November 30, 2022
Ukraine Invasion Updates November 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 November 2022. Full list of Ukraine invasion updates are available here.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 30
November 30, 2022 | 8:00 pm ET
Russian efforts around Bakhmut indicate that Russian forces have fundamentally failed to learn from previous high-casualty campaigns concentrated on objectives of limited operational or strategic significance. Russian forces have continually expended combat strength on small settlements around Bakhmut since the end of May; in the following six months, they have only secured gains on the order of a few kilometers at a time. As ISW has previously observed, Russian efforts to advance on Bakhmut have resulted in the continued attrition of Russian manpower and equipment, pinning troops on relatively insignificant settlements for weeks and months at a time. This pattern of operations closely resembles the previous Russian effort to take Severodonetsk and Lysychansk earlier in the war. As ISW assessed throughout June and July of this year, Ukrainian forces essentially allowed Russian troops to concentrate efforts on Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, two cities near the Luhansk Oblast border of limited operational and strategic significance, in order to capitalize on the continued degradation of Russian manpower and equipment over the course of months of grinding combat. Russian troops eventually captured Lysychansk and Severodonetsk and reached the Luhansk Oblast border, but that tactical success translated to negligible operational benefit as the Russian offensive in the east then culminated. Russian efforts in this area have remained largely stalled along the lines that they reached in early July. Even if Russian troops continue to advance toward and within Bakhmut, and even if they force a controlled Ukrainian withdrawal from the city (as was the case in Lysychansk), Bakhmut itself offers them little operational benefit. The costs associated with six months of brutal, grinding, and attrition-based combat around Bakhmut far outweigh any operational advantage that the Russians can obtain from taking Bakhmut. Russian offensives around Bakhmut, on the other hand, are consuming a significant proportion of Russia’s available combat power, potentially facilitating continued Ukrainian counteroffensives elsewhere.
Russian state nuclear power company Rosatom stated that the former chief engineer of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) has become the new director of the ZNPP. Rosatom advisor Renat Karchaa announced on November 30 that Yuriy Chernichuk has become the new ZNPP director and the first deputy general director of the Joint Stock Company “Operating Organization of the ZNPP,” which is the entity that Rosatom formed on October 3 to essentially replace Ukrainian company Energoatom as the plant’s operator and to oversee the “safe operation” of the ZNPP and manage personnel activities within the plant. Karchaa also noted that the entire management company of the ZNPP is formed of existing members of ZNPP staff who have signed a new employment contract. Rosatom‘s direct role in appointing and overseeing ZNPP management is consistent with previous efforts to install and maintain Russian control of the ZNPP in a way that is likely intended to force the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to de facto accept Russian claims over the plant by interacting with Russian-controlled ZNPP staff.
The Kremlin continues efforts to stifle domestic dissent through legislation that broadens the definition of “foreign agents” and those amenable to foreign influence. Russian media began reporting on November 23 that the Russian government approved new restrictions on the ability of those deemed “foreign agents” to post materials created by foreign-influenced sources and conduct public activities, which will enter into effect on December 1. The Russian Ministry of Justice expanded the list of “individual-foreign agents” on November 27 on the basis of those individuals conducting unspecified political activities. The United Kingdom Ministry of Defense (UK MoD) also noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin has approved amendments to the 2012 ”Foreign Agents Law” that extends the original definition of ”foreign agents” to anyone who is under undefined ”influence or pressure” from foreign actors. The amendments also afford the Russian Ministry of Justice the purview to publish the personal details of designated foreign agents, opening them up to public harassment. These measures are likely intended to crack down on increasing instances of domestic dissent about the Kremlin’s conduct of the war. By broadening the definition of those classified as foreign agents, the Kremlin can expand its weaponization of this designation to ratchet up censorship measures and exert increased control over the information space.
The Belarusian Minster of Defense made comments likely in support of ongoing information operations, and some Russian sources reframed those comments so as to place further pressure on Belarusian officials to support Russia’s war in Ukraine. Belarusian Minister of Defense Lieutenant General Viktor Khrenin stated on November 30 that the actions of bordering NATO members suggest that preparations are underway to conduct military operations in the eastern direction (i.e., against Belarus). While Khrenin’s comments incorporate several possible types of military operations, Russian media and a milblogger reported his comments as saying explicitly that NATO is preparing for offensive operations in the eastern direction (which is a nonsensical accusation). Khrenin likely made the comments about NATO military activities on the borders with Belarus in support of what ISW has previously assessed is an ongoing information operation aimed at fixing Ukrainian forces on the border with Belarus in response to the threat of Belarus entering the war. ISW has also previously assessed that Belarus is highly unlikely to enter the war. Russian sources likely framed Khrenin’s comments to be more inflammatory in order to support the information operation about Belarus entering the war but also to set more escalatory information conditions that may place more pressure on Belarusian officials to further support the Russian offensive campaign in Ukraine.
Russian opinion polling suggests that the Russian public may be tiring of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russian opposition media outlet Meduza reported on November 30 that it had gained access to the results of an opinion poll commissioned by the Kremlin for internal use that shows that 55 percent of Russians favor peace talks with Ukraine and 25 percent favor continuing the war. Russian independent polling organization Levada’s October polling shows a similar breakdown with 34 percent favoring continuing military actions in Ukraine and 57 percent favoring negotiations. Internal Kremlin polling reportedly placed the percentage of Russians supporting negotiations with Ukraine at 32 percent in July and the percentage favoring the continuation of the war at 57 percent. Meduza reported that the director of the Levada Center Denis Volkov stated that the share of Russians likely to support peace talks with Ukraine began to grow rapidly following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s partial mobilization decree. Disruptions associated with partial mobilization and Russian setbacks on the battlefield have likely contributed to an increasing war weariness among the Russian public, as reflected in the polling.
- The Russian military’s efforts around Bakhmut suggest that Russian forces failed to learn from previous costly campaigns focused on operationally insignificant settlements.
- Russian state nuclear company Rosenergoatom appointed a new director for the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
- The Kremlin continues efforts to stifle domestic dissent through an expansion of measures ostensibly aimed against “foreign agents.”
- Russian opinion polling suggests that the Russian public may be growing tired of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
- Russian forces continued efforts to defend against Ukrainian counteroffensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russia forces continued to make incremental gains around Bakhmut and to conduct offensive operations in the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area.
- A Ukrainian official acknowledged that Ukrainian forces are conducting an operation on the Kinburn Spit.
- Russian and Ukrainian sources indicated that Russian officials are continuing to conduct partial mobilization measures.
- Russian officials’ ongoing efforts to integrate illegally annexed territories into the Russian Federation are likely very disorganized.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 29
November 29, 2022 | 6:30 pm ET
Russian forces made marginal gains around Bakhmut on November 29, but Russian forces remain unlikely to have advanced at the tempo that Russian sources claimed. Geolocated footage shows that Russian forces made marginal advances southeast of Bakhmut but ISW remains unable to confirm most other claimed gains around Bakhmut made since November 27. Some Russian milbloggers made unsubstantiated claims that Russian forces broke through the Ukrainian defensive line south of Bakhmut along the T0513 highway to advance towards Chasiv Yar, which would cut one of two remaining main Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) to Bakhmut, but such claims are likely part of a continuing Russian information operation and are premature, as ISW has previously assessed. ISW continues to assess that the degraded Russian forces around Bakhmut are unlikely to place Bakhmut under threat of imminent encirclement rapidly.
The United Kingdom Ministry of Defense (MoD) reported on November 29 that Russian forces have likely stopped deploying battalion tactical groups (BTGs) in the past three months. The UK MoD stated that the BTGs‘ relatively low allocation of infantry, decentralized distribution of artillery, and the limited independence of BTG decision-making hindered their success in Ukraine. ISW assessed starting in April that Russian BTGs were degraded in various failed or culminated Russian offensives, including the attacks on Kyiv, Mariupol, Severodonetsk, and Lysychansk, and later efforts to reconstitute these BTGs to restore their combat power have failed. Russian forces have likely since thrown their remaining combat power and new personnel, including mobilized personnel, into poorly trained, equipped, and organized ad hoc structures with low morale and discipline. The structure of BTGs and the way the Russian military formed them by breaking up doctrinal battalions, regiments, and brigades likely deprived the Russians of the ability to revert to doctrinal organizations, as ISW has previously assessed, so that the Russians must now rely on ad-hoc structures with mobilized personnel.
- Russian forces made marginal gains around Bakhmut on November 29, but Russian forces remain unlikely to have advanced at the tempo that Russian sources claimed.
- The United Kingdom Ministry of Defense (MoD) reported that Russian forces have likely stopped deploying battalion tactical groups (BTGs) in the past three months, supporting ISW’s prior assessments.
- Russian forces continued to defend against Ukrainian counteroffensive operations around Svatove as Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations around Svatove and Kreminna.
- Russian forces continued limited ground attacks west of Kreminna to regain lost positions.
- Russian forces conducted ground attacks near Siversk and Avdiivka, and in western Donetsk Oblast.
- Russian forces continued strengthening defensive positions in eastern Kherson Oblast as Ukrainian forces continued striking Russian force concentrations in southern Ukraine.
- Russian forces continued to struggle with outdated equipment and domestic personnel shortages amid official actions indicative of a probable second wave of mobilization.
- An independent investigation found that Russia may have transported thousands of Ukrainian prisoners from penal colonies in occupied Ukraine to Russia following the withdrawal from the west bank of Kherson Oblast.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 28
Recent claims of Russian gains around Bakhmut on November 27 and 28 do not portend an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut. Geolocated imagery shows that Russian forces likely captured Ozarianivka (a village of about 15km southwest of Bakhmut) around November 27 and 28. Multiple Russian sources claimed that Russian forces also captured Kurdiumivka (13km southwest of Bakhmut), Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut), Andriivka (10km southwest of Bakhmut), Zelenopillia (13km south of Bakhmut), Pidhorodne (5km northeast of Bakhmut) and Spirne (30km northeast of Bakhmut) with the intention of encircling Bakhmut from the south and east. There is no open-source evidence supporting these claims at this time. Russian sources have notably propagated spurious claims regarding gains around Bakhmut as part of a continued information operation since October, and recent unsubstantiated territorial claims may be part of this continued information operation. However, even if Russian forces have indeed succeeded in taking control of settlements south of Bakhmut, these gains do not threaten the critical T0513 (Bakhmut-Siversk) and T0504 (Bakhmut-Kostyantynivka) routes that serve as major Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) into Bakhmut. There is also a network of smaller village roads that connect to Bakhmut via the city’s northwest. The claimed Russian positions closest to Bakhmut in Klishchiivka and Pidhorodne lead directly into prepared Ukrainian defenses in Bakhmut and its western and northern satellite villages. Russian forces in Klishchiivka, in order to advance any further, would have to cross three kilometers of fields with little cover and concealment. Russian troops, in their current degraded state, are likely unable to be able to accomplish this task quickly. Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin himself observed in October that Wagner forces operating in the Bakhmut area advance only 100–200 meters a day. Russian claimed advances around Bakhmut over the course of November 27 and 28 are thus unlikely to generate operational-level effects and certainly not quickly.
Recent Russian force deployments to Belarus in November 2022 are likely part of a Russian effort to augment Russian training capacity and conduct an information operation targeted at Ukraine and the West — not to prepare to attack Ukraine from the north again. Satellite imagery from mid-November indicates an increase in Russian equipment, particularly main battle tanks, at the 230th Combined Arms Obuz-Lesnovsky Training Ground in Brest, Belarus, including at least one brigade’s worth of equipment observed at the training ground on November 20. Independent Belarusian monitoring organization The Hajun Project reported on November 28 that Russian forces transferred 15 Tor-M2 surface-to-air missile systems and 10 pieces of unspecified engineering equipment towards Brest. These deployments likely support Russian training efforts and are not preparing for combat from Belarus. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on November 28 that it assesses Russian forces will transfer unspecified elements ("some units”) from Belarus to an unspecified area after the units “acquire combat capabilities.” This statement supports several ISW assessments that combat losses among Russian trainers and the stresses of mobilization have reduced Russia’s training capacity, likely increasing Russia’s reliance on Belarusian training capacity. The Ukrainian General Staff additionally noted on November 28 that it has not observed indicators of Russia forming offensive groups near Ukraine’s northern border regions.
The Kremlin also likely seeks to use these Russian force deployments in Belarus as an information operation to promote paralysis in Kyiv and fix Ukrainian forces around Kyiv to prevent their use in the south and east. Belarusian forces remain unlikely to attack Ukraine as ISW has assessed. Ukrainian Military Intelligence Directorate representative Andrii Yusov stated on November 28 that the Kremlin is spreading information about an alleged forthcoming Belarusian attack on Ukraine.
Russian milbloggers widely criticized the Russian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) decision to place severe customs limits on the import of dual-use goods, demonstrating their continued and pervasive discontent with the Russian MoD’s conduct of the war in Ukraine. Various milbloggers noted on November 27 that the Russian MoD has instituted tighter customs controls on a variety of dual-use goods (goods with both non-military and military function that can be purchased by civilians) such as quadcopters, heat packs, sights, clothing, and shoes, all of which are items that Russian civilians have been crowdfunding and donating to Russian soldiers in the wake of widespread issues with adequately equipping of mobilized recruits. Russian sources noted that this puts Russian troops in a bad position because it undermines the ability of civil society organizations to fill the gap left by the Russian MoD in providing troops with basic equipment. While the customs limits are reportedly intended to centralize and consolidate government control and oversight of the provision of dual-use goods, the decision ultimately undermines campaigns led by elements of Russian civil society, as well as many prominent Russian milbloggers, to provide direct support to Russian recruits, thus further putting the MoD at odds with prominent social actors.
Russian forces are likely preparing to launch a new wave of missile strikes across Ukraine in the coming week, but such preparations are likely intended to sustain the recent pace of strikes instead of escalating it due to continued constraints on Russia’s missile arsenal. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned in his nightly address on November 27 that Russian forces are preparing a new wave of strikes. Spokesperson for Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command Nataliya Humenyuk relatedly noted that an additional Russian missile carrier went on duty in the Black Sea on November 28, which Humenyuk stated is an indicator of preparations for a renewed wave of massive missile strikes over the course of the coming week. Russian milbloggers also claimed that the current Russian aviation and sea grouping means Russian forces will mount another series of missile strikes in the coming days. However, due to the continued degradation of the Russian missile arsenal over the course of previous strikes, it is likely that Russia seeks to sustain, as opposed to escalate, the current pace of strikes on Ukrainian critical infrastructure.
Increased speculation in the Russian information space about Russian preparations to withdraw from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) prompted a Kremlin response on November 28. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denied claims on November 28 that Russian forces were preparing to leave the ZNPP following statements by the head of Ukrainian nuclear energy agency Energoatom, Petro Kotin, on November 27 that Russian forces are preparing to leave, but that it is too soon to tell whether they will leave the plant. The Enerhodar Russian occupation administration also denied these rumors and claimed that Russian nuclear energy agency Rosatom‘s plan to build an alternate energy source for the ZNPP is an indicator of long-term occupation. Such responses from both the occupation administration and the Kremlin itself indicate the pervasiveness of this narrative and the value the Kremlin places on countering it.
- The Russian-claimed capture of several small villages around Bakhmut on November 27 and 28 does not portend an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut.
- Recent Russian force deployments to Belarus in November 2022 are likely part of a Russian effort to augment Russian training capacity and conduct an information operation.
- Russian milbloggers widely criticized the Russian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) decision to place severe customs limits on the import of dual-use goods, indicating a continued and pervasive discontent with the Russian MoD’s conduct of the war in Ukraine.
- Russian forces are likely preparing to launch a new wave of missile strikes across Ukraine in the coming week, but such preparations are likely intended to sustain the recent pace of strikes rather than increase it.
- Russian forces continued efforts to defend against Ukrainian counteroffensive operations around Svatove as Russian sources reported that Ukrainian troops continued counteroffensive west of Kreminna.
- Russian forces made incremental gains south of Bakhmut.
- Russian forces continued to strengthen fortified positions and establish security measures in eastern Kherson Oblast.
- Ukrainian forces continued to strike Russian military assets and along critical logistics lines in southern Ukraine.
- Russian forces continue to face issues with adequate training and equipment and challenges with morale and discipline as Russian military failures have significant domestic social impacts.
- Russian occupation authorities continued efforts to facilitate the integration of educational systems in occupied Ukraine into the Russian system.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 27
The Russian military clearly assesses that Ukrainian forces could cross the Dnipro River and conduct counter-offensive operations in eastern Kherson Oblast, possibly threatening all of the critical ground lines of communications (GLOCs) from Crimea to the mainland. Russian forces have been digging trenchlines and concentration areas in eastern Kherson since early October 2022 in obvious preparation for the withdrawal from the west bank of the Dnipro River and Kherson City.[i] Russian troops are preparing either to defend in depth or to conduct operational or strategic delay operations. Russian forces clearly do not expect to be able to prevent Ukrainian forces from getting across the river, nor are the Russians prioritizing defensive positions to stop such a crossing. The Russian military is setting conditions for a protracted defense in eastern Kherson Oblast that could allow the establishment of a solid Ukrainian lodgment on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River. The assessment that follows examines the Russian defensive laydown and evaluates the expectations for the flow of operations likely guiding that laydown exclusively. This assessment makes no effort to determine whether Ukrainian forces intend to cross or are capable of crossing the Dnipro River in this region and offers no forecast about whether or not they will make any such attempt.
Russian forces are fortifying their positions along critical GLOCs in eastern Kherson Oblast against a possible future Ukrainian counteroffensive. Satellite imagery shows that Russian forces have prioritized digging trenches and erecting dragon’s teeth anti-tank defenses along GLOCs that connect Russian forces on the eastern (left) bank of the Dnipro River with southeastern rear areas in Kherson Oblast and Crimea as well as with eastern rear areas around Melitopol, Zaporizhia Oblast. Most of these field fortifications are situated directly on the GLOCs themselves and are primarily oriented perpendicular to the roads themselves. They are thus most like elaborate roadblocks rather than parts of cohesive defensive lines that stretch across multiple GLOCs and fields. Russian forces have also heavily fortified a 3km-wide strip of land separating the Kinburn Spit from mainland Kherson Oblast and along the beaches immediately south and east of the strip.
