October 31, 2022
Ukraine Invasion Updates October 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 October 2022. Full list of Ukraine invasion updates are available here.
October 31, 9:00 pm ET
Russian forces conducted another massive wave of missile strikes targeting critical Ukrainian infrastructure across the country on October 31, likely in an attempt to degrade Ukraine’s will to fight as temperatures drop. Russian forces fired over 50 Kh-101 and Kh-555 missiles from the northern Caspian Sea and the Volgodonsk region of Rostov Oblast, targeting critical Ukrainian energy infrastructure. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian air defenses shot down 44 out of over 50 Russian missiles. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal reported that the strikes damaged 18 mostly energy-related targets across 10 Ukrainian regions. Ukrainian officials reported that Russian strikes cut off water to 80% of Kyiv residents on October 31 and left hundreds of thousands without power.
Russian occupation officials once again shifted their rhetoric regarding the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP) and are likely setting information conditions to continue to drive evacuations from the west bank of the Dnipro River and provide rhetorical cover for a Russian withdrawal from the area. Kherson Occupation Head Vladimir Saldo announced on October 31 that his administration is expanding the evacuation zone by 15km from the Dnipro River and cited information that Ukraine is preparing for a “massive missile attack” of the Kakhovka HPP dam, which Saldo alleged will cause massive flooding and destruction of civilian infrastructure. Saldo previously claimed on October 26 that it would be “practically impossible” to destroy the dam and that even in case of a breach, the water level of the Dnipro River would only rise 2 meters.
The apparent oscillation in Saldo’s position on the Kakhovka HPP indicates that his administration is likely using threats of breach and flooding to perpetuate an information operation with a two-fold purpose: to drive evacuations from the west bank and to explain away a future Russian withdrawal from the west bank. There is no scenario in which it would be advantageous for Ukraine to blow the dam. The ramifications that such an action would have on the safety of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), which relies on the water in the Kakhovka reservoir for coolant, and the economic and social implications of flooding over 80 settlements and destroying civilian homes and viable land, entirely preclude the possibility that this is a contingency Ukraine may pursue. Blowing the dam would also make it much harder for Ukrainian forces to achieve their stated aims of liberating the remainder of Kherson Oblast and other territories east of the river. Saldo’s statements are likely therefore meant to encourage residents of the west bank to promptly evacuate and may also establish informational cover for a Russian withdrawal from the west bank. Saldo could be framing the dam explosion as an inevitable and insurmountable obstacle that Russian forces could only avoid by abandoning the west bank and retreating further into Kherson Oblast. Russia’s ability or willingness to physically damage the dam is relatively immaterial—the informational effects of accusing Ukraine of preparing to blow the dam could be sufficient to create rhetorical cover to explain away any future Russian withdrawals.
Russian forces are likely continuing to move troops and military assets across the Dnipro River in anticipation of Ukrainian advances towards Kherson City. Ukrainian military sources reported on October 30 that Russian forces are preparing to move artillery units and weapons from the west bank of the Dnipro River for possible redeployment in other directions. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command additionally noted on October 31 that Russian forces are preparing to evacuate individual units and military equipment from the west bank and have collected watercraft to facilitate the evacuation. Russian-backed Kherson occupation deputy Kirill Stremousov stated that on October 30 Russian forces also began engineering positions in Bilozerka (6km due west of Kherson City) and Chornobaivka (1km north of Kherson City), which is corroborated by imagery posted by reported Russian collaborators of barbed wire defenses in these areas. The fact that Russian collaborators are preparing to defend Chornobaivka is particularly noteworthy, as Chornobaivka is the last settlement along the M14 north of Kherson City. The current frontline lies less than 20km northwest of Chornobaivka, and active efforts to bolster defense here indicate concern for an imminent Ukrainian advance. The simultaneous evacuation of military assets from the west bank and preparations for the defense of critical areas around Kherson City indicate serious anxiety over Russian control of the west bank.
Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin continued his efforts to increase his status among Russian elites and his presence in St. Petersburg by attacking local officials and announcing the creation of a PMC Wagner Center in St. Petersburg on October 31. Prigozhin reportedly requested on October 31 that the Russian Prosecutor General’s office open a criminal investigation into the “fact” that St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov organized a “criminal community” in St. Petersburg. Prigozhin alleged that Beglov’s criminal network intends to plunder the state budget and enrich corrupt officials. Prigozhin is likely using his criticism of Beglov and other St. Petersburg politicians to enhance his own reputation—and his campaign may be working. The publication Petersburg Vestnik characterized Prigozhin’s popularity as “skyrocketing” on October 31 and asked if he had any plans to form a party or go into politics, to which Prigozhin replied “I do not strive for popularity. My task is to fulfill my duty to the Motherland, and today I do not plan to create any parties, let alone go into politics.”
Prigozhin may or may not create his own political party, but he is establishing himself as a political force, using his popular status and his affiliation with Wagner to critique his opponents within elite circles and to institutionalize his own authority. Prigozhin criticized Russian “oligarchs” and “elites” on October 31 for living in a “state of comfort” and preventing the full mobilization of Russian society: “until [elites’] children go to war, the full mobilization of the country will not happen.” Prigozhin also announced the creation of a “PMC Wagner Center” in St. Petersburg on October 31, which he said is scheduled to open on November 4. Prigozhin described the center as “a complex of buildings in which there are places for free accommodation of inventors, designers, IT specialists, experimental production, and start-up spaces” with the intention of creating a “comfortable environment for generating new ideas in order to increase the defense capability of Russia, including information.” Prigozhin noted that he did not inform the local St. Petersburg administration of the center’s creation because the local government is not a “sufficiently representative structure to interfere with the work of the PMC Wagner Center.” Prigozhin challenged local government officials who have problems with his center to take them up in court and suggested that he will establish new branches if the St. Petersburg branch is successful. Private military companies like Wagner are illegal per the Russian constitution.
