimed that Putin may make this announcement, although Wallace admitted this was a personal opinion and not based on intelligence. Advisor to the Ukrainian President Mikhail Podolyak amplified Wallace’s claims and stated that a general mobilization on May 9 would be consistent with the economic imperatives faced by Russia as a result of the invasion of Ukraine. ISW has no independent verification of these claims, which would not in any event generate large numbers of usable soldiers for many months.
The Kremlin likely seeks to leverage its partners in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to evade Western sanctions. The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that Russia is courting CSTO members to procure input goods and materials for dual-use technologies that Russia cannot directly purchase due to Western sanctions. The GUR stated that this effort will increase CSTO members’ economic dependence on Russia and enable Russian sanction evasion by using third-party countries to re-export Russian products to international markets. The GUR stated that the Russian Ulyanovsk Mechanical Plant is attempting to obtain German components needed for the production of Buk surface-to-air missile systems and Tunguska missiles via Kazakhstan. Western sanctions may need to target Russia’s partners in the CSTO and Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) customs union to prevent Russian sanctions evasion.
- Russian occupying forces are setting conditions to allow Russia to permanently govern occupied areas in southern Ukraine, not just in Donbas.
- Ukrainian forces likely conducted a rocket artillery strike on a Russian command post in Izyum on April 30 that struck after Russian Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov had left but killed other senior Russian officers.
- Russian forces continue to make incremental advances moving southwestward in the direction of Lyman but are largely stalled against Ukrainian positions on the pre-February 24 frontline.
- Russian forces continued re-grouping and reconnaissance on the Southern Axis and did not make any confirmed advances.
Full list of Ukraine invasion updates are available here.