The Russian defensive positions suggest that the Russian military leadership views the prospect of a Ukrainian counteroffensive across the Dnipro River as a serious threat. The array of Russian fortifications on and around the Kinburn Spit (as shown in the map) suggests that Russian forces do not expect to maintain positions on the spit itself if Ukrainian forces launch a counterattack against the spit; rather, Russian forces very likely expect Ukrainian forces to take the Kinburn Spit but intend to prevent them from advancing to mainland Kherson Oblast and to defend against an amphibious attack on the land immediately surrounding the spit’s connection to mainland Kherson Oblast.[i] The layered lines of defense (as shown in the map) provide Russian forces with multiple fallback positions if one defensive line happens to fall while the rest remain intact. Defenses near the spit suggest that Russian forces are concerned that Ukrainian forces could establish themselves on or near the spit and use that base to launch a drive from the west against their defensive positions that are otherwise generally oriented to defend against counter-offensive operations from the north.
Key inflections in ongoing military operations on November 27:
- The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian officials are preparing for another wave of covert mobilization starting on December 10 in the Russian Federation and in Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine.
- Russian milbloggers widely criticized the Russian Federal Customs Service for customs delays and exclusions of dual-use goods that volunteer movements have been sending to the Russian military.
- The Ukrainian General Staff reported that the Russian forces along the Svatove-Kreminna line are conducting defensive operations around Kupyansk and offensive operations west of Kreminna.
- Russian sources reported that Ukrainian troops continued counteroffensive operations toward Svatove and Kreminna.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations around Avdiivka. The Ukrainian General Staff did not report that Ukrainian forces repelled any ground attacks around Bakhmut on November 27, suggesting that Russian forces may have advanced in the area.
- Russian forces conducted strikes against Dnipro City, Kryvyi Rih, and Zaporizhzhia City.
- Russian occupation officials continued to forcibly transfer Ukrainian children from occupied territories in Luhansk Oblast to Russia under the guise that the children require special medical care.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 26
The overall pace of operations along the frontline has slowed in recent days due to deteriorating weather conditions but is likely to increase starting in the next few weeks as temperatures drop and the ground freezes throughout the theater. Ukrainian and Russian reporting from critical frontline areas throughout eastern and southern Ukraine, including Svatove, Bakhmut, and Vuhledar, indicates that operations on both sides are currently bogged down by heavy rain and resulting heavy mud. Temperatures are forecasted to drop throughout Ukraine over the next week, which will likely freeze the ground and expedite the pace of fighting as mobility increases for both sides. The temperature in areas in Ukraine’s northeast, such as along the Svatove-Kreminna line, will dip to near-or-below-freezing daily highs between November 28 and December 4. It will likely take the ground some days of consistent freezing temperatures to solidify, which means that ground conditions are likely to be set to allow the pace of operations to increase throughout Ukraine over the course of the weekend of December 3-4 and into the following week. It is unclear if either side is actively planning or preparing to resume major offensive or counter-offensive operations at that time, but the meteorological factors that have been hindering such operations will begin lifting.
Russian officials are continuing efforts to deport children to Russian under the guise of medical rehabilitation schemes and adoption programs. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on November 26 that the Russian occupation administration in Luhansk Oblast conducted medical examinations of 15,000 children between the ages of two and 17 and found that 70% of the children (10,500) are in need of “special medical care” that requires them to be removed to Russia for “treatment.” The Resistance Center stated that Russian officials intend these forced deportation schemes to lure children’s families to Russia to collect their children after the children receive treatments, at which point the Resistance Center assessed Russian officials will prevent those families from returning home to Ukraine. The Center‘s report is consistent with ISW’s previous assessment that Russian officials are conducting a deliberate depopulation campaign in occupied Ukrainian territories.
Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova additionally posted an excerpt from a documentary film chronicling the story of the children she adopted from Mariupol. Lvova-Belova has largely been at the forefront of the concerted Russian effort to remove Ukrainian children from Ukrainian territory and adopt them into Russian families, which may constitute a violation of the Geneva Convention as well as a deliberate ethnic cleansing campaign. Lvova-Belova's documentary is likely meant to lend legitimacy to the ongoing adoption of Ukrainian children into Russian families, just as the guise of medical necessity is likely intended to justify mass deportations of Ukrainian children to Russian territory.
Russian officials may be attempting to counterbalance the influence of Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin through the promotion of other parallel military structures. The Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported on November 26 that Russian officials appointed a Viktor Yanukovych-linked, pro-Kremlin businessman, Armen Sarkisyan, as the new administrator for prisons in Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine and that Sarkisyan intends to use the role to create a new “private military company.” The GUR reported that Sarkisyan modeled his effort to create a new private military company on the Wagner Group’s recruitment of prisoners in the Russian Federation and that Russian-Armenian businessman Samvel Karapetyan is sponsoring the effort. Karapetyan is the owner of Tashir Holding company, a longtime subcontractor for Russian stated-owned energy company Gazprom. The GUR reported that Sarkisyan’s attempt to create a new private military structure is an attempt to create a counterweight to Prigozhin’s de facto monopoly in the field of Russian private military companies. It is likely that high-ranking Russian officials have approved Sarkisyan’s efforts as private military companies are illegal in Russia.
Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov reported that he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 25 and claimed that they discussed the participation of Chechen units in the war in Ukraine and the creation of new Russian military and Rosgvardia units comprised of Chechen personnel. ISW has previously reported that Kadyrov routinely promotes his efforts to create Chechen-based parallel military structures. Russian officials may be further promoting Kadyrov’s existing parallel military structures and Sarkisyan’s efforts to create a private military company to counteract the growing influence of Prigozhin, whom ISW has previously assessed uses his own parallel military structures to establish himself as a central figure in the Russian pro-war ultranationalist community.
Russian forces are likely using inert Kh-55 cruise missiles in their massive missile strike campaign against Ukrainian critical infrastructure, further highlighting the depletion of the Russian military’s high precision weapons arsenal. The United Kingdom Ministry of Defense (MoD) reported on November 26 that Russia is likely removing nuclear warheads from ageing Kh-55 missiles and launching the missiles without warheads at targets in Ukraine. The UK MoD suggested that Russian forces are likely launching the inert missiles as decoys to divert Ukrainian air defenses. Ukrainian officials have previously reported that Russian forces have extensively used the non-nuclear variant of the missile system, the Kh-555, to conduct strikes on critical Ukrainian infrastructure since mid-October. The Russian military’s likely use of a more strategic weapon system in the role of a decoy for Ukrainian air defenses corroborates ISW’s previous reporting that the Russian military has significantly depleted its arsenal of high-precision missiles. The use of more strategic weapons systems in support of the campaign against Ukrainian infrastructure suggests that the Russian military is heavily committed to the strike campaign and still mistakenly believes that it can generate strategically significant effects through that campaign.
- The overall pace of operations in Ukraine is likely to increase in the upcoming weeks as the ground freezes throughout the theater.
- Russian officials are continuing efforts to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.
- Russian officials may be trying to counteract Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s growing influence through the promotion of other parallel Russian military structures.
- Russian forces are likely using inert Kh-55 missiles designed solely to carry nuclear warheads in its campaign against Ukrainian infrastructure, highlighting the Russian military’s depletion of high-precision weapons.
- Russian forces continued defensive operations against ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations in the directions of Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
- Russian forces continued establishing fortifications in eastern Kherson Oblast.
- Russian tactical, logistical, and equipment failures continue to decrease morale of Russian troops and drive searches for scapegoats.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 25
Reports of poorly staffed, provisioned, and supplied Russian mobilized personnel are dividing the Russian information space, exposing the tension between milblogger mobilization narratives, Wagner Group narratives, and actual Russian efforts to alleviate morale issues. Mobilized personnel from Serpukhov, Moscow Oblast, claimed on November 23 that the Russian military command sent them into battle without proper training, uniforms, or protective gear, leading them to suffer mass casualties. These personnel also claimed that command only feeds the mobilized personnel once a day despite having enough food to provide more meals.[i] A Russian source reported that the Serpukhov mobilized personnel now face a military tribunal for desertion, but the men later released a second video denying that they are deserters and stating they are willing to serve on the second and third lines of defense rather than the front line.[ii]
Russian milblogger responses split between calling for compassion for the mobilized personnel and punishment only for leadership, and punishment for the entire unit. A Russian milblogger claimed that these Russian personnel abandoned their positions in Makiivka, Luhansk Oblast, and left other members of their unit to be executed when surrendering to Ukrainian forces (an accusation that the Ukrainian government is investigating).[iii] Some Russian milbloggers, including at least one channel affiliated with the Wagner Group, sympathized with the Serpukhov personnel and criticized the Russian training and command issues that led to this situation.[iv] These milbloggers also criticized other Russian milbloggers who, they say, wrongfully condemned the Serpukhov personnel for Russian military command, training, and provisioning issues out of their control. One Russian milblogger even claimed that military personnel do not refuse to fight, but that they do not want to be “cannon fodder.”[v] Alexander “Sasha” Kots, a milblogger whom Russian President Vladimir Putin recently appointed to the Russian Human Rights Council, called for objectivity when viewing the video and said he would raise the issue with Putin in his new position on the Human Rights Council.[vi] However, some milbloggers still criticized Kots for being too soft on the Serpukhov personnel and called for increasingly harsh penalties.[vii] The mixed responses from milbloggers with various Kremlin and external affiliations about ongoing mobilization issues further illustrates the extent of the erosion of Russian morale and the increase in confusion among the pro-war Russian nationalist community resulting from poorly-executed mobilization and other force generation efforts.
Russian President Vladimir Putin falsely presented a meeting with 18 hand-picked women holding influential positions in the Russian political sphere as an open discussion with the mothers of mobilized personnel on November 25, two days before Russian Mother’s Day.[viii] Russian media publicized the meeting in an apparent attempt to assuage discontent from relatives of the mobilized and appeals from genuine mothers’ and wives’ groups.[ix] Putin used the meeting to pledge to improve conditions for the mobilized, to call on Russians to distrust unfavorable media reports surrounding mobilization, and to display solidarity with the families of Russian soldiers.[x] Meanwhile, the calls of relatives of Russian soldiers have reportedly not received a response. A Russian news channel posted a video on November 24 in which a Russian woman claims that authorities will not meet with her even though she has been looking for her soldier son who disappeared in March.[xi] The Council of Mothers and Wives posted that unidentified individuals began to surveil their members following their November 21 announcement of a roundtable discussion to consider the problems facing conscripts.[xii] YouTube channel Moms of Russia posted a video appeal to Putin in which several mothers asked Putin to prevent the mobilization of their only child.[xiii] ISW saw no evidence of a response to the video from Putin. The Council of Mothers and Wives reportedly also expressed the belief that the invitation to Putin’s meeting of mothers only applied to specially selected individuals.[xiv]
- Reports of a group of understaffed and ill-supplied mobilized personnel are dividing the Russian information space.
- President Vladimir Putin falsely presented a meeting with hand-picked women as an open discussion with mothers of mobilized personnel.
- An investigation by Forbes’ Ukrainian service revealed that the war in Ukraine has had a serious financial impact on the Russian Federation’s annual budget.
- The Russian MoD may have increased the frequency of POW exchanges to soothe discontent in the Russian information space.
- A Ukrainian official confirmed that Ukrainian forces killed Iranian military advisors in Russian-occupied Crimea and threatened to target Iranian military presence on Ukrainian territory.
- Russian military leadership may be circulating a document stating that Russia needs to mobilize five million personnel to win the war in Ukraine, which Russia cannot do.
- Russian forces conducted limited counterattacks to regain lost positions northwest of Svatove and Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations toward Kreminna.
- Russian forces continued to conduct offensive operations in the Bakhmut and Avdiivka areas, and influential Russian figures may be setting informational conditions to deflect blame for a lack of progress in the Bakhmut area.
- Russian forces continued to establish defenses south of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast and around critical ground lines of communication (GLOCs) connecting Crimea to southern Kherson Oblast.
- Russian sources and officials continue attempts to shape the narrative around a likely second partial mobilization while denying the potential for general mobilization.
- Russian officials are continuing efforts to stimulate demographic change in occupied areas of Ukraine by deporting Ukrainian residents and replacing them with imported Russian citizens.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 23
The Russian military conducted another set of massive, coordinated missile strikes on Ukrainian critical infrastructure in a misguided attempt to degrade the Ukrainian will to fight. Ukrainian Air Force Command reported on November 23 that Russian forces launched 70 cruise missiles and five drones at Ukrainian critical infrastructure targets. Ukrainian Air Force Command reported that Ukrainian air defenses shot down 51 of the Russian cruise missiles and all five drones. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces struck residential buildings, thermal power plants, and substations in the city of Kyiv as well as in Kyiv, Vinnytsia, Lviv, and Zaporizhia oblasts. Ukrainian, Russian, and social media sources claimed that Russian forces also struck targets in Ivano-Frankivsk, Odesa, Mykolaiv, Kherson, Cherkasy, Dnipropetrovsk, Sumy, Poltava, Kirovohrad, and Kharkiv oblasts. Ukrainian officials reported widespread disruptions to energy, heating, and water supplies as a result of the Russian strikes. ISW has previously assessed that the Russian military is still able to attack Ukrainian critical infrastructure at scale in the near term despite continuing to deplete its arsenal of high-precision weapons systems. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar stated that the Russian military mistakenly believes that the destruction of energy infrastructure will direct Ukrainian efforts to protect rear areas and divert Ukrainian attention away from the front in eastern and southern Ukraine. Malyar stated that Russia’s campaign against critical infrastructure will not weaken the motivation of Ukraine’s civilian population, and the Ukrainian Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov asserted that Russian missile and drone strikes will not coerce Ukraine into negotiations.
Prominent Russian politicians continue to promote openly genocidal rhetoric against Ukraine. Moscow City Duma Deputy and pro-Kremlin journalist Andrey Medvedev posted a long rant to his Telegram channel on November 23 wherein he categorically denied the existence of the Ukrainian nation, relegating Ukrainian identity to a “political orientation.” Medvedev called Ukraine a pagan cult of death that worships prisoner executions and called for the total “liquidation of Ukrainian statehood in its current form.” This rhetoric is openly exterminatory and dehumanizing and calls for the conduct of a genocidal war against the Ukrainian state and its people, which notably has pervaded discourse in the highest levels of the Russian political mainstream. As ISW has previously reported, Russian President Vladimir Putin has similarly employed such genocidal language in a way that is fundamentally incompatible with calls for negotiations.
The Kremlin has not backed down from its maximalist goals of regaining control of Ukraine but is rather partially obfuscating Russia’s aims to mislead Western countries into pressuring Ukraine to sue for peace. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated on November 21 that changing the current government in Ukraine is not a goal of the Russian “special military operation” in Ukraine, observing that Russian President Vladimir Putin “has already spoken about this.” Putin had said on October 26 that Ukraine has “lost its sovereignty” and come fully under NATO’s control. Putin’s speech at the Valdai Discussion Club on October 27 again rejected Ukraine’s sovereignty, noting that Russia “created” Ukraine and that the “single real guarantee of Ukrainian sovereignty” can only be Russia. Putin has also consistently upheld his talking point that Ukraine is a Nazi state that must be “denazified.” Putin’s demands amount to a requirement for regime change in Kyiv even if he does not explicitly call for it in these recent statements. The fact that Peskov refers back to these comments by Putin makes reading any serious walking-back of Russian aims into Peskov’s comments highly dubious.
The Kremlin’s obfuscation of its aims likely intended for a Western audience is nevertheless confusing Russian war supporters. Peskov’s statement likely aimed to mitigate the effects of Vice-Speaker of the Russian Federation Council Konstantin Kosachev’s pro-war rant declaring that Russia can only normalize relations with Ukraine following the capitulation of the Ukrainian government. The two contrasting statements confused the pro-war community. A Wagner Group-affiliated milblogger sarcastically observed that Russia is aimlessly fighting a war without a clear goal in response to Peskov’s statement. ISW has reported on similar reactions to the Kremlin’s decision to exchange Ukrainian prisoners of war from Mariupol, whom Kremlin officials and propagandists vilified as “Nazis” and ”war criminals.”
The Kremlin’s hesitance to publicly commit fully to an extreme nationalist ideology and to the war is also bewildering propagandists who preach such ideology to the Russian masses. Russian political and military “experts” on a Russian state TV show pushed back against Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov’s claim that Kherson Oblast is fully Russian, which would justify the use of nuclear weapons. The “experts” said that the use of nuclear weapons to defend territory that is not fully occupied is irrational and even said that NATO poses no threat to Russia. Russian propagandists have been making outlandish nuclear threats and accusing NATO of planning to attack Russia throughout Putin’s regime and especially before and during the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine; such dismissal of common Kremlin talking points in such a forum is unprecedented. ISW has also previously reported that Russian extreme nationalist ideologist Alexander Dugin accused Putin of not fully committing to the pro-war ideology. Putin has generally sought to balance extreme nationalist talking points to gather support from the nationalist-leaning community and a more moderate narrative to maintain the support of the rest of the Russian population. Russian military failures and the increasing sacrifices Putin is demanding of the Russian people to continue his disastrous invasion are bringing his deliberate obfuscation of war aims and attempts to balance rhetorically into sharp relief, potentially fueling discontent within critical constituencies.
- The Russian military conducted another set of massive, coordinated missile strikes on Ukrainian critical infrastructure.
- Russian politicians continue to promote openly genocidal rhetoric against Ukraine.
- The Kremlin continues to pursue its maximalist goals and is likely issuing vague statements about its intent to mislead Western Countries into pressuring Ukraine into negotiations.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in the directions of Kreminna and Svatove.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
- Russian forces continued defensive operations on the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast.
- The Kremlin is continuing crypto-mobilization efforts at the expense of other Russian security services.