- Russian forces launched another massive wave of strikes against critical Ukrainian infrastructure, further damaging the power grid and leaving much of Kyiv without water.
- Russian officials again changed their minds about the risk of Ukrainian forces destroying the Kakhovka dam, ordering evacuations of areas that could be flooded. There is no scenario in which Ukraine would benefit from destroying the dam, and this rhetoric is likely meant to speed evacuations and provide informational cover for Russian withdrawals from the west bank.
- Russian forces are continuing to withdraw from the west bank of the Dnipro River even as they set conditions to fight for positions around Kherson City.
- Wagner Private Military Company financier Evgeniy Prigozhin sought to bring charges against the St. Petersburg mayor for corruption and announced the imminent opening of the PMC Wagner Center in St. Petersburg. Prigozhin also attacked “oligarchs” and “elites” for living in comfort and preventing the full mobilization of Russia.
- Russian sources continued to claim that Ukrainian troops conducted counter-offensive operations in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast and along the Svatove-Kreminna line on October 30 and 31.
- Russian forces continued defensive operations and Russian sources reported that Ukrainian forces continued counter-offensive operations in Kherson Oblast on October 30 and 31.
- The Ukrainian interdiction campaign is reportedly damaging Russian forces exfiltrating across the Dnipro River.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks around Bakhmut on October 30 and 31.
- Russian sources claimed that Russian troops made incremental gains in the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area on October 30 and 31, but ISW cannot verify these claims.
- The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is likely attempting to prevent draft dodging by trying to deceive the Russian population into believing that autumn conscripts will not be sent to fight in Ukraine.
- The MoD also announced the end of partial mobilization on October 31, executing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order to end mobilization by the end of October
- Local Russian governments remain responsible for even basic provisions to mobilized personnel, demonstrating the inefficiency of crowdfunding efforts and uncoordinated supply lines to support a modern military.
- Russian occupation authorities in Kherson Oblast announced that they would allow the use of Ukrainian hryvnias alongside Russian rubles, demonstrating the failure of their monthslong rubleization efforts in Kherson.
- Russian officials continue to create poor conditions in occupied parts of Kherson Oblast, likely to drive local inhabitants to evacuate.
October 30, 5:00 pm ET
ISW is publishing an abbreviated campaign update today, October 30. This report forecasts that Russia will continue to conduct conventional military operations well into 2023 rather than escalating to the use of tactical nuclear weapons or scaling back its objectives in pursuit of some off-ramp. It considers the timelines of Russian force generation and deployment, of weather effects, and of Moscow’s efforts to freeze Europe into surrender. It includes a summary of battlefield activities that will be described in more detail in tomorrow’s update.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will most likely try to continue conventional military operations in Ukraine to hold currently occupied territories, gain new ground, and set conditions for the collapse of Western support for Ukraine that he likely expects to occur this winter. Putin has likely not abandoned hopes of achieving his maximalist aims in Ukraine through conventional military means, which he is pursuing in parallel with efforts to break Ukraine’s will to fight and the West’s will to continue supporting Kyiv.[i] Putin is unlikely to escalate to the use of tactical nuclear weapons barring the sudden collapse of the Russian military permitting Ukrainian forces to make uncontrolled advances throughout the theater.[ii] Such a situation is possible but unlikely. Putin is extraordinarily unlikely to seek direct military conflict with NATO. Putin is very likely to continue to hint at the possibility of Russian tactical nuclear use and attacks on NATO, however, as parts of his effort to break Western will to continue supporting Ukraine.
This forecast rests on two assessments. First, that Putin is setting conditions to continue throwing poorly prepared Russian troops directly into the fighting in Ukraine for the foreseeable future rather than pausing operations to reconstitute effective military forces. Second, that Putin’s theory of victory relies on using the harsh winter to break Europe’s will. These assessments offer a series of timelines that support the forecast.
Russian force generation efforts will occur over the course of several predictable time periods. Putin has declared that the “partial mobilization” of reservists is complete.[i] That declaration means that, in principle, the Russian military will stop calling up reservists and instead focus on completing their brief training periods before sending them to fight in Ukraine. ISW previously assessed that most of the remaining called-up reservists will arrive in the theater of war over the next few weeks.[ii]
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced that continued reserve mobilization efforts will take the form of renewed efforts to recruit “volunteers,” likely into volunteer battalions—efforts that were largely shelved during the “partial mobilization.”[iii] Russia will likely struggle to fill out new “volunteer” units rapidly following the reserve call-ups and the flight of hundreds of thousands of Russians who feared those call-ups. Continued attempts to create “volunteer” units will thus likely generate little meaningful combat power and will be spread over an extended period of time.
The Russian military will begin its semi-annual conscription call-up a month later than usual on November 1, 2022. Russia’s conscription cycle offers a set of predictable timelines. Normal Russian conscript training involves a period of roughly six months of individual basic and advanced training followed by the assignment of conscripts to combat units in which they complete their remaining six months of mandatory service.[iv] Russian law bans sending conscripts to combat operations abroad with fewer than four months of training, although it specifies that conditions of war or martial law allow the Russian military to deploy conscripts to fight earlier than that. Putin has declared martial law states of varying degrees of urgency throughout the Russian Federation and could use that declaration to trigger the exemption from the mandatory training period.[v] The annexation of four Ukrainian oblasts offers another possible basis for exemption, because Russian law does not preclude the use of conscripts in Russian territory regardless of how much training they have received.[vi]
Raw conscripts with no military experience and fewer than four months of training are likely to be nearly useless on the battlefield in any case. Putin may rush limited numbers of such conscripts to combat before their four-month training period is complete, but most will likely be held back until March 2023 at the earliest.