- Russian forces and occupation officials continued to forcibly relocate residents and confiscate their property.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 22
The Kremlin appears to be setting information conditions for a false-flag attack in Belgorod Oblast, Russia, likely in an effort to regain public support for the war in Ukraine. Kremlin propagandists have begun hypothesizing that Ukrainian forces seek to invade Belgorod Oblast, and other Russian sources noted that Russian forces need to regain control over Kupyansk, Kharkiv Oblast, to minimize the threat of a Ukrainian attack. These claims have long circulated within the milblogger community, which had criticized the Russian military command for abandoning buffer positions in Vovchansk in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast following the Russian withdrawal from the region in September. Russian milbloggers have also intensified their calls for Russia to regain liberated territories in Kharkiv Oblast on November 22, stating that such preemptive measures will stop Ukrainians from carrying out assault operations in the Kupyansk and Vovchansk directions. Belgorod Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov also published footage showcasing the construction of the Zasechnaya Line fortifications on the Ukraine-Belgorod Oblast border. Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin clarified that Wagner is building the Zasechnaya Line after having changed its name from Wagner Line because “many people in [Russia] do not like the activity of private military company Wagner.” Private military companies are illegal in Russia.
Russian claims of an imminent Ukrainian attack on Belgorod Oblast are absurd and only aim to scare the general public to support the war. Ukraine has no strategic interest in invading Russia and no ability to do so at such a scale. Ukrainian forces are continuing to liberate occupied settlements in western Luhansk Oblast following their victory in northern Kharkiv Oblast. Support for Russia’s nonsensical invasion is declining among Russian residents of border regions and the rest of the country as a result of mobilization and military failures. Russian opposition outlets reported that relatives of mobilized men have ignited protests in 15 Russian regions since the end of October, with the most notable ones taking place in regions bordering Ukraine. A Russian opposition outlet, Meduza, citing two unnamed sources close to the Kremlin, reported that the Russian Presidential Administration carried out an internal survey in different regions where many expressed apathy toward the war. While ISW cannot independently verify Meduza’s report, emerging calls for demobilization among relatives of mobilized men suggest that Russian propaganda is ineffective in countering the real-life consequences of the war on the society.
These ridiculous speculations about a fantastical Ukrainian invasion of Russia may also be part of the Kremlin’s effort to acknowledge and appease the Russian pro-war nationalist community. Russian milbloggers have repeatedly accused the Kremlin and the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) of failing to defend Russia, including the newly annexed territories. The Kremlin, however, will unlikely be able to reinvade Kharkiv Oblast as demanded by these nationalist figures.
Prigozhin is also using fearmongering about a fictitious Ukrainian invasion threat and the construction of the Zasechnaya Line to solidify his power in Russian border regions and Russia. Belgorod Oblast officials previously halted the construction of the Wagner Line, and the line’s rebranding alongside other Prigozhin projects in St. Petersburg and Kursk Oblast signifies that he will continue to establish himself in Russia while ostensibly supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war.
The Russian military has significantly depleted its arsenal of high-precision missiles but will likely still be able to attack Ukrainian critical infrastructure at scale in the near term. Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov released figures on November 22 detailing that the Russian military has only 119 Iskanders missiles, 13 percent of its initial February 2022 arsenal. Reznikov’s figures also show that Russian forces have significantly depleted other key high-precision weapons systems with only 229 Kalibr missiles (45 percent of the initial February 2022 stock), 150 Kh-155 missiles (50 percent of the initial February 2022 stock), and 120 Kh-22/32 missiles (32 percent of the initial February 2022 stock) remaining. Reznikov’s figures show that Russian forces have substantially depleted stocks of 3M-55 “Onyx”, S-300, Kh-101, Kh-35, and Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missiles as well.
Ukrenergo head Volodymyr Kudrytsky stated on November 22 that Russian forces have damaged almost all thermal power plants, large hydropower plants, and Ukrenergo hub substations in Ukraine. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal stated on November 18 that more than half of the Ukrainian power grid has failed as a result of Russian missile strikes. DTEK CEO Maxim Tymchenko urged Ukrainians to leave the country, if possible, on November 19 to ease demand on the Ukrainian power grid, and YASNO CEO Serhiy Kovalenko stated on November 21 that regular power outages will likely last at least until the end of March 2023. Russian forces will likely be able to continue to reduce the overall capacity of Ukrainian critical infrastructure in the near term given the current state of the Ukrainian power grid. The depletion of the Russian military’s high-precision missile arsenal will likely prevent it from conducting missile strikes at a high pace, however. ISW continues to assess that the Russian military will fail to achieve its goal of degrading the Ukrainian will to fight through its coordinated campaign against Ukrainian infrastructure.
The Russian military is likely experiencing problems in replenishing its arsenal of high-precision weapons systems. Ukrainian Air Force Command spokesperson Yuriy Ignat stated on November 21 that Russia is experiencing problems with the supply of Iranian missiles to the Russian Federation. Ignat speculated that diplomatic resources, negotiations, or other countries’ influence may have impacted Iran’s ability or willingness to supply Russia with ballistic missiles. ISW has previously assessed that Russia is increasingly dependent on Iran for the provision of high-precision weapons systems. Ignat also reported that Russia lacks the necessary components produced abroad to support the manufacturing of the number of missiles it needs for its campaign against Ukrainian infrastructure. Reznikov stated that Russia manufactured 120 Kalibr and Kh-101 missiles and 360 Kh-35 missiles since February 2022, allowing the Russian military to partially offset the heavy use of these weapons systems in massive strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure. Russia likely significantly strained the existing capacity of its military industry in producing these missiles.
Belarusian Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko has traveled to Iran to discuss economic cooperation and possibly security ties. Golovchenko met with Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber and will likely meet Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and other officials in the coming days. Golovchenko’s visit to Tehran follows the Ukrainian Main Directorate of Intelligence reporting on November 17 that Iran may help Belarus produce artillery shells.
Russian military movements suggest that Russian forces are likely reinforcing positions in eastern Zaporizhia and western Donetsk oblasts. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on November 22 that Chechen and Wagner Group formations deployed to Debaltseve, Donetsk Oblast, and that Russian forces are regrouping individual units in the area of Molchansk, Zaporizhia Oblast (just northeast of Melitopol). Social media sources posted images on November 21 showing Russian trucks and vehicles in Melitopol moving from the south to the north throughout November. Geolocated images show Russian military vehicles moving through Bezimenne and Mariupol in Donetsk Oblast carrying a notable amount of military equipment. ISW has previously assessed that Russian forces have begun reinforcing positions in eastern Zaporizhia Oblast with personnel from Kherson Oblast and mobilized personnel. Russian forces may be reinforcing positions in eastern Zaporizhia and western Donetsk oblasts to prepare for perceived threats of future Ukrainian operations or to support the effort to restart the Donetsk offensive.
- The Kremlin may be setting information conditions for a false-flag attack in Belgorod Oblast.
- The Russian military has significantly depleted its arsenal of high-precision missiles but will likely still threaten Ukrainian infrastructure.
- The Russian military is likely struggling to replenish its arsenal of high-precision weapons systems.
- The Belarusian prime minister traveled to Iran to discuss economic cooperation and possible security ties.
- Russian military movements suggest that Russian forces are likely reinforcing positions in eastern Zaporizhia and western Donetsk oblasts.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
- Crimean occupation officials demonstrated heightened unease—likely over Ukrainian strikes on Russian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) in the peninsula and ongoing military operations on the Kinburn Spit.
- The Kremlin continues to deflect concerns about mobilization onto the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD).
- Russian sources continue to tout the forced adoption of Ukrainian children into Russian families.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 21
November 21, 2022 | 7:45pm ET
Two days of shelling caused widespread damage to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) on November 20 and 21. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated on November 21 that there are no immediate nuclear safety and security concerns and that the integrity of all six nuclear reactors and the spent and fresh fuel storage facilities remain uncompromised despite the intense shelling. Russia and Ukraine both accused the other of conducting the artillery strikes on the ZNPP on November 20 and 21. One Russian milblogger referenced a video of the shelling taken by Chechen forces and stated that it appeared the shelling came from positions in Russian-controlled territory south of the ZNPP, not Ukrainian-controlled territory north of the ZNPP. Russian nuclear operator Rosatom Head Alexey Likhachev warned of a nuclear disaster at the ZNPP, and Russian milbloggers largely amplified his statements and called for the transfer of all Ukrainian nuclear power plants to Russian operation. ISW has previously assessed that Russian forces have staged false flag attacks against the ZNPP and previously reported on Russian forces’ unlawful militarization of the ZNPP. Artillery strikes themselves are unlikely to penetrate the containment units protecting each nuclear reactor and instead pose a greater threat to the spent nuclear fuel storage facilities, which could leak radioactive material and cause a radiological (as opposed to nuclear) disaster if compromised. The continued conflation of radiological and nuclear accidents and the constant discussion of the threat of disaster at the ZNPP is likely part of a wider Russian information operation meant to undermine Western support for Ukraine and frame Russian control of the plant as essential to avoid nuclear catastrophe in order to consolidate further operational and administrative control of Ukrainian nuclear assets and compel elements of the international community to recognize Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory at least obliquely.
- Two days of shelling caused widespread damage to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
- The Russian government is continuing to escalate control over the Russian information space.
- Ukrainian intelligence reported that Russian special services are planning false flag attacks on Belarusian critical infrastructure in an attempt that would likely fail to pressure the Belarusian military to enter the war in Ukraine. ISW continues to assess that it is unlikely Belarusian forces will enter the war.
- A Ukrainian official acknowledged that Ukrainian forces are conducting a military operation on the Kinburn Spit, Mykolaiv Oblast.
- The November 18 video of a Russian soldier opening fire on a group of Ukrainian servicemen while Russian troops were surrendering has served as a catalyst for further division between the Kremlin and prominent voices in the Russian information space.
- Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in eastern Ukraine amid worsening weather conditions.
- Russian forces continued ground assaults near Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
- Russian forces continued conducting defensive measures and establishing fortifications in Kherson Oblast south of the Dnipro River as Ukrainian forces continued striking Russian force accumulations in southern Ukraine.
- Russian mobilized personnel continue to protest and desert as their relatives continue to publicly advocate against mobilization issues.
- Russian occupation authorities intensified filtration measures and the incorporation of occupied territory into Russia.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 20
November 20, 2022 | 9:15pm ET
ISW is publishing an abbreviated campaign update today, November 20.
This report discusses the rising influence of the milblogger (military correspondent or voenkor) community in Russia despite its increasingly critical commentary on the conduct of the war. The milblogger community reportedly consists of over 500 independent authors and has emerged as an authoritative voice on the Russian war. The community maintains a heavily pro-war and Russian nationalist outlook and is intertwined with prominent Russian nationalist ideologists. Milbloggers’ close relationships with armed forces – whether Russian Armed Forces, Chechen special units, Wagner Group mercenaries, or proxy formations – have given this community an authoritative voice arguably louder in the Russian information space than the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD). Russian President Vladimir Putin has defended the milbloggers from MoD attacks and protected their independence even as he increases oppression and censorship throughout Russia.
Key inflections in ongoing military operations on November 20:
- The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported on November 20 that Russian special services are planning false flag attacks on Belarusian critical infrastructure facilities to pressure the Belarusian military to enter the war in Ukraine. The Ukrainian General Staff added that Ukrainian officials have not observed the formation of any Belarusian assault groups. ISW continues to assess that it is unlikely that Belarusian forces will invade Ukraine.
- Russian and Ukrainian sources reported ongoing fighting along the Svatove-Kreminna line on November 20. Russian sources noted that deteriorating weather conditions are impacting hostilities.
- A Ukrainian military official stated that Ukrainian forces have liberated 12 settlements in Luhansk Oblast since the start of the eastern counteroffensive.
- The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed to strike a Ukrainian troop concentration in the area of Novoselivske, Luhansk Oblast. The Russian MoD previously claimed to repel Ukrainian attacks on the settlement, and this claim might indicate that Ukrainian forces advanced to the settlement.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations in the Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and western Donetsk directions.
- Ukrainian officials reported that Russian forces continued to transfer some forces from the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River to other operational directions, but still maintain a significant force presence in southern Kherson Oblast.
- Ukrainian and Russian sources reported that shelling damaged the infrastructure of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP). One Russian milblogger claimed that the shelling came from Russian-controlled territory south of the plant, but most Russian sources accused Ukraine.
- Russian occupation officials may have purged occupation Mayor of Enerhodar Alexander Volga. Some Russian sources claimed that Volga received a promotion within the occupation administration.
- Russian military officials continued mobilization measures amid reports of ongoing resistance and poor conditions.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 19
November 19, 2022 | 6:30pm ET
Russian forces are reportedly beginning to reinforce their positions in occupied Luhansk, Donetsk, and eastern Zaporizhia oblasts with personnel from Kherson Oblast and mobilized servicemen. The Ukrainian General Staff reported an increase in Russian military personnel in Luhansk City and noted that Russian forces are housing servicemen in abandoned homes in Krasne and Simeikyne about 30km southeast of Luhansk City.[i] Luhansk Oblast Administration Head Serhiy Haidai stated that Russian forces are transferring the remnants of the Russian airborne units from right (west) bank Kherson Oblast to Luhansk Oblast.[ii] Luhansk Oblast Military Administration added that a part of redeploying Russian troops is arriving in Novoaidar, approximately 55km east of Severodonetsk.[iii] Advisor to Mariupol Mayor Petro Andryushenko also noted the arrival of redeployed personnel and military equipment to Mariupol, stating that Russian forces are placing 10,000 to 15,000 servicemen in the Mariupol Raion.[iv] Andryushenko stated that newly mobilized men are deploying to the presumably western Donetsk Oblast frontline via Mariupol. Russian forces are reportedly attempting to disperse forces by deploying some elements in the Hulyaipole direction in eastern Zaporizhia Oblast.[v] Russia will also likely commit additional mobilized forces in the coming weeks, given that mobilized units of the Russian 2nd Motorized Rifle Division of the 1st Tank Army have finished their training in Brest Oblast, Belarus.[vi] Russian forces will likely continue to use mobilized and redeployed servicemen to reignite offensive operations in Donetsk Oblast and maintain defensive positions in Luhansk Oblast.
US intelligence officials stated on November 19 that Russian and Iranian officials finalized a deal in early November to manufacture Iranian drones on Russian territory.[vii] The US officials stated that the deal could allow Russia to “dramatically increase its stockpile” of Iranian drones. The Washington Post reported that Russian forces have launched 400 Iranian kamikaze drones since first using them in the Ukrainian theater in August, and Ukrainian officials have previously stated that Ukrainian forces down 70% of drones before they can strike their targets.[viii] The US officials stated that it is unclear what assistance Russia will provide to Iran in return for the drones.[ix] The deepening relationship between Russia and Iran, specifically in the provision of long-range munitions such as kamikaze drones and precision missiles, may allow Russian forces to sustain their campaign against Ukrainian energy infrastructure for a longer period than their diminishing stockpile of munitions would otherwise allow. This report also suggests that Russia can somehow circumvent Western sanctions to acquire the microchips needed to program the drones it plans on manufacturing. A Russian milblogger claimed that the deal allows Russian officials to claim they build Russian drones—thus providing an informational win—having previously stated that the domestic manufacturing of Iranian drones on Russian territory humiliates Russia.[x]
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 18
November 18, 2022 | 8:30pm ET
Russian officials are preparing for further covert mobilization efforts even as the fall conscription cycle is underway, likely further flooding the already overburdened Russian force generation apparatus in such a way that will be detrimental to the development of mobilized and conscripted servicemen. Russian Telegram channels actively discussed indicators on November 18 that the Kremlin is preparing for a second mobilization wave and circulated an image of a draft summons received by a citizen of St. Petersburg who was reportedly told to appear for mobilization in January 2023 despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of the formal end of partial mobilization on October 31. Nationalist milbloggers additionally circulated claims that general mobilization will begin in December or January. An independent Russian outlet published an investigation on November 18 showing that state structures and enterprises are continuing to prepare their employees for mobilization by sending them to various training programs and mobilization-related educational courses. Another Russian outlet noted that the Odintsovo garrison military court in Moscow Oblast inadvertently confirmed that mobilization is continuing despite its formal end. The court reportedly accused a mobilized soldier of beating his commander on November 13 “during the performance of his duties of military service or in connection with the performance of these duties during the period of mobilization,” which indicates that the court is operating on the legal basis that mobilization is still very much underway. The Kremlin has said that Russian President Vladimir Putin has no need to sign a decree formally ending the mobilization period, as ISW has previously reported.
The continuation of covert mobilization efforts and potential preparations for another mobilization wave in tandem with the current fall conscription cycle are likely adding substantial strain to an already over-burdened Russian force generation apparatus. As ISW previously assessed, Putin likely ordered the end of partial mobilization in order to free up bureaucratic and administrative capacity for the November 1 conscription class. However, it is evident that Russian authorities never fully halted mobilization efforts, which means that a limited number of mobilized recruits are still being forced through the training system at the same time as conscripts are going through their own training cycle. This will likely lead to even lower quality training for both mobilized recruits and conscripts as they compete for insufficient training capacity. Another wave of mobilization in the coming months will only worsen the situation and likely degrade the overall quality of the Russian troops that will be funneled to the frontline in Ukraine.
- Russian officials are preparing for further covert mobilization efforts even as the fall conscription cycle is underway, likely further diminishing the development of quality mobilized and conscripted servicemen.
- The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that it does not recognize the illegal Russian seizure of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) or the illegal annexation of other occupied Ukrainian territory, a sharp escalation in IAEA rhetoric.
- Social media footage circulated on November 18 shows a Russian soldier opening fire on Ukrainians as other Russian soldiers were surrendering.
- Russian forces reinforced rear areas in Luhansk Oblast and attempted to regain lost positions as Ukrainian troops continued counteroffensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces continued limited ground assaults near Bakhmut and Avdiivka and in western Donetsk Oblast.
- Russian occupation officials and military leadership are seemingly increasingly concerned about subsequent Ukrainian counteroffensive operations in southern Ukraine.
- Russia continues to face exceedingly low morale and poor discipline among its forces against the backdrop of ongoing domestic backlash to partial mobilization.
- Russian occupation officials and forces continued to intensify filtration measures in Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine and to undermine the Ukrainian national identity.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 17
Russian forces conducted another massive wave of missile strikes across Ukraine on November 17. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian troops launched five airstrikes and 25 cruise missile strikes at civilian infrastructure objects in Dnipropetrovsk, Odesa, Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, Dnipropetrovsk, and Mykolaiv oblasts throughout the day. Ukrainian Air Force Command noted that Ukrainian air defense forces destroyed four cruise missiles, five Shahed-136 drones, and two Kh-59 guided missiles. Russian forces conducted the largest missile attack since the start of the war on November 15, and as ISW has previously assessed, such missile campaigns are consuming Russia’s already depleted store of precision munitions.
Russian forces in eastern Kherson Oblast are likely partially vulnerable to a Ukrainian interdiction campaign such as the one Ukrainian forces successfully exploited to retake western Kherson Oblast. Several major ground lines of communication (GLOCs) run through eastern Kherson Oblast into other Russian-controlled areas in southern Ukraine: the southern T2202 Nova Kahkovka-Armiansk route, the southeastern P47 Kakovkha-Henichesk route, and the M14 highway that runs eastward into Melitopol, Berdyansk, and Mariupol. Geolocated satellite imagery indicates that Russian troops are establishing defensive positions along some of these critical GLOCs, and social media reporting indicates that Ukrainian strikes have already begun targeting Russian concentration areas and military assets on these routes. The limited number of high-quality roads and railways in this area, particularly connecting Crimea to the mainland, creates potential bottlenecks that could be vulnerable to Ukrainian interdiction efforts that would gradually degrade the Russian ability to continue supplying its grouping in eastern Kherson Oblast and other areas of southern Ukraine. ISW previously reported the targeting of similar bottlenecks along key GLOCS--not just the bridges across the Dnipro River--during Ukraine’s Kherson counteroffensive in late August to mid-October culminated in the Russian withdrawal from the west bank of Kherson Oblast to positions further south of the Dnipro River. Ukrainian forces will likely find it harder to achieve such dramatic effects in eastern Kherson but may be able to disrupt Russian efforts to solidify and hold their new defensive lines.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree changing the composition of the Russian Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights (HRC) on November 17. The decree notably expels four Russian human rights activists, including Ekaterina Vinokurova, who wrote a piece criticizing the rise of “patriotic” Telegram channels and nationalist milbloggers who have cornered the information space against opposition outlets who deviate from the predominant Kremlin line of the war in Ukraine. Russian media previously reported that Vinokurova and other members of the HRC appealed to the Russian Investigative Committee to look into the widely circulated video of the execution of a former Wagner Group fighter who reportedly defected to Ukraine. Putin’s new appointees to the HRC include a slate of Russian political and proxy members and notably Sasha Kots, a prominent milblogger and war correspondent who has been heavily involved in covering Russian operations in Ukraine. Kots most recently called for Russia to maintain massive missile strikes against critical Ukrainian infrastructure on November 17. This decree likely represents the Kremlin’s wider effort to stifle domestic civil opposition by continuing to platform prominent voices in the information space that propagate the Kremlin’s line on the war in Ukraine.
- Russian forces conducted another massive wave of missile strikes across Ukraine on November 17
- Russian forces in eastern Kherson Oblast are likely partially vulnerable to a Ukrainian interdiction campaign such as the one Ukrainian forces successfully exploited to retake western Kherson Oblast.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree changing the composition of the Russian Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights (HRC) on November 17.
- Russian sources continued to claim that Ukrainian troops are conducting counteroffensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks around Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and southwest of Donetsk City.
- Ukrainian troops continued targeting Russian military assets and concentration areas on the east bank of Kherson Oblast and in the rear areas of Zaporizhia Oblast on November 17.
- Russian authorities continue to face discontented mobilized personnel and low morale on the front lines.
- Russian occupation officials continued to destroy Ukrainian culture in Russian-occupied territories.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 16
November 16, 2022 | 6:45 pm ET
Russian sources and proxy officials are flagrantly touting the forced adoption of Ukrainian children into Russian families. Prominent Russian milbloggers began circulating a multi-part documentary series on November 9 featuring several Ukrainian children from Donbas after being adopted into Russian families.[i] The documentary series claims that Russian officials have evacuated over 150,000 children from Donbas in 2022 alone.[ii] It is unclear exactly how Russian sources are calculating this figure, and Ukrainian officials previously estimated this number to be 6,000 to 8,000.[iii] Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov additionally stated he is working with Russian Federation Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova to bring “difficult teenagers” from various Russian regions and occupied Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts to Chechnya to engage in “preventative work” and “military-patriotic education.”[iv] Lvova-Belova has continually advocated for deportations and adoptions of Ukrainian children and herself adopted a child from Mariupol.[v] Forced adoption programs and the deportation of children under the guise of vacation and rehabilitation schemes likely form the backbone of a massive Russian depopulation campaign that may amount to a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and constitute a wider ethnic cleansing effort, as ISW has previously reported.[vi]
Ukrainian sources continued to clarify the damage caused by the massive November 15 Russian missile strike across Ukraine. The Ukrainian General Staff stated on November 16 that Russian forces launched over 90 Kh-101 and Kalibr cruise missiles and 11 drones over the course of November 15 and targeted critical infrastructure in a number of oblasts.[vii] Ukrainian Air Force Command reported that Ukrainian air defense and ground forces shot down 75 missiles and 10 Shahed-136 drones.[viii] US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin noted on November 16 that the US-provided National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) had a 100% success rate in intercepting Russian missiles.[ix] As ISW previously reported, Russian forces likely used a substantial portion of their high-precision weapon systems in the November 15 attack.[x]
The Russian information space largely followed the official Kremlin framing of the missile strike on Polish territory as a Western provocation. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) stated on November 16 that Ukrainian and other foreign officials' statements about Russian missiles in connection with the strike on Polish territory constitute a “deliberate provocation with the aim of escalating the situation.”[xi] Russian Deputy Chairman of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev accused the West of moving closer to world war by waging a hybrid attack against Russia following the strike on Polish territory.[xii] Russian milbloggers widely accused Western and Ukrainian officials of trying to falsely blame Russia for the strike in order to justify increased support to Ukraine and further escalation in Eastern Europe.[xiii] Some Russian sources also asserted that Ukrainian and Western officials were trying to use the incident to either pressure Russia to end its coordinated missile campaign against Ukrainian critical infrastructure or to justify sending “better” air defenses to Ukraine.[xiv] The Russian milbloggers’ support of the Kremlin framing of the strike as a Western provocation is to be expected of a Russian information space that widely views the conflict in Ukraine as a Western operation aimed at degrading Russia as a regional and global power.
- Russian sources and proxy officials are flagrantly touting the forced adoption of Ukrainian children into Russian families.
- Ukrainian sources continued to clarify the damage caused by the massive November 15 Russian missile strike across Ukraine.
- The Russian information space largely followed the official Kremlin framing of the missile strike on Polish territory as a Western provocation.
- Wagner Group financer Yevgeny Prigozhin is continuing to establish himself as a central figure in the pro-war ultranationalist community likely in pursuit of ambitious political goals.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in the directions of Svatove and Kreminna.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks near Bakhmut and Avdiivka, and in western Donetsk Oblast.
- Ukrainian forces continued targeting Russian forces and logistics nodes in southern Ukraine.
- Multiple reports indicate that the morale and psychological state of Russian forces in the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts are exceedingly low.
- Russian officials continued their efforts to replace proxy officials in occupied territories with Russian officials, forcibly relocate residents, and integrate occupied areas with Russia.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 15
November 15, 2022 | 10:30 pm ET
Russian forces conducted the largest set of missile strikes against Ukrainian critical infrastructure since the start of the war. Ukrainian Air Force Command spokesperson Yuriy Ignat reported on November 15 that Russian forces launched about 100 Kh-101 and Kh-555 cruise missiles at targets in Ukraine, primarily against Ukrainian critical infrastructure facilities. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian forces targeted Ukrainian infrastructure with ten drones. Ukrainian and Russian sources reported that Russian forces struck targets in Kyiv as well as in Rivne, Zhytomyr, Lviv, Khmelnytskyi, Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava, Vinnytsia, Odesa, Kirovohrad, Cherkasy, Volyn, and Kharkiv oblasts.
The Russian military likely used a substantial portion of its remaining high-precision weapon systems in the coordinated missile strikes on November 15. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian air defenses shot down 73 Russian cruise missiles and all drones on November 15. Ukrainian air defenses had previously shot down 43 cruise missiles out of 84 and 13 drones out of 24 during the October 10 coordinated Russian missile strikes. Ukraine‘s increased shoot-down percentage illustrates the improvement in Ukrainian air defenses in the last month, and the Ukrainian General Staff attributed this improvement to the effectiveness of Western-provided air defense systems. ISW also assesses that Russian forces are greatly depleting their stock of high-precision weapons systems and will likely have to slow the pace of their campaign against critical Ukrainian infrastructure. Russian missile strikes continue to pose a threat to the Ukrainian civilian population with Ukrainian Deputy Head of the Presidential Office Kyrylo Tymoshenko stating that the energy situation is rather “critical” in Ukraine. Damage to Ukraine’s energy infrastructure is unlikely to break Ukrainians’ spirit, however, given Ukraine’s improving air defenses and recent ground victories in Kherson Oblast.
Polish officials announced that a likely “Russian-made missile” landed in Poland within six kilometers of the international border with Ukraine. Western officials have yet to make definitive statements regarding the incident. The Polish Foreign Ministry stated on November 15 that a “Russian-made missile” killed two Polish citizens in the border village of Przewodow. Polish President Andrzej Duda noted that Poland does not currently have information regarding the actor responsible for firing the missile but noted that the missile was “most probably Russian-made.” The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) denied Russia’s involvement in striking any targets near the Ukraine-Polish border and claimed that the incident is a “provocation.” Russian forces, however, did target energy infrastructure in Lviv City, about 72km south of Przewodow. US President Joe Biden stated that according to preliminary information it is unlikely that the missile was fired from territorial Russia but emphasized that the investigation is still ongoing as of the time of this publication. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of staging a “serious provocation” on NATO territory. ISW will continue to monitor the situation.
The Kremlin had prepared today’s massive missile campaign before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy presented his 10-point peace proposal at the G20 summit on November 15. Zelensky reiterated that Ukraine will negotiate with Russia if the Kremlin totally withdraws its forces from Ukraine, restores Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and ensures punishment for war crimes among other provisions on nuclear, energy, and food security. The Kremlin likely deliberately planned a massive missile strike campaign on Ukraine in anticipation of Zelensky’s speech at the G20 summit given that a multi-direction missile campaign requires significant military preparation. The Russian pro-war community on Telegram claimed that the Kremlin retaliated for Zelensky’s “Russophobic” statements shortly after his speech, but the impossibility of launching such a massive attack on short notice highlights the Kremlin’s disinterest in setting the stage for negotiations with Ukraine.
The Kremlin’s official narrative surrounding the G20 summit further confirms Russia’s disinterest in the prospect of peace negotiations with Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin did not appear at the summit and instead signed numerous decrees granting honorary titles to Russian-occupied Ukrainian cities. Putin’s Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia will continue its “special military operation” in Ukraine, accusing Zelensky of unwillingness to negotiate with Russia. Lavrov called Ukraine’s conditions “unrealistic and inadequate,” which has been the Kremlin’s recurrent position throughout the war. Peskov also made a point to emphasize that Russia will still treat liberated Kherson City as the capital of Russian-occupied Kherson Oblast, and Secretary of Russia’s Security Council Nikolai Patrushev repeated the original false narratives used to justify the invasion that Russia needs to defend Donbas and that Ukrainian “Nazis” failed to comply with the Minsk agreements.
Russian military commanders reportedly ignored existing plans for offensive operations in the Vuhledar direction and committed poorly trained reinforcements to costly assaults on Pavlivka out of impatience. Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) military commander Aleksandr Khodakovsky claimed on November 15 that Russian forces initially planned to attack in the Vuhledar area from two directions but that he and other commanders realized that the poor training of reinforcements and their inability to contact brigade commanders made such plans impossible. Khodakovsky claimed that brigade commanders changed the plan completely and committed all Russian forces in the area to an attack on Pavlivka, Donetsk Oblast. ISW had previously reported that Russian forces prematurely impaled an insufficient concentration of mobilized personnel on offensive pushes aimed at seizing Pavlivka leading to extensive losses, particularly among the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade of the Pacific Fleet. Russian military officials likely abandoned their initial plans and committed poorly trained reinforcements to the assault on Pavlivka due to a sense of politically-driven urgency to restart the Donetsk offensive campaign before the planned Russian withdrawal from Kherson City.
The high costs associated with the Russian offensive push on Pavlivka continue to generate criticism of Russian military leadership. Khodakovsky claimed that Russian military leadership is trying to blame the “miserable results” on the commander of the 40th Separate Naval Infantry Brigade of the Pacific Fleet for not properly supporting the Russian 155th Naval Infantry Brigade. Khodakovsky argued that the brigade commanders are guilty of the high costs of the assault and that the commander of the Russian forces in Ukraine, Army General Sergey Surovikin, should not allow an “innocent” commander to take the blame for the poor planning of Russian military leadership. ISW previously assessed that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) issued a rare statement on November 7 in response to the extensive Russian milblogger outcry concerning the losses associated with the Pavlivka offensive operation. Khodakovsky’s criticisms of the Russian military command indicate that the Russian MoD likely failed to address the outrage fully and that Russian pro-war figures and milbloggers will continue to criticize Russian military commanders.
Russians are increasingly turning to various platforms on social media to express their dissatisfaction with mobilization problems, a phenomenon that has the ingredients to ignite organized online-based movements in Russia. Sixteen anti-war groups in Russia launched a petition demanding that Russian President Vladimir Putin demobilize all mobilized Russian men. The petition has already garnered almost 38,000 signatories as of the time of this publication. About 1,500 mothers of disabled children and mothers with more than three children in their households also petitioned Putin to exempt their husbands from mobilization. Russian opposition and non-governmental organizations such as Soldiers’ Mothers of St. Petersburg had voiced concerns with the Russian Armed Forces prior to the start of the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine but did not receive significant attention within the Russian information space. Grievances over mobilization issues, however, reached the milblogger community that was already critical of the Russian Ministry of Defense and that has been discussing issues with the execution of mobilization since the second day of the order. These grievances are increasingly influencing both the opposition and the pro-war communities, which is a new phenomenon. While Russian police have consistently suppressed small-scale protests throughout the country the Kremlin has yet to regulate platforms such as Telegram that allow Russians across the country to share their discontent and demand action from local officials with the backing of prominent milbloggers.
Russian officials continued to set conditions to force the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to recognize Russian control over the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and thereby de facto recognize the Russian annexation of occupied Ukraine. The IAEA announced on November 14 that Russian ZNPP authorities rejected a Ukrainian proposal to bring two reactors to a low power state from a hot shutdown state and that Russian officials are increasingly making “significant operational decisions,” noting that IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi expressed concern at “open contradictions” in decision making at the ZNPP. The IAEA and Ukraine’s Resistance Center reported that Russia is increasingly importing technical staff from Russian nuclear power plants to the ZNPP. The IAEA’s reporting and concerns about the decision-making hierarchy at the ZNPP is an inflection in the IAEA’s usual communications and suggests that Russian physical control and operational authority over the plant is increasing to a point that is alarming the IAEA.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 14
November 14, 2022 | 8:30 pm ET
The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) escalated claims of Russian territorial gains in Donetsk Oblast on November 13 and 14, likely to emphasize that Russian forces are intensifying operations in Donetsk Oblast following withdrawal from the right bank of Kherson Oblast. The Russian MoD claimed that Russian forces completed the capture of Mayorsk (20km south of Bakhmut) on November 13 and of Pavlivka (45km southwest of Donetsk City) on November 14 after several weeks of not making claims of Russian territorial gains. As ISW assessed on November 13, Russian forces will likely recommit troops to Donetsk Oblast after leaving the right bank of Kherson Oblast, which will likely lead to an intensification of operations around Bakhmut, Donetsk City, and in western Donetsk Oblast. Russian forces will likely make gains in these areas in the coming days and weeks, but these gains are unlikely to be operationally significant. The Russian MoD is likely making more concrete territorial claims in order to set information conditions to frame Russian successes in Donetsk Oblast and detract from discontent regarding losses in Kherson Oblast.
Russian milbloggers seized on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s November 14 visit to Kherson City to criticize Russian military capacity more substantively than in previous days during the Russian withdrawal from the right bank of Kherson Oblast. Russian milbloggers largely complained that Zelensky arrived in Kherson City and was able to move around with relatively little concern about Russian strikes in his vicinity and questioned why Russian forces did not launch strikes on Zelensky. One prominent milblogger noted that this shows that Russia does not want to win the war and criticized Russian forces for allowing Zelensky to step foot on “Russian territory.” Russian milbloggers have notably maintained a relatively muted response to the Russian loss of the right bank in the past days, as ISW has previously reported. The clear shift in rhetoric from relatively exculpatory language generally backing the withdrawal as a militarily sound decision to ire directed at Russian military failures suggests that Russian military leadership will likely be pressured to secure more direct gains in Donetsk Oblast and other areas.
Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin continues to establish himself as a highly independent, Stalinist warlord in Russia, becoming a prominent figure within the nationalist pro-war community. Prigozhin commented on a Russian execution video of a reportedly exchanged Wagner prisoner of war, Yevgeniy Nuzhin, sarcastically supporting Nuzhin’s execution and denouncing him as a traitor to the Russian people. Most sources noted that Wagner executed Nuzhin following a prisoner exchange on November 10, but a few claimed that Wagner kidnapped the serviceman via Prigozhin’s connections to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Russian General Staff. Prigozhin claimed that Nuzhin planned his escape to free Ukraine and used the opportunity to compare the Nuzhin to Russian elites who disregard the interests of the Russian people and fly away from Russia‘s problems in their personal business jets. The Russian nationalist community overwhelmingly welcomed the public punishment of the supposed deserter, noting that the Wagner command is undertaking appropriate military measures to discipline its forces. Some milbloggers even compared the execution to Joseph Stalin’s “heroic” execution of Russian Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky who had also fled Bolshevik Russia, further confirming Prigozhin’s appeal among the proponents of Stalin’s repressive legacy. Prigozhin is taking actions that will resonate with a constituency interested in the ideology of Russia’s national superiority, Soviet brutalist strength, and distaste for Kremlin’s corruption, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has used as a political force throughout his reign.