The Russian military will likely find it necessary to send these conscripts to units in Ukraine at the end of their six-month period of initial training in any case, however, as there are unlikely to be enough functional combat units at home stations in Russia to receive them. The Russian military has fully committed its available ground forces units to Ukraine in a series of force generation efforts, as ISW has previously reported.[vii] The partial mobilization and volunteer battalion recruitment efforts are further evidence that the Russian military has no remaining uncommitted ground forces to send. The Russian military likely will be unable to keep called-up conscripts in training areas for more than six months, however, because the next semi-annual conscription call-up would normally begin around April 1, 2023. Conscripts called up beginning on November 1, 2022, will thus likely be assigned to combat and support units in Ukraine and begin to arrive on the battlefield around May 2023.
The Russian Defense Ministry will not likely be able to conduct additional reserve call-ups as long as it is engaged in providing conscripts with initial training. The next window for a large-scale reserve mobilization would thus likely be not earlier than March 1.
The combination of the partial reserve mobilization just completed and the annual conscription cycle thus creates two likely waves of Russian troops flowing into Ukraine—one moving in over the next few weeks, and the other starting to flow in Spring 2023.
Key inflections in ongoing military operations on October 30:
- Unconfirmed Russian reports claimed that Russian Lieutenant General Andrey Mordvichev (Commander of the 8th Combined Arms Army of the Southern Military District) replaced
Colonel General Alexander Lapin as Central Military District commander as of October 30.[i] Russian sources continue to make contradictory reports about whether Lapin was fully relieved of command of the CMD or just relieved of command of the Russian operational “Central Group of Forces” operating in Ukraine.[ii]
- The Russian Ministry of Defense and Russian sources claimed that Russian forces repelled Ukrainian assaults on Pershotravneve, Tabaivka, and Berestove in Kharkiv Oblast.[iii]
- Ukrainian sources and geolocated reports indicate that Russian forces destroyed a bridge over the Krasna River in Krasnorichenske, Luhansk Oblast.[iv] Russian milbloggers accused Ukrainian forces of destroying the bridge.[v]
- A Russian occupation official stated that Russian force are preparing to defend Kherson City by engineering defenses in Bilozerka and Chornobaivka.[vi] Ukrainian military official also noted that Russian officials continued to prepare defenses around Kherson City.[vii]
- Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian forces are preparing to withdraw artillery units from unspecified areas on the western bank of the Dnipro River to possibly reinforce other directions.[viii] Ukrainian military officials also reported that several hundred Rosgvardia servicemen deployed from the Republic of Chechnya to Kalanchak in southwestern Kherson Oblast.[ix]
- Russian forces continued to shell Ukrainian positions in Beryslav Raion, Kherson Oblast, and both Ukrainian and Russian sources provided limited information regarding the situation on the Kherson Oblast frontline.[x]
- Russian sources claimed that Russian forces captured Vodyane, Donetsk Oblast, (4km northwest of Donetsk International Airport) on October 30.[xi] The Ukrainian General Staff’s evening report did not report repelling Russian attacks in this area as it usually does, potentially indicating that the Russian claims are accurate.
- Russian sources reported that Russian forces captured Pavlivka, Donetsk Oblast, (2km southwest of Vuhledar) on October 30.[xii] Some Russian sources claim that Russian forces control only half of Pavlivka as of October 30.[xiii] The Ukrainian General Staff’s evening report did not report repelling Russian attacks in this area as it usually does, potentially indicating that the Russian claims are accurate.
- Russian forces launched Kh-59 cruise missiles at Ochakiv, Mykolaiv Oblast.[xiv] Russian sources claimed that Russian forces targeted and destroyed military infrastructure in Ochakiv.[xv]
- Mobilized men from Republic of Komi appealed to Russian authorities with complaints of insufficient military equipment and body armor.[xvi]
- Russia announced its intention to supply 500,000 tons of grain to the “poorest countries” following its withdrawal from the deal that allowed Ukraine to export its grain.[xvii] Ukraine announced that it intends to export agricultural products to maintain global food security.[xviii]
- Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian forces continued to create conditions in Nova Kakhovka to drive local inhabitants to evacuate.[xix]
- Occupation authorities in Kherson Oblast announced a dual currency system that allows the use of both rubles and hryvnya, unwinding a months-long effort to enforce rubleization in the oblast.[xx]
October 29, 7:30 pm ET
Likely Ukrainian forces conducted an attack against a Grigorovich-class frigate of the Black Sea Fleet (BSF) near Sevastopol with unmanned surface vehicles on October 29. Social media footage documented an unknown number of unmanned surface vehicles striking at least one Grigorovich-class frigate in Sevastopol on October 29.[i] Footage also showed smoke near the port in Sevastopol and what appeared to be Russian air defense in Sevastopol engaging air targets.[ii] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Ukrainian forces used seven autonomous maritime drones and nine unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct a “terrorist attack” against the BSF and civilian targets in Sevastopol.[iii] Attacks on military vessels in wartime are legitimate acts of war and not terrorist attacks. The Russian MoD claimed that Russian forces destroyed all air targets, destroyed four maritime drones on the outer roadstead, and three maritime drones on the inner roadstead. A similar unidentified unmanned surface vehicle first appeared on the coast of Crimea on September 21.[iv]
Damage to Black Sea Fleet vessels is unclear at this time. The Russian MoD claimed that the attack inflicted minor damage against BSF minesweeper Ivan Golubets and a protective barrier in the south bay.[v] Russian officials did not acknowledge any damage to a Grigorovich-class frigate, similar to how the Russian MoD denied any damage to the cruiser Moskva when Ukrainian forces sunk it on April 14. Ukrainian officials have not claimed responsibility for the attack as of this publication.
The Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Russia indefinitely suspended its participation in the United Nations-brokered grain export deal with Ukraine due to the attack on October 29.[vi] Russia had been setting rhetorical conditions to withdraw from the deal for some time, however.
The Black Sea Fleet has three Grigorovich-class frigates, all of which are capable of firing Kalibr cruise missiles. A Ukrainian decision to target Kalibr-capable frigate at this time makes sense given the intensified Russian drone and missile strike campaign targeting Ukrainian energy infrastructure. If Kyiv ordered this attack, it would have been a proportionate, even restrained, response to the extensive Russian strategic bombing campaign attacking civilian targets throughout Ukraine over the past few weeks.
The Kremlin reportedly relieved the commander of the Central Military District (CMD), Colonel General Alexander Lapin, of his position as the commander of the “central” group of forces in Ukraine. The Kremlin has not officially confirmed Lapin’s relief as of October 29, prompting the rise of contradictory reports across Kremlin-sponsored outlets and Telegram channels. Kremlin-sponsored outlets cited reports from Chechnya-based TV channel “Grozny,” milbloggers, and other unnamed official sources that Lapin no longer commands Russian forces in northern Luhansk Oblast.[vii] Some Russian milbloggers claimed that Lapin resigned on his own initiative, while others claimed that he was unfairly terminated.[viii] A Wagner-affiliated milblogger claimed that Lapin lost his position due to his devastating failure to deploy and organize mobilized men in his zone of responsibility, and ISW has previously reported on the poor treatment of untrained mobilized men on the Svatove-Kreminna frontline under Lapin’s command.[ix]
It is unclear whether Lapin was also relieved of his command of the Central Military District. Some milbloggers implied that Lapin is no longer the CMD commander as well, however, there is no clear reporting or evidence. [x] Local Russian outlet Ura claimed that Lapin is taking a three-week-long medical leave citing an unnamed Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) source.[xi]
ISW cannot independently confirm the reports of Lapin’s dismissal, but the deluge of conflicting reports may indicate that the Kremlin is struggling to control the narrative regarding its higher military command. The Kremlin had previously refrained from discussing command changes before the successful Ukrainian counteroffensive in Lyman, after which Russian President Vladimir Putin formally replaced the commanders of the Western and Eastern Military Districts (WMD and EMD). Putin likely publicly reshuffled district commanders to use them as scapegoats for Russian military failures in Kharkiv Oblast and Lyman.[xii] The increasing transparency within the Russian information space—spearheaded by the siloviki Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin, and the pro-war community—is likely making it more challenging for the Kremlin to conceal and explain away any command changes in public. Kadyrov and Prigozhin both have publicly attacked Lapin on several occasions, leading some milbloggers to point out that other Russian district commanders did not receive any criticism despite their own failings (and firings).[xiii] The reports of Lapin’s dismissal, whether true or false, indicate that the Russian siloviki faction is gaining dominance in the information space that allows it to damage the image of the Russian higher military command that the MoD would likely prefer to present.
Reports of Lapin’s dismissal further highlighted the fragmentation within the Russian pro-war community. A milblogger who had defended Lapin stated that unspecified “lobbyists” had finally removed Lapin from his post acting in their own self-interest, going against the pro-Lapin group of milbloggers.[xiv] Kremlin-leading Russian outlets also emphasized that a group of milbloggers supported Lapin, indicating the ever-growing influence of milbloggers in the information space.[xv] The milblogger added that he and other pro-Lapin milbloggers faced criticism accusing the milbloggers of being on Lapin’s payroll and producing propaganda in support of him. A pro-Wagner milblogger, in turn, stated that overwhelming cries in support of Lapin did not conceal his numerous military failures.[xvi] Milbloggers from both sides are effectively focusing on failures of Russian military command from either side of the argument, which further undermines the reputation of the Russian Armed Forces and the Kremlin.
Russian pro-war milbloggers have recognized that Western-provided HIMARS halted Russian offensive operations in northwestern Kherson Oblast in July. Some Russian milbloggers commented on satellite imagery of an empty Russian military base at the Kherson International Airport Chornobaivka (northwest of Kherson City) obtained from the private US company Satellogic. The milbloggers noted that Russian forces withdrew their “contingent,” military equipment, and aviation from Chornobaivka between May and September in an effort to protect their equipment against Ukrainian strikes on the base.[xvii] One milblogger noted that while Russian forces withdrew some aviation elements from the base between May and June due to Ukrainian Tochka-U strikes, the introduction of HIMARS forced Russian command to establish a withdrawal plan from the base that concluded in September.[xviii] Another milblogger noted that the satellite images further confirmed that the situation on the northwestern Kherson Oblast frontline has not changed in two months and that withdrawn detachments did not return to their positions.[xix] Previous satellite imagery from the August-September period showed at least 16 main battle tanks and armored personnel carriers at Chornobaivka, which indicates that the total Russian withdrawal from the Kherson International Airport is fairly recent.[xx]
Russia is likely expediting efforts to forcibly depopulate areas of Kherson Oblast along the Dnipro River and repopulate them with Russian soldiers, some out of uniform in violation of the law of armed conflict. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported on October 28 that Russian officials gave residents of Kherson City a two-day eviction notice and that Russian forces have introduced intensified inspection and verification checkpoints at roadblocks on the “evacuation” routes to Russian-occupied Crimea.[xxi] The Ukrainian General Staff also stated on October 29 that Russian forces are continuing to forcibly evacuate civilians from Nova Kakhovka and that in Beryslav, Russian soldiers are changing into civilian clothes and moving into private residences en masse.[xxii] International law considers the “simulation of civilian status” to constitute a resort to perfidy, which is a violation of the laws of armed conflict.[xxiii] Russia may be using resort to perfidy tactics to depopulate areas of Kherson Oblast and repopulate them with soldiers in civilian dress in order to set conditions to accuse Ukraine of striking civilian targets when attacking Russian military positions.
The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is likely responding to pressure levied by milbloggers regarding its treatment of Russian prisoners of war (POWs) and the conduct of prisoner exchanges. The Russian MoD announced on October 29 that Russia negotiated the release of 50 Russian prisoners of war but did not provide further details on the identities of the POWs or the terms of exchange. Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Head Denis Pushilin stated that seven of the POWs are DNR servicemen and that two are servicemen of the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR).[xxiv] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that in exchange 52 Ukrainian POWS returned from Russia.[xxv] The Russian MoD’s announcement of the exchange is particularly noteworthy in light of recent milblogger criticism of the Russian MoD’s previous handling of POWs and POW exchanges. As ISW reported on September 22, the Russian MoD faced substantial criticism for a POW exchange wherein 215 Ukrainian soldiers, including commanders of the Azov Regiment, were released in exchange for 55 Russian soldiers and political prisoners.[xxvi] Russian sources additionally previously complained that the Russian MoD has neglected to contact and adequately care for Russian POWs and demanded that Russian authorities do more to secure the safety of POWs.[xxvii] The Russian MoD is likely attempting to mitigate public pressure over the handling of POWs by presenting a more proactive approach to POW exchanges.