Prigozhin is steadily using his participation in the Russian invasion of Ukraine to consolidate his influence in Russia. One milblogger voiced a concern that the integration of Wagner mercenaries into Russian society is “the destruction of even the illusion of legality and respect for rights in Putin’s Russian Federation.” The milblogger added that Prigozhin is seizing the initiative to expand Wagner’s power in St. Petersburg while Russian security forces are “asleep.” Such opinions are not widespread among Russian nationalists but highlight some concerns with Prigozhin‘s rapid expansion amidst the Russian ”special military operation,” and its implications on the Putin regime. Prigozhin, for example, has requested that the FSB General Prosecutor’s office investigate St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov for high treason after St. Petersburg officials denied a construction permit for his Wagner Center in the city. He had also publicly scoffed at the Russian bureaucracy when asked if his forces will train at Russian training grounds likely to further assert the independence of his forces. Prigozhin’s unhinged antics in the political sphere are unprecedented in Putin’s regime.
- The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) escalated claims of Russian territorial gains in Donetsk Oblast on November 13 and 14, likely to emphasize that Russian forces are intensifying operations in Donetsk Oblast following their withdrawal from the right bank of Kherson Oblast.
- Russian milbloggers seized on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s November 14 visit to Kherson City to criticize Russian military capacity more substantively than in previous days during the Russian withdrawal from the right bank of Kherson Oblast.
- Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin continues to establish himself as a highly independent, Stalinist warlord in Russia, becoming an even more prominent figure within the nationalist pro-war community.
- Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations on the Svatove-Kreminna line and clashed with Russian troops near Bilohorivka.
- Russian forces unsuccessfully attempted to regain positions in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast.
- Russian forces intensified offensive operations in Donetsk Oblast and claimed to have gained territory around Bakhmut and southwest of Donetsk City.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian troops launched an unsuccessful raid onto the Kinburn Spit.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin signed additional decrees refining mobilization protocols and expanding military recruitment provisions, likely in an ongoing effort to reinforce Russian war efforts.
- Russian occupation officials continued to drive the “evacuation” and forced relocation of residents in occupied territories and took efforts to move occupation elements further from the Dnipro River.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 13
November 13, 2022 | 3:30 pm ET
ISW is publishing an abbreviated campaign update today, November 13. This report discusses the likely evolution of the war following Ukraine’s operational success in regaining control of western Kherson Oblast. The Russians are not setting conditions for a relaxation of hostilities for the rest of the fall and into the winter but rather are launching a new offensive in Donetsk Oblast. The Ukrainians will likely use combat power recouped from the liberation of western Kherson to reinforce their ongoing counter-offensive in Luhansk Oblast or to open a new counter-offensive drive elsewhere. This is not the time to slow down aid or press for ceasefires or negotiations, but rather the time to help Ukraine take advantage of its momentum in conditions that favor Kyiv rather than Moscow.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 12
November 12, 2022 | 7:30 pm ET
Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson City is igniting an ideological fracture between pro-war figures and Russian President Vladimir Putin, eroding confidence in Putin’s commitment and ability to deliver his war promises. A pro-war Russian ideologist, Alexander Dugin, openly criticized Putin—whom he referred to as the autocrat—for failing to uphold Russian ideology by surrendering Kherson City on November 12.[i] Dugin said this Russian ideology defines Russia’s responsibility to defend “Russian cities” such as Kherson, Belgorod, Kursk, Donetsk, and Simferopol. Dugin noted that an autocrat has a responsibility to save his nation all by himself or face the fate of “king of the rains,” a reference to Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough in which a king was killed because he was unable to deliver rain amidst a drought. Dugin also downplayed the role of Putin’s advisors in failing to protect the Russian world and noted that the commander of Russian Forces in Ukraine, Army General Sergey Surovikin was not responsible for the political decision to withdraw from Kherson City. Dugin noted that the autocrat cannot repair this deviation from ideology merely with public appearances, noting that “the authorities in Russia cannot surrender anything else” and that “the limit has been reached.” He also accused the presidential administration of upholding a “fake” ideology because of its fear of committing to the “Russian Idea.” Dugin also made a reference to the use of tactical nuclear weapons, which he vaguely stated was “the end” and proceeded to note that overdue Russian changes to the military campaign have not generated any effect to change the course of the war. He also suggested, however, that Russia must commit to the Russian Idea rather than pursuing the “stupid” use of nuclear weapons.
Putin is having a harder time appeasing parts of the highly ideological pro-war constituency due to his military’s inability to deliver his maximalist goals of overthrowing the Ukrainian government and seizing all of Ukraine, as ISW has previously assessed.[ii] Putin’s nationalist-leaning propagandists such as Vladimir Solovyov are increasingly demanding that the Kremlin and higher military command to fully commit to their goals in Ukraine, and Solovyov even called for full mobilization and the firing of incompetent officials following the Russian surrender of Kherson City.[iii] Select milbloggers have previously criticized Putin for his failure to respond to the attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge on October 9, while others noted that Putin has failed to uphold the ideology of Russian superiority since 2014.[iv] Direct criticism of Putin within the pro-war community is almost unprecedented, and Dugin’s high-profile and unhinged attack on Putin may indicate a shift among the Russian nationalist ideologues.[v] Putin needs to retain the support of this community and has likely ordered some of his propagandists to suppress any critiques of the Russian withdrawal from Kherson City, since many state TV news programs have been omitting or downplaying the aftermath of withdrawal.[vi] The ever-increasing doubts among extreme Russian nationalists about Putin’s commitment to Russian ideology reduce Putin’s appeal to the nationalist community, while mobilization and high casualties will likely continue to upset members of the Russian society.
Wagner-affiliated channels are also turning on the Kremlin following the loss of Kherson Oblast, which may further elevate the influence of the siloviki faction. Some milbloggers implied that the Kremlin has betrayed Kherson City by “selling out,” while others noted that the Kremlin has consistently surrendered its territories without asking the Russian people.[vii] Other milbloggers further questioned the legitimacy of the claimed 87% support rate for Russian annexation of Kherson Oblast.[viii] Wagner Group financier Yevheny Prigozhin and some milbloggers have previously discussed the possibility of “Russia’s civil society” stepping up to defend Russia.[ix] The growing criticism of the decision to withdraw from western Kherson contrasts with the general support for the decision among the milblogger community before today.
Russian officials are increasingly normalizing the public and likely illegal deportation of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia. Russian Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova publicized the illegal kidnapping of 52 medically fragile Ukrainian children from Kherson Oblast to an unspecified “safe” area in Russia on November 12, likely under a medical relocation scheme that Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Ambassador to Russia Rodion Miroshnik confirmed had started on November 5.[x] High level Kremlin officials, including Lvova-Belova and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin have publicly acknowledged and praised the relocation of thousands of Ukrainian children to live with Russian families or in Russian facilities in recent weeks.[xi] Russian Zaporizhia Oblast occupation officials have made public statements in recent weeks about the planned forced relocation of over 40,000 Kherson Oblast children to Russia and acknowledged on November 12 that their systems for caring for Ukrainian children are inadequate.[xii] Russian and Ukrainian sources have previously reported that Russian and occupation officials have deported Ukrainian children to Russia under education, vacation, and other schemes within the past 10 days.[xiii] Such frequent and public acknowledgements are a stark contrast to the first Russian official confirmation of such actions on August 23, when Krasnodar Krai authorities deleted an announcement about the arrival of 300 adoptable Ukrainian children from Mariupol and denied ever issuing the statement.[xiv] As ISW has noted and will continue to observe, the forced deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia represents a possible violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.[xv]
Russian military leadership is trying and largely failing to integrate combat forces drawn from many different organizations and of many different types and levels of skill and equipment into a more cohesive fighting force in Ukraine. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian officials stopped the distribution of Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) documents, including documents regarding the participation of DNR and LNR forces in combat, on November 11.[xvi] Russian authorities also ordered Southern Military District commanders to centralize payments to DNR and LNR fighters through Russian financial institutions and offered DNR and LNR soldiers the option to continue their service as contract servicemembers under Russian law.[xvii] These efforts will likely increase friction between Russian officials and LNR and DNR officials due to the exclusion of DNR and LNR officials from the process. DNR and LNR servicemembers reportedly feel pressured to accept Russian contracts and have expressed fears that refusal of the new Russian contracts would lead to the annulment of their documents and termination of DNR/LNR benefits.[xviii] ISW has previously reported bureaucratic conflict between DNR, LNR, and Russian authorities over administrative structures in occupied areas.[xix]
The lack of structure inherent in the combination of DNR forces, LNR forces, Russian contract servicemembers, Russian regional volunteer servicemembers, Russian mobilized servicemembers, and Wagner Group Private Military Company (PMC) forces creates an environment that fosters intra-force conflict. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on November 12 that tense relations between mobilized soldiers and Chechen volunteer soldiers triggered a brawl in Makiivka that injured three.[xx]
- Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson City is igniting an ideological fracture between pro-war figures and Russian President Vladimir Putin, eroding confidence in Putin’s commitment to and ability to deliver on his war promises.
- Russian officials are increasingly normalizing the public and likely illegal deportation of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia.
- The Russian military leadership is trying and failing to integrate ad hoc military formations into a more cohesive fighting force in Ukraine.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in the direction of Kreminna and Svatove.
- Ukrainian forces continued to liberate settlements on the right (western) bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations in the direction of Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Vuhledar.
- Russian officials may be trying to avoid providing military personnel with promised payments.
- Russian forces and occupation officials continue to endanger residents and subject them to coercive measures.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 11
November 11, 2022 | 8:00 pm ET
Ukrainian forces are completing the liberation of the western (right) bank of Kherson Oblast after the Russians retreated from it. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian forces completed the withdrawal to the eastern (left) bank of the Dnipro River at 5am local time on November 11.[i] While contingents of Russian soldiers likely remain on the west bank, they are likely scattered throughout the Oblast and attempting to retreat as Ukrainian forces push towards the Dnipro River, although some may have remained behind to attempt to conduct partisan activities in small groups. It is unclear how many Russian soldiers remain on the west bank at this time. Russian sources noted that the withdrawal lasted three days and claimed that 20,000 Russian personnel and 3,500 units of military equipment moved across the Dnipro River.[ii]
Satellite imagery corroborates statements made by both Ukrainian and Russian sources that Russian troops destroyed the Antonivsky Bridge and Railway Bridge (near Kherson City) and the Nova Kakhovka dam bridge (east of Kherson City near Nova Kakhovka) over the Dnipro River and the Darivka Bridge (northeast of Kherson City) over the Inhulets River in a final attempt to block Ukrainian advances towards central Kherson Oblast (see images in-line with text).[iii] Geolocated satellite imagery also indicates that Russian troops have prepared first and second lines of defense south of the Dnipro River and will likely continue efforts to consolidate positions on the left bank in the coming days.[iv]
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 10
November 10, 2022 | 8:00 pm ET
Ukrainian forces steadily advanced in Kherson Oblast on November 10 as Russian forces conduct a withdrawal to the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River. Ukrainian military officials and geolocated social media footage confirm that Ukrainian troops have made gains northwest, west, and northeast of Kherson City in the past 24 hours and advanced up to 7km in some areas.[i] Russian forces so far appear to be withdrawing in relatively good order, and Ukrainian forces are making expected gains without routing Russian forces, as they did in the Kharkiv counteroffensive. Ukrainian strikes since August have successfully degraded Russian supply lines on the west (right) bank to force Russian forces to withdraw and will liberate Kherson Oblast to the Dnipro River in the coming days or weeks. The Russian withdrawal will take some time to complete, and fighting will continue throughout Kherson Oblast as Ukrainian troops advance and come up against pre-prepared Russian defensive lines, especially around Kherson City.
ISW does not assess the fighting in Ukraine will halt or enter a stalemate due to winter weather, despite faulty Western assumptions. NBC News reported on November 9 that some US and Western defense officials are eyeing an “expected winter slowdown in fighting as an opportunity for diplomacy to begin between Russia and Ukraine.”[ii] Autumn and springtime mud can slow or halt military advances, as can faulty or insufficient wintertime equipment. Some military equipment may need to be adapted for colder weather, and shortages of equipment or ammunition could slow advances due to logistical difficulties — not winter weather.[iii] Winter weather could disproportionately harm poorly-equipped Russian forces in Ukraine, but well-supplied Ukrainian forces are unlikely to halt their counteroffensives due to the arrival of winter weather and may be able to take advantage of frozen terrain to move more easily than they could in the muddy autumn months. If fighting does halt this winter, it will be due to logistical challenges and the culmination of several campaigns on both sides. The Russian campaigns to capture all of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhia oblasts all culminated months ago (despite the repeated insistence of Russian forces on launching ineffective attacks), and Russian forces are firmly on the defensive across most of the frontline.
Ukraine holds the initiative and is in the process of securing a major victory in Kherson. A ceasefire would provide the Kremlin with the pause it desperately needs to reconstitute Russian forces. The major Ukrainian victory underway in Kherson Oblast will not be Ukraine’s last. Fighting will continue on the southern axis; in Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast (the only place Russian forces are still attempting meaningful offensives); and in northern Luhansk Oblast as Ukrainian forces continue counteroffensive operations. Russian officials are busy attempting to train 120,000 conscripts to deploy to the frontlines in the spring.[i] Ukrainian forces likely aim to liberate as much occupied territory as possible before those Russian reinforcements arrive. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on November 7 that Ukraine is unwilling to negotiate with Russian forces until certain conditions are met, including the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the prosecution of Russian war criminals, payment for war damages, and promises that Russia will not again invade Ukraine.[ii] A wintertime ceasefire would only benefit Russian forces, who would use that opportunity to bolster their faltering defenses and continue their genocidal campaign to eradicate Ukrainian identity in occupied parts of Ukraine.
- Ukrainian forces steadily advanced in Kherson Oblast on November 10 as Russian forces conduct a withdrawal to the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River.
- The Russian withdrawal will take some time to complete, and fighting will continue throughout Kherson Oblast as Ukrainian troops advance and come up against pre-prepared Russian defensive lines, especially around Kherson City.
- ISW does not assess the fighting in Ukraine will halt or enter a stalemate due to winter weather, despite faulty Western assumptions.
- Ukraine holds the initiative and is in the process of securing a major victory in Kherson. A ceasefire would provide the Kremlin with the pause it desperately needs to reconstitute Russian forces.
- Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin is increasingly wrestling with St. Petersburg officials over expanding Wagner Group recruitment in the city.
- Ukrainian Air Force Command spokesperson Yuriy Ignat stated that Russian force will likely slow the pace of their campaign against Ukrainian infrastructure.
- Ukrainian forces continued to conduct counteroffensive operations on the Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and in western Donetsk.
- Russian forces began constructing second line fortifications in Crimea and southern Ukraine.
- Russian citizens continue to oppose Russia’s war in Ukraine through protest, social media dissent, and desertions from the military.
- Russian mobilization efforts are channeling personnel to the Wagner group.
- Russian occupation officials are continuing efforts to erode Ukrainian national identity while mobilizing residents in Russian-occupied territories.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 9
November 9, 2022 | 9:15 pm ET
The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) ordered Russian forces on the west (right) bank of the Dnipro River to begin withdrawing to the east (left) bank on November 9. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered the withdrawal of Russian troops across the Dnipro River during a highly staged televised meeting with Commander of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine Army General Sergey Surovikin on November 9. During the televised meeting, Surovikin recommended the withdrawal and Shoigu accepted his decision, giving Surovikin the task of ensuring the “safe transfer of personnel, weapons, and equipment” to the east (left) bank. Shoigu and Surovikin’s statements mark the beginning of a steady, fighting withdrawal by Russian troops across the Dnipro to prepared positions on the east (left) bank to preserve the combat power of Russian units, including elements of the 76th and 106th Airborne Assault Divisions and 22nd Army Corps. Surovikin notably stated that half of the troops withdrawn from the west bank of the Dnipro will be redeployed to other areas of Ukraine. The entire Russian contingent will take some time to withdraw across the Dnipro River and it is still unclear if Russian forces will be able to conduct the withdrawal in relatively good order under Ukrainian pressure. The battle of Kherson is not over, but Russian forces have entered a new phase—prioritizing withdrawing their forces across the river in good order and delaying Ukrainian forces, rather than seeking to halt the Ukrainian counteroffensive entirely.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Kherson direction since August—a coordinated interdiction campaign to force Russian forces to withdraw across the Dnipro without necessitating major Ukrainian ground offensives—has likely succeeded. As ISW has observed over the previous months, Ukrainian forces engaged in a purposeful and well-executed campaign to target Russian concentration areas, military assets, and logistics nodes throughout Kherson Oblast to make continued Russian positions on the west bank untenable without having to conduct large-scale and costly ground maneuvers to liberate territory. Ukrainian troops launched constant attacks on bridges across the Dnipro River and targeted supply centers and ammunition depots on the east bank of the Dnipro that degraded the ability of Russian forces to supply the grouping on the west bank; Ukrainian forces combined these strikes with prudent and successful ground attacks on key locations such as Davydiv Brid. This campaign has come to fruition. Surovikin directly acknowledged that Russian forces cannot supply their grouping in Kherson City and the surrounding areas due to Ukrainian strikes on critical Russian supply lines to the west bank. Russian sources noted that the withdrawal is a natural consequence of targeted and systematic Ukrainian strikes that cost the Russian grouping on the west bank its major supply arteries, which gradually attritted their overall strength and capabilities.
The Russian withdrawal from the west bank of the Dnipro is unlikely to be a trap meant to lure Ukrainian troops into costly combat near Kherson City, as some Ukrainian and Western sources have suggested. ISW has previously observed many indicators that Russian forces, military and economic assets, and occupation elements have steadily withdrawn from the west bank across the Dnipro River, and Russian officials have been anticipating and preparing for withdrawal in a way that is incompatible with a campaign to deceive and trap Ukrainian troops. Russian commanders will certainly attempt to slow Ukrainian advances to maintain an orderly withdrawal, and some forces may remain to delay Ukrainian troops in Kherson City itself—but this fighting will be a means to the end of withdrawing as many Russian units as possible in good order.
The Russian information space predictably reacted to the announcement of the withdrawal with varying degrees of ire and concern. Several Russian milbloggers emphasized that the withdrawal is the natural consequence of systematic failures within Russian military and command structures and framed the withdrawal as an inevitable result of political nuances beyond the realm of military control. Russian sources also emphasized that this is a major defeat for Russian forces because they are losing territory that Russia annexed and claims as its own.