- Likely Ukrainian forces conducted an attack against a Grigorovich-class frigate of the Black Sea Fleet (BSF) near Sevastopol with unmanned surface vehicles on October 29.
- The Kremlin reportedly relieved the commander of the Central Military District (CMD), Colonel General Alexander Lapin, of his position as the commander of the “central” group of forces in Ukraine.
- Russia is likely expediting efforts to forcibly depopulate areas of Kherson Oblast along the Dnipro River and repopulate them with Russian soldiers, some of them out of uniform in violation of the law of armed conflict.
- The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is likely responding to pressure levied by milbloggers regarding its treatment of Russian prisoners of war (POWs) and the conduct of prisoner exchanges.
- Ukrainian forces consolidated gains and continued counteroffensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Ukrainian intelligence indicated that the highest quality Russian troops are still responsible for the defense of Kherson Oblast.
- Russian forces continued to establish defensive positions on the western bank of the Dnipro River.
- Russian forces likely slowed the pace of offensive operations in the Bakhmut area due to a Ukrainian strike.
- Russian sources claimed that Russian troops launched an offensive in the Vuhledar area.
- Russian troops likely made marginal gains around Donetsk City.
- The Kremlin reportedly instructed Russian judges to not grant prisoners parole but instead to direct them toward recruitment in unspecified private military companies (PMCs).
- The Kremlin is likely conducting an information operation to reduce tensions between Christians and Muslims in Russia to cater to religious minority groups within the Russian armed forces.
October 28, 8:30 pm ET
Russian forces are not making significant progress around Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast or anywhere else along the front lines. A Russian information operation is advancing the narrative that Russian forces are making significant progress in Bakhmut, likely to improve morale among Russian forces and possibly to improve the personal standing of Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose forces are largely responsible for the minimal gains in the area. Russian forces have made limited advances towards the Ukrainian strongpoint in Bakhmut but at a very slow speed and at great cost. Prigozhin acknowledged the slow pace of Wagner Group ground operations around Bakhmut on October 23 and stated that Wagner forces advance only 100-200m per day, which he absurdly claimed was a normal rate for modern advances. Ukrainian forces recaptured a concrete factory on the eastern outskirts of Bakhmut around October 24. Ukrainian military officials stated on October 16 that Russian forces had falsely claimed to have captured several towns near Bakhmut within the past several days, but Ukrainian forces held their lines against those Russian attacks. Russian forces are likely falsifying claims of advances in the Bakhmut area to portray themselves as making gains in at least one sector amid continuing losses in northeast and southern Ukraine. Even the claimed rate of advance would be failure for a main effort in mechanized war--and the claims are, in fact, exaggerated.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu declared the end of Russian military mobilization on October 28. Shoigu stated that military commissariats will recruit only volunteers and contract soldiers moving forward. Shoigu stated that Russia mobilized 300,000 men, 82,000 of whom are deployed in Ukraine and 218,000 of whom are training at Russian training grounds. Putin stated that 41,000 of the 82,000 servicemen in Ukraine are serving in combat units. Putin acknowledged that Russian forces experienced logistical and supply issues with mobilized forces but falsely asserted that these problems affected only the ”initial stage” of mobilization and that these problems are now solved. Putin stated Russia must ”draw necessary conclusions,” modernize ”the entire system of military registration and enlistment offices” and ”think over and make adjustments to the structure of all components of the Armed Forces, including the Ground Forces.”
Putin likely ended mobilization in Russia to free up administrative and training capacity in time for the delayed start of the Russian autumn conscription cycle, which will begin on November 1. Russia’s military likely does not have the capacity to simultaneously support training 218,000 mobilized men and approximately 120,000 new autumn conscripts. It is unclear how autumn 2022 conscripts will complete their training, moreover, since the usual capstones for Russian conscripts‘ training involves joining a Russian military unit—which are already fighting in Ukraine and badly damaged.
Russia‘s now-completed mobilization is unlikely to decisively impact Russian combat power. Putin described a 50-50 split between mobilized personnel in combat and support roles in Ukraine. If that ratio applies generally, it suggests that a total of 150,000 mobilized personnel will deploy to combat roles in Ukraine after training is complete, likely sometime in November. Russia’s deployment of 41,000 poorly trained combat personnel to Ukraine may have temporarily stiffened Russian defensive lines, although these reservists have not yet faced the full weight of a major and prepared Ukrainian counteroffensive thrust. The deployment has not significantly increased Russian combat power. The deployment of an additional 110,000 or so mobilized men to combat units therefore remains unlikely to change the trajectory of the war.
Putin may be attempting to reestablish Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s authority in the Russian information space to balance the growing influence of the Russian pro-war siloviki faction. The Russian siloviki faction refers to people with meaningful power bases within Putin’s inner circle who are fielding combat forces in Ukraine. Putin could have announced the end of mobilization himself instead of in a meeting with Shoigu or could have tasked Shoigu with concluding the flawed mobilization effort on his own. Their staged public meeting is consistent with the recent surge in Shoigu’s media appearances. For example, Shoigu held several publicized calls with his Turkish, Chinese, and Western counterparts between October 23 and 26. These high-profile meetings differentiate Shoigu and the Russian higher military command from the siloviki, who do not hold the same rank or authority despite their popularity in the Russian information space. Shoigu had made very limited public appearances over the spring and summer. Shoigu’s presence in the information space depends on the approval of the Kremlin, since Putin can control when and whether Shoigu speaks publicly. Shoigu’s siloviki rivals control their own Telegram channels and speak freely to the media.