However, many prominent voices in the milblogger space sided with Surovikin and lauded the decision as a necessary one, indicating that Russian leadership has learned from the information effects of the disastrous Russian withdrawal from Kharkiv Oblast in mid-September. A prominent Russian milblogger that has previously stridently criticized the conduct of Russian operations stated that Surovikin “got the inheritance he got” managing operations in Kherson Oblast, and implied that Surovikin did the best he could under the circumstances, so he ultimately cannot be blamed. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin voiced his support for the withdrawal and called it the “greatest achievement” made by Surovikin due to Surovikin’s stated desire to preserve the safety of Russian troops. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov agreed with Prigozhin’s assessment and claimed Surovikin saved thousands of lives and is seeking more advantageous positions. These responses, particularly from Kadyrov and Prigozhin, are markedly different from scathing critiques previously leveled at Commander of the Grouping of Russian forces “Center” in Ukraine Colonel General Alexander Lapin following massive Russian losses in eastern Kharkiv and northern Donetsk oblasts. Surovikin has steadily established an informational cover for his decision-making and the eventual Russian withdrawal from positions in Kherson Oblast since the announcement of his appointment as theatre commander of Russian Forces in Ukraine. Surovikin stated that Russian leadership will need to make “difficult decisions” regarding Kherson Oblast as early as October 19. The Kremlin and senior Russian commanders appear to have learned informational and military lessons from previous failures and will likely apply these to the presentation and conduct of this withdrawal. Russian President Vladimir Putin has not commented on the withdrawal as of this publication, suggesting that the Kremlin is framing the withdrawal as a purely military decision.
Russian National Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev met with senior Iranian officials in Tehran on November 9, likely to discuss the sale of Iranian ballistic missiles to Russia and other forms of cooperation. Patrushev met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Iranian Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Secretary Ali Shamkhani. The SNSC is Iran’s highest defense and security policy body and reports directly to the supreme leader. Iranian readouts of Patrushev’s meetings largely focused on economic and political cooperation, while Russian readouts emphasized that the discussion focused on security affairs. Patrushev and Shamkhani discussed “measures to counter interference by Western secret services in the two countries’ internal affairs,” according to Russia’s TASS. Iranian officials have repeatedly accused the United States and its allies of stoking the ongoing protests throughout Iran. Patrushev’s visit to Tehran notably comes amid reports that Iran is seeking Russian help with protest suppression, although it is unclear whether Patrushev discussed such cooperation. Patrushev likely sought to secure additional Iranian precision munitions to replenish Russia’s dwindling stocks.
- The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) ordered Russian forces on the west (right) bank of the Dnipro River to begin withdrawing to the east (left) bank on November 9.
- The battle of Kherson is not inherently over, but Russian forces have entered a new phase— prioritizing withdrawing their forces across the river in good order and delaying Ukrainian forces, rather than seeking to halt the Ukrainian counteroffensive entirely.
- Many prominent voices in the Russian milblogger space sided with Surovikin and lauded the decision as a necessary one, indicating that Russian leadership has learned from the information effects of the disastrous Russian withdrawal from Kharkiv Oblast in mid-September.
- Russian National Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev met with senior Iranian officials in Tehran on November 9, likely to discuss the sale of Iranian ballistic missiles to Russia and other forms of cooperation
- Russian and Ukrainian sources reported continued fighting along the Svatove-Kremmina highway and Bilohorivka, Luhansk Oblast.
- Ukrainian forces made territorial gains northeast of Kherson City and continued their successful interdiction campaign.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and in western Donetsk Oblast.
- Russian federal subjects are struggling to pay mobilized personnel, and the Russian military is struggling to provision them.
- Relatives of mobilized personnel continue to protest lack of payment and poor conditions.
- Russian occupation deputy head of Kherson Oblast Kirill Stremousov was killed in a claimed car accident in rear Kherson Oblast the day Russian forces announced their withdrawal from the west bank of Kherson Oblast.
- Occupation authorities in rear areas are likely increasing law enforcement crackdowns and filtration measures amid fears of Ukrainian counteroffensives after the November 9 withdrawal announcement.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 8
November 8,2022 | 7:00 pm ET
Iranian state-run outlet Nour News Agency reported that Russian National Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev arrived in Tehran on November 8, likely to discuss the potential sale of Iranian ballistic missiles to Russia. Nour News Agency announced Patrushev’s arrival in an English-language tweet, stating that Iranian Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Secretary Ali Shamkhani invited Patrushev and noted that Patrushev will also meet with other high-ranking Iranian political and economic officials to discuss Russo-Iranian cooperation. Nour News Agency is affiliated with the SNSC. The SNSC likely announced Patrushev’s arrival in Iran to highlight the deepening cooperation between Moscow and Tehran to an international audience (rather than domestically), as well as to implicitly highlight that a high-ranking Russian official turned to Iran for help in Ukraine. Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani notably traveled to Moscow in 2015 to appeal to Russia to intervene in the Syrian Civil War. Tehran is likely eager to publicly signal this rebalancing of its strategic partnership with Moscow, especially to regional Iranian adversaries with which the Kremlin occasionally cooperates, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. Patrushev’s visit to Iran notably comes amid reports that the Iranian regime is seeking Russian help with protest suppression, although it is unclear if this will be discussed by Patrushev and his Iranian counterpart.
The Kremlin is continuing efforts to covertly acquire munitions for use in Ukraine to mitigate the effects of international sanctions and backfill Russia’s ongoing depletion of domestic munitions stockpiles. British outlet Sky News reported on November 8 that the Kremlin flew 140 million euros in cash and a selection of captured British-made NLAW anti-tank missiles, US-made Javelin anti-tank missiles, and a Stinger anti-aircraft missile to Tehran on August 20 in exchange for 160 additional Shahed-136 drones for use in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on November 8 that Tehran continues to supply Moscow with Mohajer, Arash, and Shahed-type drones by air and sea via both Iranian state-owned and privately-owned entities. The Ukrainian Resistance Center additionally reported that due to failures of the Russian military-industrial complex, Russian military leaders are continuing their efforts to procure dual-use (military and non-military use) goods such as computer chips, quadcopters, night vision devices, and bulletproof vests from Turkey and are using cryptocurrency transactions to avoid purchase tracking. Taken in tandem, these reports indicate that the Kremlin seeks to circumvent sanctions by engaging in quid-pro-quo and under-the-table negotiations with foreign actors.
Wagner Group forces are continuing to exaggerate their claimed territorial gains in Donbas to further distinguish themselves from proxy and conventional Russian forces. Russian sources began reporting on November 7 that a detachment of Wagner forces and troops of the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) 6th Cossack Regiment broke through Ukrainian defensive lines in Bilohorivka, Luhansk Oblast. On November 8, however, Russian coverage largely shifted and Russian milbloggers began claiming that reports of the 6th Cossack Regiment’s involvement in operations near Bilohorivka are false and that Wagner troops were solely responsible for purported gains. As ISW has previously observed, Wagner has taken sole credit for Russian gains around Bakhmut in order to bolster their own reputation as the Kremlin’s favored strike force, despite not being the only force deployed in the area. Wagner will likely use Bilohorivka to accomplish a similar effect.
- Iranian sources announced—without Russian confirmation—that Russian National Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev arrived in Tehran on November 8, likely to discuss the potential sale of Iranian ballistic missiles to Russia. Iran likely announced Patrushev’s arrival to highlight the deepening cooperation between Moscow and Tehran to an international audience, as well as to implicitly highlight that a high-ranking Russian official turned to Iran for help in Ukraine.
- Wagner Group forces are continuing to exaggerate their claimed territorial gains in Donbas to further distinguish themselves from proxy and conventional Russian forces.
- Ukrainian forces likely made marginal gains northwest of Svatove, Luhansk Oblast, and Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces intensified offensive operations toward Kreminna.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and in western Donetsk Oblast.
- Ukrainian authorities attempted to counteract Russian authorities’ continued efforts to strengthen control of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).
- The disproportionate financial burden of Russian force generation efforts continues to fall primarily on Russian regional governments’ budgets, prompting public backlash.
- Financial and bureaucratic issues are continuing to hinder Russian efforts to replenish formerly elite units defending critical areas of the front line, potentially threatening the integrity of Russian defenses in occupied parts of Ukraine.
- Russian occupation authorities in Kherson Oblast may be trying to force residents out of the western part of the oblast by cutting communications on the west bank of the Dnipro River.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 7
The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) issued a rare statement on November 7 in response to extensive Russian milblogger outcry on November 6 about reported extensive losses and poor command within the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade of the Pacific Fleet. Russian milbloggers published and circulated a letter that claimed Russian military leadership “threw” the brigade into an “incomprehensible offensive” near Pavlivka, Donetsk Oblast, where it suffered losses amounting to over 300 killed, wounded, and missing and lost half of its equipment, all within four days. The letter explicitly blamed Eastern Military District Commander Lieutenant General Rustam Muradov, 155th Naval Infantry Brigade Commander Colonel Zurab Akhmedov, and Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov for the brigade’s losses and called on Primorsky Krai Governor Oleg Kozhemyako to conduct an independent review of the actions of the officers involved in planning and conducting the recent Russian offensive push in western Donetsk Oblast. The tone of many Russian milblogger responses to the letter resembles the response following the destruction of a Russian motorized rifle brigade crossing the SIverskyi Donets River on May 11, after which many pro-war milbloggers increased their direct criticism of the Russian military.
The Russian MoD issued a rare response on November 7 to the outcry on and claimed that less than one percent of the brigade was killed and less than seven percent was wounded within the past 10 days, and that Ukrainian forces suffered high losses instead. Kozhemyako also sought to address the outcry and claimed that the brigade’s losses are greatly exaggerated and (without providing evidence) speculated that the letter was a product of Ukrainian special services. Kozhemyako stated that he contacted the brigade’s command and referred the case to the Russian military prosecutor. Some Russian milbloggers agreed, claiming that Russian losses could not be as high as the brigade claimed, even calling the brigade’s letter exaggerated or fake. The Russian MoD has remained remarkably tight-lipped about milblogger critiques of Russian failures throughout the war in Ukraine — unlike the Kremlin, which will occasionally indirectly address milblogger narratives. The MoD’s public response to milblogger outcry indicates that some Russian milbloggers have considerable leverage to shape MoD interactions in the information space and additionally suggests that the situation in Pavlivka is dire enough to warrant a response.
Discourse regarding the widespread failures of the Russian military establishment has pervaded beyond the milblogger information space and is increasingly coloring social dynamics. Russian milbloggers stated that women, presumably relatives of Russian military and mobilized personnel, have been calling attention to the failing state of the war by reaching out to milbloggers and local government officials. ISW has observed multiple instances of Russian military personnel’s wives and mothers advocating for their relatives serving in the military by reaching out to local officials and prominent Russian milbloggers since the beginning of partial mobilization in late September. The Russian MoD’s failure to properly address these systemic issues and their root causes will likely exacerbate these societal tensions throughout the war.
The Russian pro-war siloviki faction is increasing its influence in part to advance personal interests in Russia and occupied Ukraine, not strictly to win the war. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin confirmed on November 6 that Wagner is opening training and management centers for people’s militias in Kursk and Belgorod oblasts that will function outside of the Russian Armed Forces. ISW previously assessed that Prigozhin is undertaking efforts to strengthen his independent power base following his reported meeting with Kursk Oblast businessmen on the creation of regional people’s militia that symbolically occurred on Russia’s Unity Day (November 4). Prigozhin emphasized that Russian officials must assign regional businesses the responsibility to supply the militia rather than relying on the Kremlin. Prigozhin’s Unity Day media appearances also captured the same notion of cooperation between the Russian government and business, which likely indicates that he is attempting to grow his Wagner-focused power base in Russia while undercutting unified Russian operations in Ukraine. Prigozhin also started construction of an independent fortification dubbed the “Wagner Line” in Belgorod Oblast in late October. Prigozhin consistently defames St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov, and the recent grand opening of the Wagner Center in St. Petersburg on Unity Day may suggest that Prigozhin is attempting to infiltrate the city’s business sphere.
Another member of the siloviki party, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, is also reportedly attempting to secure business opportunities on the back of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Ukrainian Resistance Center noted that Kadyrov and his field commanders are growing business networks in the occupied territories, and Ukrainian officials previously claimed that Kadyrov’s men received loot from Mariupol for their participation in the seizure of the city in March–April. ISW cannot independently verify the validity of these Ukrainian statements, but Kadyrov is behaving in line with Prigozhin by advertising enlistment into his forces and undermining the formal Russian Armed Forces. Kadyrov, for example, advertised his provision of military equipment to a proxy unit in occupied Donetsk Oblast on November 7; and Prigozhin similarly provided equipment to a Russian unit prior.
Both Prigozhin and Kadyrov remain independent figures within Russia due to Putin’s dependency on their forces in Ukraine. Russian journalists often ask Prigozhin about his ambitions for the Kremlin, which despite his repeated denials, show that he has created a public perception of his possibly entering a position of power. Such discussions deviate from Putin’s decades-long positioning of himself as the only viable leader for Russia. Prigozhin also likely maintains his access to key Kremlin officials, and the Ukrainian Resistance Center even reported that he had an unofficial meeting with Putin’s administration head Anton Vaino. Prigozhin and Vaino allegedly discussed Putin’s negative influence over the Russian military campaign and distaste for Russian higher military command. The existence of this meeting is impossible to confirm in open sources, but Western officials previously confirmed that Prigozhin directly addressed Putin regarding military failures in Ukraine in October.
Prigozhin is continuing to pose himself as a Russian strongman within foreign affairs by promoting his own engagement in election interference. Prigozhin sarcastically acknowledged Bloomberg reports regarding his involvement in the US 2022 midterm elections, telling US government–funded outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: “Gentlemen, we interfered, we interfere and we will interfere.” Prigozhin’s admission to a US publication a day prior to US elections on November 8 likely intends both to undermine public perception of the validity of election results and promote Prigozhin to a Russian audience as a capable actor — in line with Prigozhin’s previous public admittance that he finances the Wagner Group, which he previously denied for years.
Russian forces have greatly depleted their arsenal of high-precision weapons systems and have suffered significant aviation losses and will likely struggle to maintain the current pace of the Russian military’s coordinated campaign against Ukrainian critical infrastructure. Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Valeryi Zaluzhnyi stated on November 3 that Ukrainian forces have destroyed 278 aircraft compared to the Soviet Union’s loss of 119 aircraft during 10 years of war in Afghanistan. The United Kingdom Ministry of Defense (MoD) reported on November 7 that Russian forces are unlikely to replace these aviation losses in the next few months because they likely significantly outstrip Russian capacity to manufacture new airframes. Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) representative Vadym Skitbitsky stated in a comment to the Economist on November 7 that Russian forces have used more than eighty percent of their modern missiles in the coordinated campaign to strike Ukrainian infrastructure and that Russian forces only have 120 Iskander missiles left. ISW previously assessed that Russia has depleted its arsenal of high-precision weapon systems in its campaign against Ukrainian critical infrastructure, which is intended to degrade Ukrainian popular will (but is highly unlikely to succeed). Ukrainian sources reported on November 7 that Ukrainian officials and engineers could restore power supplies to normal levels in a few weeks if the pace of Russian strikes on critical infrastructure dramatically slowed. Skitbitsky also reported that Russian officials have reached an agreement with Iranian officials to purchase Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar ballistic missile systems. ISW has previously assessed that Russian forces are increasingly reliant on Iranian-made weapon systems to support its coordinated strike campaign against Ukrainian critical infrastructure.
Russian occupation authorities are likely beginning a new phase of evacuations from Kherson Oblast. Kherson occupation deputy Kirill Stremousov stated that November 7 will be the last day of organized evacuations from the west bank of the Dnipro River. A Russian milblogger similarly noted that November 7 is the end of centralized evacuations in Kherson Oblast and that private evacuates will continue from November 8. Russian sources reported that the last boat transporting civilians from Kherson City to the east bank of the Dnipro departed on November 8 due to concerns of “increased threats to the civilian population.” The purported shift from centralized to privatized evacuation efforts suggests that Russian occupation officials have completed evacuation under formal guidelines and will increasingly continue evacuations from areas in Kherson Oblast on a more ad hoc and case-by-case basis. Russian officials may also be setting further information conditions to accuse Ukrainian forces of endangering civilian life by framing the end of centralized, administration-led evacuations as necessary to protect civilians.
- The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) issued a rare statement on November 7 in response to extensive Russian milblogger outcry about reported extensive losses and poor command within the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade of the Pacific Fleet.
- The Russian pro-war siloviki faction (including Yevgeny Prigozhin and Ramzan Kadyrov) is increasing its influence in part to advance personal interests in Russia and occupied Ukraine, not strictly to win the war.
- Russian forces have greatly depleted their arsenal of high-precision weapons systems and have suffered significant aviation losses and will likely struggle to maintain the current pace of the Russian military’s coordinated campaign against Ukrainian critical infrastructure.
- Russian occupation authorities likely began a new phase of evacuations from Kherson Oblast.
- Russian troops continued efforts to fix Ukrainian troops against the international border in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian troops continued counteroffensive operations in the Svatove direction.
- Russian sources claimed that Russian troops conducted limited counterattacks to regain lost positions west of Kreminna.
- Russian sources widely claimed that proxy and Wagner Group troops entered the outskirts of Bilohorivka.
- Russian sources reported that Ukrainian troops are massing in the Kherson Oblast direction.
- Russian troops continued offensive operations around Bakhmut, in the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area, and in western Donetsk Oblast.
- Ukrainian forces conducted limited interdiction efforts against Russian concentration areas in Zaporizhzhia Oblast.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to make public statements and signed additional decrees to portray himself as taking steps to fix fundamental problems with partial mobilization in Russia.
- Russian and occupation officials continue to abduct Ukrainian children, intimidate civilians, and escalate filtration measures.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 6
November 6 | 7:30pm ET
Key Kremlin officials began collectively deescalating their rhetoric regarding the use of nuclear weapons in early November. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) released a statement on “the prevention of nuclear war” on November 2, stating that Russia “is strictly and consistently guided by the postulate of the inadmissibility of a nuclear war in which there can be no winners, and which must never be unleashed.” The Russian MFA also stated that it is committed to the reduction and limitation of nuclear weapons.[i] Russian President Vladimir Putin stated on October 27 that Russia has no need to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine and claimed Russia has never discussed the possibility of using nuclear weapons, only “hinting at the statements made by leaders of Western countries.”[ii] The deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, has similarly increasingly downplayed the fiery nuclear rhetoric he used throughout October and is now focusing on promoting Russian unity in the war in Ukraine.[iii]
Putin and key Kremlin officials had increased their references to the use of nuclear weapons from Putin’s September 30 annexation speech and throughout October, likely to pressure Ukraine into negotiations and to reduce Western support for Kyiv. Putin made several general references to nuclear weapons in his September 30 speech but avoided directly threatening the use of nuclear weapons.[iv] Putin’s rhetoric during this speech and throughout October was consistent with his previous nuclear threats and failed to generate the degree of fear within the Ukrainian government that the Kremlin likely intended.[v] Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Chief Kyrylo Budanov stated on October 24 that the Russian nuclear threat has remained at the same level even prior to the start of the war.[vi] The Kremlin also escalated its nuclear rhetoric after Russian military failures in Kharkiv Oblast and during Ukrainian counteroffensives in Lyman and northern Kherson Oblast in early October. The Kremlin likely continued its thinly veiled nuclear threats to deflect from their military and mobilization problems and to intimidate Ukraine’s Western partners.
The Kremlin’s rhetorical shift indicates that senior Russian military commanders and elements of the Kremlin are likely to some extent aware of the massive costs for little operational gain Russia would incur for the use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine or NATO. The New York Times, citing senior US officials, reported that senior Russian defense officials discussed the conditions for nuclear use against the backdrop of growing nuclear narratives in mid-October.[i] The meeting reportedly did not involve Putin. Putin’s illegal September 30 annexation of four Ukrainian oblasts, much of whichRussian forces do not occupy, likely overcomplicated existing Russian military doctrine. Russian nuclear doctrine clearly allows for nuclear weapons use in response to “aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy,” which the Kremlin could conceivably apply to Ukrainian advances into claimed ”Russian” territory in Ukraine.[ii] All of the current frontlines fall within claimed Russian territory, andPutin has not publicly defined what now constitutes an attack on Russian territory. It is possible that senior Russian military officials are equally confused about the application of Putin’s annexation order to existing military doctrine. ISW previously reported that Putin’s annexation order was likely a polarizing issue that ignited a fracture within the Kremlin, creating pro-war and pro-negotiations factions.[iii] US officials also noted that they have not observed any indicators that Russia has moved its nuclear weapons or undertaken any preparatory steps to prepare for a strike.[iv]
Kremlin-run television shows still air the occasional nuclear threat, which are common in Russia’s jingoistic domestic information space. For example, Russia’s State Duma Committee Chairman on Defense, Andrey Kartapolov, briefly discussed nuclear threats on Russian state TV on November 5 despite the general softening of the Kremlin’s narrative.[v] Russian state TV (alongside some populist figures) have previously amplified nuclear threats prior to Russian military failures in the autumn, and their rhetorical flourishes should not be misconstrued as indicators of the Kremlin’s official position. Figures such as the late Russian ultra-nationalist and then leader of the Liberal Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky made regular and outlandish nuclear threats on Russian state broadcasts for years, even threatening to drop a ”little” nuclear bomb on the residence of then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in 2018.[vi] The Russian milblogger community largely did not interact with these nuclear narratives and continued to criticize that Russian military command for its conventional battlefield failures. Russian propagandists will continue to make these threats as a way of reminding domestic audiences of Russia’s might amidst clear military failures on the frontlines.
Key inflections in ongoing military operations on November 6:
- Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin confirmed on November 6 that the Wagner Group is creating training and management centers for local “people’s militias” in Kursk and Belgorod oblasts.[i]
- Russian milbloggers amplified reports that the Russian 155th Naval Infantry Brigade sustained severe losses during the recent offensive push towards Pavlivka, Donetsk Oblast.[ii]
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in the direction of Svatove and Kreminna.[iii]
- Russian opposition sources reported that Ukrainian shelling near Makiivka, Luhansk Oblast may have killed up to 500 Russian mobilized personnel in one day.[iv]
- Russian forces continued establishing defensive positions on the west (right) bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast.[v] Ukrainian forces continued their interdiction campaign against Russian logistics in Kherson Oblast.[vi]
- Russian forces conducted ground attacks near Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Vuhledar.[vii] Russian sources claimed that Russian forces broke through Ukrainian defenses near Bakhmut, made marginal gains south of Avdiivka, and remained impaled near Pavliivka in western Donetsk Oblast.[viii]
- Ukrainian personnel repaired two external power lines to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) on November 5, resuming the supply of electricity to the ZNPP after shelling deenergized the facility on November 3.[ix]
- Russian occupation officials continued to cite the threat of a Ukrainian strike on the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station to justify the continued forced relocation of civilians in Kherson Oblast.[x]
- Russian occupation officials continued to forcibly transfer Ukrainian children from occupied Ukraine to Russia under the guise of “vacation” schemes.[xi]
- Russian forces continued to struggle with domestic resistance to and poor provisioning of ongoing mobilization efforts.[xii]
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 5
November 5, 2022 | 6:30pm ET
Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin seeks to obfuscate his efforts to strengthen his independent power base with an appeal to the concept of Russia’s historic unity. Prigozhin provided a vague response to a media inquiry regarding his recent visit to Kursk Oblast on Russia’s Unity Day (November 4), during which he had indirectly implied that Wagner forces are involved in upholding Russia’s unity. Prigozhin stated that Russian people, businesses, government, and army need to come together to fight for Russia’s sovereignty and its great future, while deflecting from the journalist’s question regarding Prigozhin’s reported meeting with Kursk businessmen about the organization of an unspecified people’s militia – outside of formal Russian military command structures. Prigozhin also noted that Russia has all the ingredients to achieve its goals including a strong president, cohesive army, and great nationhood, which he concluded with an out-of-place greeting from Wagner fighters. Prigozhin later claimed in a follow up media response that his “independence” does not contradict Russian President Vladimir Putin’s politics as some audiences have interpreted.
Prigozhin’s rather sarcastic statements have several underlying implications for his perception of his power within Russia. ISW previously reported that Kursk Oblast officials announced the construction of second and third lines of defenses in the region, and if Prigozhin’s meeting with local businessmen took place, may indicate that he is attempting to expand his influence in the region. Prigozhin’s comment on Russia’s ”cohesive army” next to Putin was likely thinly-veiled sarcasm, given that Prigozhin has repeatedly criticized the Russian Armed Forces on numerous occasions. Prigozhin also directly recognized that he is an independent entity, which as ISW previously assessed, relieves him of some obligations to the Kremlin and the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD). Putin’s dependency on Prigozhin’s forces around Bakhmut also allows Prigozhin privileges such as voicing his criticisms of the Kremlin or the Russian Armed Forces without significant ramifications. Prigozhin has also coincidentally opened his Wagner Center in St. Petersburg on Russia’s Unity Day. However, Prigozhin is notably shielding his efforts to build an independent power base and shape the conduct of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with language focused on Russian Unity – likely both to appeal to Russian nationalists and civilians and to deflect criticism of his fairly overt efforts to build an independent power base.
Prigozhin continues to rely on ineffective convicts to staff his forces. Prigozhin declined to comment on a reporter’s question regarding ongoing recruitment drives at Krasnoyarsk Krai penal colonies, despite previously openly discussing prisoner participation in the war with Russian outlets like RiaFan. Russian opposition outlet The Insider, however, found that over 500 prisoners recruited into Wagner units have died in the past two months. The publication added that Wagner lost between 800 and 1,000 mercenaries in Ukraine, indicating convicts comprise a large proportion of Wagner’s forces in Ukraine. Ukrainian intelligence officials also previously reported that many prisoners suffering with infectious diseases infected Wagner troops, to which Prigozhin responded that he does not discriminate on the basis of illness.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian confirmed that Iran sent Russia combat drones. Amir-Abdollahian stated on November 5 that Iran “gave a limited number of drones to Russia months before” the war in Ukraine. Amir-Abdollahian also claimed that if Ukrainian officials could prove that the Russian military has used Iranian-made drones in Ukraine then Iranian officials would “not be indifferent” to the concern - falsely and ridiculously implying that Russia has not used the drones that he admitted Iran has provided. Iran’s confirmation of the drone shipments further supports ISW’s previous assessments that Russia is sourcing Iranian-made weapons systems to address the depletion of its high-precision munitions arsenal. ISW previously assessed that Iran is likely already exploiting Russian reliance on these Iranian-made weapons systems to request Russian assistance with its nuclear program. The nuclear assistance requests and the recognition of the drone shipments are both indicators that Iranian officials may intend to more clearly establish an explicit bilateral security relationship with Russia in which they are more equal partners.
Former Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Security Minister and current DNR military commander Aleksandr Khodakovsky claimed on November 5 that Russian friendly fire may have caused up to 60% of total Russian losses since the end of Russian offensive operations in Mariupol in mid-May. Even if this statistic is exaggerated, the fact that a Russian commander is publicly speculating on such a damning indicator of Russian and proxy competency indicates the deep challenges Russian forces face. Friendly fire typically does account for a limited number of losses in war but ordinarily nowhere near 60% of total casualties, which demonstrates a lack of communication and command and control coordination between Russian forces. Russian and Ukrainian sources also reported that a Russian rotation returning to its base near Pavlivka, Donetsk Oblast on November 5 drove into a ditch constructed by army subcontractors without prior discussion or warning, further demonstrating a widespread lack of cross-training and coordination between Russian troops. The frequent replacement of Russian military leaders, promotion of inexperienced soldiers, and cobbled-together Russian force composition including Russian contract soldiers, Russian mobilized soldiers, DNR and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) forces, and Wagner Group forces exacerbate the fragmented nature of the Russian chain of command and ineffectiveness of Russian forces and likely contributes to frequent friendly fire incidents.
- Wagner Group financier Yevheniy Prigozhin seeks to obfuscate his efforts to strengthen his independent power base with an appeal to the concept of Russia’s historic unity.
- Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian confirmed that Iran began providing Russia drones before February 24, but strangely denied that Russian forces have used them in combat.
- DNR military commander Aleksandr Khodakovsky claimed that Russian friendly fire may have caused up to 60% of total Russian losses since mid-May.
- Ukrainian troops reportedly continued counteroffensives along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces continued to set up defensive positions along the Dnipro River.
- Ukrainian forces continued to target Russian logistics and transportation in Kherson Oblast.
- Russian forces continued to attack around Bakhmut and claimed unspecified advances.
- Russian forces continued unsuccessful offensive operations in the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area and in western Donetsk.
- Continued poor conditions for mobilized soldiers catalyzed a large-scale protest in Kazan.
- Unknown actors reportedly attempted to assassinate high-profile Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Supreme Court Judge Aleksandr Nikulin.
- Russia continues to deploy personnel to staff administrative positions in occupied areas.
- Russian forces continued forced evacuations in Kherson Oblast. Over 80% of Kherson residents reportedly have evacuated.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 4
November 4, 9:15 pm ET
The Russian military is likely trying to use mobilized personnel to restart the Donetsk offensive but will likely still fail to achieve operationally significant gains. Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Valerii Zaluzhnyi reported on November 4 that Russian forces have tripled the intensity of hostilities in certain sections of the front with up to 80 daily assaults. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces are currently focusing those offensive operations in the direction of Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and western Donetsk Oblast. The Ukrainian Eastern Group of troops spokesperson Serhiy Cherevatyi stated on November 4 that Russian forces are likely trying to seize Bakhmut and Soledar in Donetsk Oblast so that Russia can declare some type of success by announcing the “liberation” of the Donbas (even though those gains would not give Russia control over the entire region). Cherevatyi also noted the presence of mobilized men in the Bakhmut direction, an area that should not in principle see many mobilized personnel given the extensive presence in this area of Wagner Group and proxy units that should not be receiving large numbers of Russian reservists. ISW previously assessed that Russian forces prematurely impaled an insufficient concentration of mobilized personnel on offensive pushes near Bakhmut and Vuhledar in Donetsk Oblast on November 3. The apparent intensification of Russian assaults in Donetsk Oblast likely indicates that Russian forces are repeating that mistake throughout this section of the front. The increased quantity of personnel at frontline positions may allow Russian forces to achieve some gains in Donetsk Oblast, but poor training, logistics, and command will continue to prevent Russian forces from making operationally significant gains that would materially affect the course or outcome of the war.
Russian forces are setting conditions for a controlled withdrawal in northwestern Kherson Oblast, likely to avoid a disorderly rout from the right (west) bank of the Dnipro River. Russian forces will likely need to engage in a fighting withdrawal to prevent Ukrainian forces from chasing them onto the left (eastern) bank. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command corrected social media reports from November 3 regarding the destruction of civilian boats and piers along the Dnipro River. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command stated that Russian forces are purposefully destroying civilian vessels and are restricting civilian use of watercraft and access to the shore. The corrected story likely corresponds with the reports of Russian forces preparing defensive positions on the left bank and the withdrawal of certain elements and suggests that Russian forces are eliminating ways for Ukrainian forces to chase them across the river during or after a withdrawal. Local Ukrainian sources also shared geolocated footage that reportedly showed the aftermath of the recent Russian destruction of a pedestrian bridge over the Inhulets River in Snihurivka (about 60km east of Mykolaiv City), which may also indicate Russian efforts to slow Ukrainian advances amidst a Russian withdrawal.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely setting conditions to continue covert mobilization, which suggests that partial mobilization did not generate sufficient forces for Putin’s maximalist goals in Ukraine despite Putin’s claims to the contrary. Putin announced on November 4 that Russian forces mobilized 318,000 men of the 300,000 authorized due to the recruitment of volunteers during the mobilization period. Putin added that Russia had already committed 49,000 men to combat missions. Putin’s claims of a successful and completed mobilization are inconsistent with his November 4 decree that allows Russian officials to mobilize citizens with outstanding convictions for some serious crimes. Putin also signed decrees extending the status of servicemen to men serving in volunteer formations and outlining mobilization exemptions for citizens undergoing alternative service. Such decrees likely indicate that Putin is preparing to continue covert mobilization in Russia by attempting to incentivize volunteer service or setting conditions to mobilize convicts—given that he has yet to sign an order terminating mobilization as of November 4. Provisions authorizing the mobilization of prisoners may also indicate that Putin is trying to preempt social tensions by setting conditions to mobilize convicts instead of civilian Russian men.
Russian opposition and online outlets have reported that Russian authorities and businesses are preparing for a second mobilization wave by modernizing military recruitment centers and preparing lists of eligible men. Rostov, Kursk, and Voronezh Oblast governors have also previously spoken about conducting a second wave of mobilization, and a few men reported receiving summonses for 2023. While it is unclear if the Kremlin will double down on covert mobilization or initiate another mobilization wave, Putin’s decrees are indicative of the persistent force generation challenges that have plagued the Russian military campaign.
Russia’s costly force generation efforts will continue to weigh on the Russian economy and could ignite social tensions if the Kremlin does not fulfill its financial obligations to the participants of the “special military operation.” Putin signed a decree granting a one-time payment of 195,000 rubles (about $3,150) to mobilized men and individuals who had signed a contract after the declaration of partial mobilization on September 21. By committing to pay mobilized men and giving the status of servicemen to volunteers the Kremlin is adding another financial burden to Russia’s economy. Russian governors are already releasing statements attempting to justify delays in compensating mobilized men and their families citing budget issues and the need to finance supplies for Russian servicemen. Failures to make payouts to mobilized men are already causing social tensions in Chuvash Republic, for example, where 1,800 men are demanding that the region immediately pay the promised 400 million rubles (about $6.5 million) to the mobilized population.
Iran is likely already exploiting Russian reliance on Iranian-made weapons systems to request Russian assistance with its nuclear program. CNN reported on November 4 that unspecified US intelligence officials believe that Iranian officials have been asking Russia for help in acquiring additional nuclear materials and with nuclear fuel fabrication. Nuclear fuel could allow Iran to shorten the breakout period to create a nuclear weapon depending on the kind of fuel and the kind of reactor for which it is being requested. CNN reported that it was unclear whether Russian officials had agreed to Iranian requests. ISW has previously reported that Iranian plans to send more combat drones and possibly ballistic missile systems to Russia will likely strengthen Russia’s growing reliance on Iranian-made weapons systems.
Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) representative Andriy Yusov stated on November 4 that GUR has not received information confirming that Iranian missile systems have arrived in Russia despite intelligence that confirms the contract for the transfer of those systems. Yusov also stated that another shipment of 200 Iranian-made combat drones to Russia is currently underway. Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov reported on November 4 that Russian forces have almost completely used up the first set of 300 combat drones from Iran. Reznikov reported that Russia currently has contracts to receive 1,500 to 2,400 more Iranian-made combat drones, assuming Iran can fill the orders. Russia’s growing reliance on these systems allows Iran to exert greater influence on Russian officials, and Iranian officials have already likely started to exploit that influence in support of its nuclear program. The Iranian requests for Russian assistance with its nuclear program may be an indicator of an intensifying Russian Iranian security partnership in which Iran and Russia are more equal partners.
Russian forces may be deploying extreme measures against deserting personnel in an attempt to respond to severe morale issues. The United Kingdom Ministry of Defense (MoD) reported on November 4 that Russian forces in Ukraine probably have started deploying “barrier troops” and “blocking units”, units that threaten to shoot their own retreating personnel to compel offensives. The UK MoD reported that Russian generals likely want their subordinate commanders to shoot deserters, including possibly authorizing personnel to shoot to kill their own deserting servicemen. Desertion in the face of the enemy is a capital offense in many militaries, including America’s. The deployment of designated units or individuals behind friendly lines to shoot deserters is nevertheless indicative of just how low the morale, discipline, and cohesion of Russian military forces in parts of Ukraine have become.
- The Russian military is likely trying to use mobilized personnel to restart its Donetsk offensive but will likely fail to achieve operationally significant gains.
- Russian forces are setting conditions for an orderly withdrawal from the west bank of the Dnipro River to avoid a rout in Kherson Oblast.
- President Vladimir Putin is likely setting conditions to continue mobilization covertly despite claims that partial mobilization produced sufficient forces.
- Russia’s costly force generation measures will likely continue to weigh on the Russian economy and generate social tensions.