The growing influence of the siloviki faction – led by Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin – is further fracturing the Russian pro-war community. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov for the second time criticized the commander of the Central Military District (CMD), Colonel General Alexander Lapin, for his management of the Svatove-Kreminna line on October 27. Kadyrov contrasted his harsh criticisms of Lapin with high praise for Prigozhin and Wagner units, even calling Prigozhin a ”born warrior.” Kadyrov has resumed his criticisms of the progress of the Russian invasion and Russian higher military command since October 25, likely in response to a Ukrainian strike on Chechen units in northeastern Kherson Oblast. Kadyrov has since announced that the Ukrainian strike killed 23 Chechen fighters and wounded 58 troops.
Kadyrov accused Lapin of failing to communicate with Chechen leaders, claiming that he had unsuccessfully attempted to reach Lapin to discuss Ukrainian breakthroughs around Lyman. Kadyrov added that no one could locate Lapin or his subordinates when one of Lapin’s units redeployed from Rubizhne to reinforce the frontlines. Kadyrov claimed that Chechen units had to hold Russian defensive positions without Lapin’s support, stated that soldiers are increasingly deserting from Lapin’s units, and insinuated that Lapin will soon lose Svatove. Kadyrov previously attacked Lapin on October 1 for moving his headquarters far from the frontlines and for his military failures, and Prigozhin publicly agreed with Kadyrov’s statement at that time. Kadyrov’s praise of Prigozhin further demonstrates that siloviki are increasingly promoting their parallel military structures at the expense of the reputation of the Russian Armed Forces.
Kadyrov’s accusations have once again created a rift among pro-war Russian milbloggers and exposed concerns over the growing influence of the siloviki faction within the pro-war community. Some milbloggers expressed their support for Lapin, noting that his failures – such as large losses of military equipment in Chernihiv Oblast or the devastating failure at the Siverskyi Donets river crossing in Bilohorivka – were not as severe as other failures of some Russian military commanders even though these same milbloggers had indirectly criticized Lapin for these incidents. Most pro-Lapin milbloggers blamed the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) for abstaining from publicly defending Lapin against the likes of Kadyrov and Prigozhin. A milblogger even noted that it is unacceptable for any Russian governor or regional head to criticize the Russian Armed Forces as such critiques can lead ”to the direct road to the erosion of the very essence of the Russian state.” Kadyrov’s only formal position is head of the Chechen Republic. The milblogger noted that Russian commanders cannot defend their actions on Telegram – unlike Prigozhin and Kadyrov – and stated that such critiques only ignite internal conflicts. Wagner-affiliated Telegram channels, by contrast, amplified reports of dire conditions on the Svatove-Kreminna frontline, discussing the high number of deserters, low morale, poor living conditions, and command cowardice.
Kadyrov’s second critique of Lapin indicates a further fragmentation within the pro-war community that may allow Priogozhin to accrue more power in the long-term. Putin will need to continue to appease the siloviki faction while attempting to support his disgraced higher military command and retain favor with the milbloggers that respect some conventional Russian military commanders such as Lapin and the Commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, Sergei Surovikin.
- Russian forces are not making significant progress around Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast or anywhere else along the front lines.
- President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the end of partial mobilization.
- Putin may be attempting to rehabilitate Shoigu’s image in the information space to counter the growing influence of the pro-war siloviki
- The growing influence of the siloviki faction is continuing to fracture the Russian pro-war community.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive operations in the direction of Kreminna and Svatove.
- Russian forces continued to deploy mobilized personnel to and establish defensive positions on the west bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive operations in northwestern Kherson Oblast.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks in Donetsk Oblast.
- Russian occupation authorities completed their "evacuation” of parts of occupied Kherson Oblast.
- Russian occupation authorities reportedly plan to force Russian citizenship on Ukrainian civilians in occupied parts of Ukraine by October 30, likely in part to legalize the forced mobilization of Ukrainian civilians as part of the November 1 autumn conscription cycle.
- Russian occupation authorities are continuing their attempts to erase Ukrainian history, culture, and national identity in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine.
October 27, 2022
Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to reject the idea of Ukrainian sovereignty in a way that is fundamentally incompatible with serious negotiations. Putin continued to reject Ukrainian sovereignty during a speech at the Valdai Discussion Club on October 27. Putin stated that the “single real guarantee of Ukrainian sovereignty” can only be Russia, which “created” Ukraine.[i] Putin reiterated that it is a “historical fact” that Ukrainians and Russians are fundamentally “one people” that were wrongly separated into “different states.”[ii] Putin stated on October 26 that Ukraine has “lost its sovereignty” and become a NATO vassal.[iii]
Putin’s statements reject the legal fact that Ukraine is a fully sovereign state, that the Russian Federation recognized Ukraine’s sovereignty, and that the Ukrainian people exist as a distinct nation. Putin’s perpetuation of the narrative that Ukraine and Russia are a single people separated into different states by arbitrary historical circumstance indicates his continued objective to destroy the Ukrainian state and erase the notion of a Ukrainian people. He added during the question-and-answer period that “if some part of that single ethnicity at some moment decided that it had reached such a level as to consider itself a separate people, then one could only respond with respect.”[iv] The many conditionals in this comment underscore Putin’s rejection of the idea that there is currently any independent Ukrainian national identity. These statements, along with many Russian actions, must cause serious reflection on the question of whether Russia’s war against Ukraine is a genocidal action since genocide is legally defined as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”[v]
A senior Russian official threatened that Russia could target Western commercial satellites supporting Ukraine. Russian Foreign Ministry Deputy Director of the Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Konstantin Vorontsov told the United Nations that the United States and its allies were trying to use space to enforce Western dominance and that "quasi-civilian infrastructure may be a legitimate target for a retaliatory strike."[vi] Reuters reported that US National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby stated that the United States will meet any attack on US infrastructure “with a response.”[vii]
- Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to reject Ukrainian sovereignty in a way that is fundamentally incompatible with serious negotiations.