- Iran is likely exploiting Russian reliance on Iranian-made weapon systems to request Russian assistance with its nuclear program.
- Russian forces may be deploying extreme measures against deserting personnel in an attempt to respond to severe morale issues.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in the direction of Kreminna and Svatove.
- Russian forces continued to prepare existing and new defensive lines in Kherson Oblast.
- Russian forces continued to conduct offensive operations around Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Donetsk City.
- Russian forces continued forced evacuation measures in Kherson Oblast.
- Russian and occupation officials continued to set measures for the forced deportation of Ukrainian children to the Russian Federation.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 3
November 3, 9:15 pm ET
Russian forces are continuing to withdraw some elements from northwestern Kherson Oblast, but it is still unclear if Russian forces will fight for Kherson City. Kherson City occupation deputy Kirill Stremousov stated on November 3 that Russian forces “will most likely leave for the left (eastern) bank” of the Dnipro River urging civilians to evacuate from Kherson City “as quickly as possible.” ISW has observed that Russian forces are continuing to prepare fallback positions on the left (eastern) bank of the Dnipro River while continuing to set up defensive positions northwest of Kherson City and transporting additional mobilized forces there, despite Stremousov’s statement. Some Russian elite units — such as airborne forces and naval infantry — are reportedly continuing to operate on the right (western) bank of the Dnipro River and their full withdrawal from northern Kherson Oblast would be a clearer indicator that Russian forces will not fight for Kherson City or settlements on the right bank. Stremousov also hypothesized about the probability of fighting in Kherson City and northern Kherson Oblast in the next two weeks, which may suggest that he anticipates some battles for Kherson City despite his comments about withdrawal. Stremousov is also an unreliable source who has consistently issued contradictory statements and made emotional responses to events, and his public statements may be clouded by personal fears of losing his position within the occupation government.
Ukrainian and Russian sources also extensively discussed the reported closure of some Russian checkpoints in the vicinity of Kherson City, the theft of city’s monuments, and the removal of a Russian flag from the Kherson Oblast Administration building as indicators of an ongoing Russian withdrawal from the city. A Russian outlet claimed that Russian officials removed the flag because the occupation administration moved to Henichesk by the Crimean border. While the relocation of the Kherson Oblast occupation government may suggest that Russian forces are preparing to abandon Kherson City, it may equally indicate that they are setting conditions for urban combat within the city. Similar reports may arise in coming days given the ongoing forced evacuation of civilians from both right and left banks of the Dnipro River but may not indicate an immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from Kherson City. The disposition of Russian airborne forces remains the best indicator of Russian intentions.
Russian forces prematurely impaled an insufficient concentration of mobilized personnel on offensive pushes near Bakhmut and Vuhledar, Donetsk Oblast, wasting the fresh supply of mobilized personnel on marginal gains towards operationally insignificant settlements. Ukrainian General Staff Deputy Chief Oleksiy Hromov stated on November 3 that one or two Russian motorized rifle companies with artillery and tank support conducted ground attacks within the past week to seize Pavlivka in an effort to reach Vuhledar, but that Russian forces have suffered losses due to Ukrainian defenses. Russian sources also acknowledged on November 3 that the rate of Russian advances near Vuhledar is slow due to Ukrainian resistance and mud. Hromov stated that Russian forces continue ground attacks at the expense of mobilized personnel, private military company forces, and former prisoners, and that the Russians conducted over 40 ground attacks in the Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and western Donetsk Oblast areas in the past 24 hours, sustaining over 300 casualties (100 killed) in just one direction. ISW has previously reported on the slow Russian rate of advance in Donetsk Oblast and injudicious allocation of resources on the front lines. Russian forces would likely have had more success in such offensive operations if they had waited until enough mobilized personnel had arrived to amass a force large enough to overcome Ukrainian defenses despite poor weather conditions. Russian attacks continuing current patterns are unlikely to generate enough momentum to regain the battlefield initiative. ISW offers no hypothesis to explain Russian forces’ impatience or their continued allocation of limited military assets to gaining operationally insignificant ground in Donetsk Oblast rather than defending against the Ukrainian counteroffensives in Luhansk and Kherson oblasts.
- It is still unclear whether Russian forces will defend Kherson City despite the ongoing withdrawal of some Russian elements from northwestern Kherson Oblast.
- Russian forces prematurely deployed newly mobilized personnel to offensive operations in western Donetsk Oblast in the pursuit of minimal and operationally insignificant territorial gains.
- Russian outlets continued to publish contradictory and confusing reports about the dismissal of Colonel General Alexander Lapin from the position of CMD commander or commander of the Russian “central” forces.
- Russian authorities may be setting conditions to imminently transfer the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant to the Russian power grid.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued to conduct counteroffensive operations in the direction of Kreminna and Svatove.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Donetsk City.
- The Russian military continues to face pronounced issues in the supply of critical military equipment.
- The Russian Ministry of Defense is likely continuing mobilization efforts covertly.
- Russian occupation officials continued forced evacuations in Kherson Oblast.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 2
November 2, 8:30 pm ET
Russian force generation efforts combined with Western sanctions are having long-term damaging effects on the Russian economy, as ISW has previously forecasted. Financial experts told Reuters that the Kremlin will face a budget deficit that will “drain Moscow’s reserves to their lowest level in years” due to projected decreases in energy revenue, sanctions, and the cost of Russian mobilization. One expert predicted that payouts to mobilized men including social benefits may cost the Kremlin between 900 billion rubles and three trillion rubles (around $14.6-$32.4 billion) in the next six months. The number does not account for payouts to other categories of servicemen within the Russian forces such as BARS (Combat Army Reserve), volunteer battalions, and the long-term commitment to veterans' payments to contract servicemen, volunteers, non-military specialists who moved to occupied territories, and proxy fighters. ISW previously estimated that one volunteer battalion of 400 servicemen costs Russia at least $1.2 million per month excluding enlistment bonuses and special payments for military achievements.
The Kremlin is continuing to rely heavily on financially incentivizing Russians to fight in Ukraine, which will likely continue to strain the Russian economy for decades. Russian officials have been promising salaries to volunteers and mobilized men that are more than twice the average Russian civilian salary before and during Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin has been attempting to deflect part of the cost of the force generation effort onto Russian federal subjects but will likely need to tap into the federal budget more heavily soon. United Russia Party Secretary Andrey Turchak, for example, stated that Russian servicemen from all regions must receive uniform benefits and noted that the federal government must cover the difference if the federal subject is unable to fully compensate all participants of the “special military operation.” Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Head Denis Pushilin even acknowledged that there are insufficient measures in place to support mobilized personnel and their families in occupied Donetsk Oblast during a United Russia meeting.
The Kremlin is already facing challenges in delivering promised compensation, challenges that are increasing social tensions within Russian society. Russian Telegram channels released footage of mobilized men in Ulyanovsk protesting payment issues. Other footage from the Chuvashia Republic shows a presumably Russian local official yelling at protesting mobilized men that she had not promised them a payment of 300,000 rubles (about $4,860). Families of mobilized men publicly complained to Voronezh Oblast Governor Alexander Guseyev that they have not received promised compensation of 120,000 rubles (about $1,945). The Kremlin will need to continue to pay what it has promised to maintain societal control and some resemblance of morale among Russia’s ad hoc collection of forces. ISW has also reported that the Kremlin is igniting conflict within Russian military formations amalgamated from different sources by offering different payments, benefits, and treatment. Social media footage from October 31, for example, showed a physical fight between contract servicemen and mobilized men reportedly over personal belongings and military equipment.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s calls for a competitive Russian military industry are divorced from the reality of Russian supply chain and defense industrial base issues. Putin stressed on November 2 during a meeting of the Coordinating Council for the Russian Armed Forces that it is important that the Russian government ensures active competition between Russian military arms manufacturers. Putin’s calls contrast with recent reporting that Russia has purchased weapons systems from Iran and North Korea to support its war effort in Ukraine. US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby announced on November 2 that the American intelligence community believes that North Korea is covertly supplying Russia with artillery shells. ISW previously reported that Iranian shipments of drones and possible ballistic missiles to Russia will likely further increase Russian reliance on Iranian-made weapons systems. Russia has likely negotiated the weapon shipments with Iran and North Korea because it has significantly depleted its stock of munitions in air, missile, and artillery strikes over the course of the war in Ukraine and cannot readily restock them. Russia’s reliance on isolated and heavily sanctioned states for critical weapons systems does not support Putin’s demand that the Russian military industry becomes highly competitive and meet the needs of the Russian Armed Forces in any short period of time.
Russian officials announced that occupation authorities began integrating the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) into the jurisdiction of Russian nuclear power plant operator Rosenergoatom on November 2. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko claimed that ZNPP personnel who are “critical for the work of the ZNPP” signed contracts with Rosenergoatom and that Russian authorities are exploring the creation of a security zone around the ZNPP. Ukraine’s Energoatom stated on October 28 that only 100 of the 6,700 Ukrainian personnel remaining at the ZNPP plant have signed new contracts with Russian energy agency Rosatom (out of 11,000 personnel before February 24). The Ukrainian State Inspectorate of Nuclear Regulation stated that Russian forces built an unknown structure at one of seven spent nuclear fuel storage sites at the ZNPP in violation of nuclear safety standards. As of this publication, the IAEA has not issued a statement condemning the formally announced illegal Russian takeover of the operation of the ZNPP or addressed the likelihood that Russia will demand formal IAEA recognition of Russian control over the ZNPP and thereby de facto recognition of the Russian annexation of occupied Ukrainian territory.
Russian and Belarusian officials continue to highlight bilateral defense cooperation between Russia and Belarus as a means of perpetuating the long-standing information operation that Belarus will enter the war in Ukraine on behalf of Russia. Belarus’ entry into the war remains highly unlikely, as ISW has previously assessed. Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin announced on November 2 that Russia and Belarus held the annual meeting of the Joint Board of the Ministries of Defense with the purpose of strengthening the “joint military potential” of the Russia-Belarus Union State to counter “challenges and threats of a military nature” posed by NATO. Khrenin’s statement is likely meant to signal continued Belarusian loyalty to Russia and present an image of Belarusian-Russian military unity to the West. As ISW has previously assessed, the likelihood of a Belarusian invasion of the war remains highly unlikely due to the array of domestic ramifications such an action would have on President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime, as well as limited Belarusian military capabilities. The meeting of the Joint Board of the Ministries of Defense is therefore a continuation of a concerted effort on the part of both Belarus and Russia to perpetuate an information operation that presents the threat of the Union State as imminent in order to pin Ukrainian troops against the northern border and pollute the information space.
- Russian force generation efforts combined with Western sanctions are having long-term damaging effects on the Russian economy, as ISW has previously forecasted.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin’s calls for a competitive Russian military industry are divorced from the reality of Russian supply chain and defense industrial base issues.
- Russian officials announced that occupation authorities began integrating the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) into Russian jurisdiction.
- Russian and Belarusian officials continue to perpetuate the long-standing information operation that Belarus will enter the war in Ukraine on behalf of Russia, but Belarus’ entry into the war remains highly unlikely, as ISW has previously assessed.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued to conduct counteroffensive operations in the directions of Svatove and Kreminna, and Russian forces conducted offensive operations to constrain Ukrainian forces.
- Russian forces continued defensive operations along the Dnipro River while Ukrainian forces continued their interdiction campaign.
- Russian forces continued to conduct ground assaults near Bakhmut and Donetsk City.
- Russian forces continue mobilization efforts, advertising for volunteer battalions, and struggling with low morale.
- Russian occupation authorities continued to forcibly relocate Kherson Oblast residents, nationalize Ukrainian enterprises in occupied territory, and forcibly deport Ukrainian children to Russia.
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 1
Iran plans to send more combat drones and new ballistic missile systems to Russia for use in Ukraine, likely further strengthening Russia’s reliance on Iranian-made weapon systems. The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported on November 1 that Iranian officials intend to send a shipment of more than 200 Shahed-136, Mohajer-6, and Arash-2 combat drones to Russia. The GUR reported that Iran will send Russia the drones in a disassembled state and that Russian personnel will assemble them with Russian markings. CNN reported on November 1 that unnamed officials from a western country that closely monitors Iranian weapons programs stated that Iran plans to send a thousand weapons to Russia by the end of the year, including surface-to-surface short-range ballistic missiles and combat drones. This would be the first confirmed instance of Iran sending Russia advanced precision-guided missiles. Russia likely negotiated the additional Iranian shipment of weapons systems due to the depletion of its stockpile of cruise missile and drone systems over the course of the war in Ukraine, particularly during the Russian campaign against Ukrainian critical infrastructure. The GUR reported that Ukrainian air defenses have shot down more than 300 Shahed-136 drones since Russia starting using them in Ukraine on September 13. Russia will likely continue to use drone attacks and missile strikes against critical infrastructure to try to offset the failures and limitations of its conventional forces on the frontline. Russian dependence on Iranian-made systems, and therefore on Iran, will likely increase.
The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) started its semi-annual fall conscription drive on November 1, amidst reports of continuing covert mobilization throughout the country. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced that 2,700 draft committees across 85 federal subjects began the fall conscription call-up of 120,000 men. Shoigu also stated that partial mobilization in Russia concluded. Head of the Main Organizational and Mobilization Directorate of the Russian General Staff, Yevgeniy Burdinsky, reiterated that Russia is conscripting 7,500 fewer men than in previous years and noted that partial mobilization postponed the conscription cycle by one month. Burdinsky claimed that conscripts will not serve in occupied Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, or Zaporizhia oblasts this year and will not participate in combat. Head of the 4th Directorate of the Main Organizational and Mobilization Directorate of the Russian General Staff Vladimir Tsimlyansky added that most recruits will deploy to training formations and military units where they will train for five months, while others will receive specializations based on their skills and education level. The Russian MoD has conducted semi-annual conscription call-ups for decades and should be able to execute this process effectively and efficiently. Any problems with the execution of the fall call-up would likely indicate that partial mobilization and the war in Ukraine have complicated a standard procedure.
Numerous Russian sources reported that Russian enlistment officers are continuing to mobilize men despite Shoigu’s previous announcements of the conclusion of partial mobilization and transition into the conscription period on October 28. Local Russian outlets reported instances of men receiving mobilization notices in Tyumen and St. Petersburg as of October 31. The Russian Central Military District (CMD) reportedly told journalists of a Russian outlet that mobilization processes will continue across Russia until Russian President Vladimir Putin signs a decree ending the mobilization period. Ukrainian Melitopol and Mariupol authorities also reported that Russian occupation authorities are continuing to coerce Ukrainians into volunteer battalions and territorial defense units.
Commander of the 8th Combined Arms Army of the Southern Military District (SMD) Lieutenant-General Andrey Mordvichev reportedly replaced Colonel-General Alexander Lapin as commander of the Central Military District (CMD). Several Russian milbloggers—including some who appear on Russian state television—noted that Mordichev has replaced Lapin in this position, but the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) has not officially announced Mordichev’s appointment nor Lapin’s dismissal as of November 1. A Russian local outlet citing an unnamed official within the Russian MoD claimed that Mordichev will only replace Lapin as the commander of the “center“ forces in Ukraine for the duration of Lapin’s supposed three-week medical leave. A milblogger who frequently appears on Russian state media claimed that the Commander of the Russian Forces in Ukraine, Army General Sergey Surovikin, personally appointed Mordichev to replace Lapin due to his commitment to objective frontline reporting. If reports of Mordichev’s appointment are true, then the Kremlin may be attempting to appease the pro-war milblogger community that has been demanding transparency and more honest reporting. The milblogger added that Mordichev reportedly has “warm working relations” with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, and that Kadyrov called Mordichev “the best commander” during their meeting in mid-March. Mordichev’s appointment may therefore indicate that the Kremlin is attempting to appease the siloviki faction—composed of Kadyrov and Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin—that has publicly criticized Lapin as well. Lapin’s dismissal may have also been Surovikin’s recommendation as well, however, given that both commanders operated in the Luhansk Oblast area to seize Lysychansk and its surroundings in June. ISW cannot independently verify milblogger or Russian local outlet reports at this time.
Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin is likely attempting to address critiques against his parallel military structures following Lapin’s reported dismissal. Prigozhin defended his mercenaries against unspecified “tens of thousands of critics,” stating that his Wagner mercenaries are dying while critics are refusing to go to the frontlines. Prigozhin has been responding to numerous inquiries in recent days regarding Wagner units suffering losses or facing outbreaks of infectious diseases among prisoner recruits, but his attacks against Lapin have prompted some within the pro-war community to publicly question his authority. Many Russian milbloggers who had defended Lapin heavily criticized Prigozhin’s comments about the Russian higher military command, with one milblogger stating that “shepherds and cooks,” sarcastically referring to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Prigozhin, could not assess Lapin’s performance. ISW has also previously noted that Prigozhin’s units have not made significant gains around Bakhmut since June.
Prigozhin is likely attempting to reduce the appearance that he might become too powerful, stating that he has no plans to hold political office and would refuse such a position if offered. Prigozhin also added that he does not consider himself to be a leader of public opinion and does not engage in “showdowns” with Russian officials, despite continuing to publicly attack St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov and repeatedly calling for his resignation. Prigozhin added that he is not competing with Beglov in the St-Petersburg business sphere.
- Planned Iranian shipments of drones and ballistic missiles to Russia will likely further strengthen Russian reliance on Iran and Iranian-made weapons systems.
- The Russian MoD started its semi-annual fall conscription cycle despite reports of Russian authorities covertly continuing mobilization measures.
- Commander of the 8th Combined Arms Army of the Southern Military District (SMD), Lieutenant-General Andrey Mordvichev, reportedly replaced Colonel-General Alexander Lapin as commander of the Central Military District (CMD).
- Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin is likely attempting to address critiques against his parallel military structures following Lapin’s reported dismissal.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued to conduct counteroffensive operations in the directions of Svatove and Kreminna.
- Russian forces continued defensive preparations while Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive operations in Kherson Oblast.
- Russian forces continued to conduct offensive operations around Bakhmut and around Donetsk City.
- Russian forces continued to strengthen Russian control over the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
- Russian military structures are reportedly expanding training capabilities.
- Russian occupation officials continued to set conditions for the long-term and permanent relocation of residents from the east bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast.
Full list of Ukraine invasion updates are available here.