- A senior Russian official threatened that Russia could target Western commercial satellites supporting Ukraine.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive operations in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast and along the Kreminna-Lysychansk line.
- Russian forces are continuing to make defensive preparations along the east bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted limited ground assaults in Kherson Oblast.
- Russian forces continued to conduct ground attacks in Donetsk Oblast.
- The Russian military sent mobilization notices to foreign citizens working in Russia.
- Yevgeny Prigozhin‘s Wagner Group may be further developing its air warfare capabilities and fielding more complex equipment on par with the conventional Russian military.
- Russian and occupation administration officials began seizing residents’ cell phones in Russian-occupied territories to support law enforcement and operational security measures.
October 26, 2022 | 7:30 pm ET
A Reuters investigation of a document trove found in an abandoned Russian command post in Balakliya, Kharkiv Oblast, supports ISW’s longstanding assessments about the poor condition of Russian forces. ISW has long assessed that the conventional Russian military in Ukraine is severely degraded and has largely lost offensive capabilities since the summer of 2022, that Russian strategic commanders have been micromanaging operational commanders' decisions on tactical matters, and that Russian morale is very low. Reuters’ investigation found that Russian units near Balakliya were severely understrength, with a combat battalion at 19.6-percent strength and a reserve unit at 23-percent strength. The investigation found that poor morale, bad logistics, and overbearing commanders contributed to Russian forces’ poor performance. The report found that the Russian Western Military District explicitly forbade a subordinate from withdrawing from an untenable position in the small village of Hrakove (which has an area of less than three square kilometers). Ukrainian forces defeated Russian forces in Balakiya and routed Russian forces in eastern Kharkiv Oblast around September 8-10.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric indicates that he is not interested in negotiating seriously with Ukraine and retains maximalist objectives for the war. Putin stated that Ukraine has “lost sovereignty” in a meeting with Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) security officials on October 26. Putin stated that the United States is using Ukraine as a “battering ram” against Russia, the Russian-Belarusian Union State, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and the CIS. Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin amplified this narrative, stating that “Ukraine has lost the ability to exist as a state,” “Ukraine is occupied by NATO,” and “[Ukraine] has become a colony of the US” on October 26. This language is incompatible with negotiations on an equal basis for a ceasefire, let alone a resolution to the conflict that Russia began. It instead strongly suggests that the Kremlin still seeks a military victory in Ukraine and regime change in Kyiv that would affect the permanent reorientation of Ukraine away from the West and into Russia’s control. It also indicates that Putin’s aims transcend the territory he has claimed to have annexed, let alone the areas his forces actually control.
Russian occupation officials in Kherson Oblast are attempting to mitigate the informational consequences of the chaos of the initial Russian withdrawals from the west bank of the Dnipro River. Kherson Oblast occupation head Vladimir Saldo stated on October 26 that it would be “practically impossible” to completely destroy the dam at the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant (HPP) and that even the destruction of the dam locks at the HPP would only cause the water level of the Dnipro River to rise less than 2 meters. Saldo’s statement directly contradicts his own prior statements and the warnings made by Commander of Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine Army General Sergey Surovikin on October 18 that Ukraine is planning to strike the Kakhovka HPP and cause flood damage along the Dnipro River. Saldo’s apparent retraction of his own warnings may suggest that he seeks to quell anxiety accompanying the mass movement of civilians and Russian military and occupation elements across the Dnipro in order to preserve his own ability to rule. Saldo also issued assurances about the provision of basic utilities and financial services that he claimed will continue even as evacuations to the east bank are ongoing. Saldo’s statements indicate that his administration is attempting to mitigate panic in the information space, likely in order to maintain control of the population of Kherson Oblast against the backdrop of ongoing evacuations.
Russian forces conducted an assault on Ternova, Kharkiv Oblast, likely to fix Ukrainian forces there and prevent them from reinforcing Ukrainian counteroffensive operations elsewhere. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on October 26 that Ukrainian forces repelled an attack on Ternova (40km northeast of Kharkiv city) which is well removed from areas encompassed by the eastern Ukrainian counteroffensive. Russian forces likely do not intend to regain limited territory in border areas of Kharkiv Oblast but instead likely hope to keep Ukrainian forces in the area that otherwise could join counteroffensive operations. Russian forces are likely hoping for a similar outcome in northwestern Ukraine with their deployment of forces to the joint grouping of forces in Belarus and the messaging around it.
Russian officials continued to admit that Russia is deporting children to Russia under the guise of adoption and vacation schemes. Russian media reported on October 26 that the Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, adopted a Ukrainian child who was deported from Mariupol to Russia. Lvova-Belova claimed that Russian officials have brought 31 children from Mariupol to Russia and that her office is working to “rehabilitate” Ukrainian children from active combat zones. As ISW has previously reported, the forced adoption of Ukrainian children into Russian families may constitute a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Russia is also continuing to use the excuse of recreational trips to deport Ukrainian children to Russia and Russian-occupied territory. Member of the Zaporizhia occupation administration Vladimir Rogov reported on October 26 that over 500 children from Enerhodar went on “vacation” in Yevpatoria, Crimea and Anapa, Krasnodar Krai this year alone. Rogov claimed that the children received “new knowledge” as part of the “educational program.” Russian-appointed governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhaev similarly claimed that children from occupied Kherson City and Enerhodar took part in “excursions” in Sevastopol. These reports are consistent with ISW‘s previous observations that Russian officials have used the veneer of such recreation and rehabilitation programs to justify the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russian-controlled territory and areas of the Russian Federation.
On October 26, Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin denied ISW’s report that Prigozhin confronted Putin and other siloviki factions in the Kremlin regarding the progress of the Russian war in Ukraine. Prigozhin explicitly denied ISW’s October 25 assessment and falsely insinuated that ISW receives classified intelligence. ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. ISW specifically does not receive information from Prigozhin’s deceased mother-in-law, as he (ironically) suggested.
- A Reuters investigation of Russian documents from Balakliya supports previous ISW assessments about the poor conditions of Russian forces.
- Putin stated that Ukraine has “lost its sovereignty” in an October 26 speech indicating that Russia likely retains its maximalist objectives in Ukraine and remains resistant to negotiations.
- Russian occupation officials in Kherson Oblast are attempting to mitigate the informational consequences of the Russian withdrawal from the west bank of the Dnipro River.
- Russian forces are attempting to fix Ukrainian forces on Ukraine’s northern border.
- Russian officials continued to acknowledge that Russian authorities are deporting Ukrainian children to Russia under the guise of adoption and vacation schemes.
- Yevgeny Prigozhin denied a previous ISW assessment that stated he confronted Putin and other siloviki factions regarding the progress of the war in Ukraine.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive operations west of Svatove.
- Russian forces continued to prepare defensive positions on the west and east banks of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued to conduct counteroffensive operations in northwest Kherson Oblast.
- Russian forces conducted ground attacks in Donetsk Oblast.
- The Russian military is reportedly attempting to recruit foreigners to support its war effort in Ukraine.
- Russian occupation officials in Kherson Oblast continued to relocate residents from the west bank of the Dnipro River.
October 25, 2022 | 7:00 pm ET
Members of the Russian siloviki faction continue to voice their dissatisfaction with Russian war efforts in Ukraine, indicating that Russian President Vladimir Putin will continue to struggle to appease the pro-war constituency in the long term. The Russian siloviki faction refers to people with meaningful power bases within Putin’s inner circle who are fielding combat forces in Ukraine. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov complained that the Russian response to claimed Ukrainian strikes on Russian territory have been “weak,” noting that Russia must “erase Ukrainian cities from the earth.” Kadyrov also claimed that Russia is now engaged in a war with Ukraine instead of a “special military operation,” given that Ukrainian forces are fighting on “Russian territory.” Kadyrov noted that he is unhappy with the lack of Russian retaliation despite the establishment of martial law. Kadyrov had remained relatively quiet throughout October.
- Russian siloviki factions continue to voice dissatisfaction with the Russian war effort in Ukraine, likely indicating that President Vladimir Putin will struggle to appease the pro-war faction.
- Direct confrontations between Putin and siloviki members regarding the war in Ukraine illustrate the significance of siloviki factions in Russian power structures.
- Russian officials are likely rhetorically realigning the war in Ukraine with religious ideals ostensibly accessible to both Christians and Muslims to cater to religious and ethnic minorities.
- Russian occupation officials continue to claim that the evacuations in Kherson Oblast are a part of a larger resettlement program.
- Levada polling surveys suggest that the Russian public’s sentiments toward the Russian government have not fundamentally changed despite societal pressures associated with the war in Ukraine.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted ground attacks west of Svatove and on Kreminna on October 25.
- Russian forces continued to establish fallback and defensive positions on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River.
- Russian forces conducted unsuccessful ground attacks in Donetsk Oblast.
- The Russian military continues to mobilize personnel in violation of recruitment policies. Russian mobilization efforts also are placing strains on the Russian labor market.
- Ukrainian partisans conducted an attack targeting the occupation head in Russian-occupied Zaporizhia Oblast.
October 24, 2022 | 8:30 ET
The Kremlin intensified its information operation to accuse Ukraine of preparing to conduct a false-flag attack using a dirty bomb for a second day in a row on October 24. Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov separately called his counterparts from the United Kingdom and United States about the “situation connected with Ukraine’s possible use of a dirty bomb” (a conventional explosive laced with radioactive material that is not a nuclear weapon) on October 24. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made similar calls with his counterparts from the United Stated, United Kingdom, France, and Turkey on October 23. The Chief of Russia’s Radiation, Chemical, and Biological Protection Forces, Lt. Gen. Igor Kirillov, gave a lengthy briefing accusing Ukraine of planning a dirty bomb false-flag provocation to accuse Russia of detonating a low-yield nuclear weapon in Ukraine on October 24. Russian military bloggers are amplifying this information operation. ISW assesses the Kremlin is unlikely to be preparing an imminent false-flag dirty bomb attack.
Russian forces conducted air, missile, and drone strikes against targets in Ukraine at a markedly slower tempo than in previous days. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on October 24 that Russian forces conducted 2 missile and 28 air strikes, and Ukrainian forces shot down 16 Shahed-136 drones on October 23. The slower tempo of Russian air, missile, and drone strikes possibly reflects decreasing missile and drone stockpiles and the strikes’ limited effectiveness of accomplishing Russian strategic military goals.
Ukraine’s Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Chief, Major General Kyrylo Budanov, stated on October 24 that the impact of Russian terrorist strikes against critical Ukrainian infrastructure is waning as Russian forces further deplete their limited arsenal of cruise missiles. Budanov stated that Russian forces have stopped targeting Ukraine’s military infrastructure, instead aiming for civilian infrastructure to incite panic and fear in Ukrainians. Budanov noted, however, that Russian forces will fail as Ukrainians are better adapted to strategic bombing than at the beginning of the war. Budanov claimed that Russian forces have used most of their cruise missile arsenal and only have 13 percent of their pre-war Iskander, 43 percent of Kaliber, and 45 percent of Kh-101 and Kh-555 pre-war stockpiles left, supporting ISW’s prior reports on dwindling Russian precision-guided munition stockpiles. Budanov noted that Russian cruise missiles lack precision, as a missile likely intended to hit the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) building in Kyiv missed its target by 800 meters. Budanov stated that Russia’s dwindling supply of cruise missiles is forcing the Russian military to rely on Iranian drones but that Iranian suppliers only send 300 drones per shipment and that the drones take a long time to manufacture. Budanov stated that Ukrainian air defenses shoot down 70 percent of all Shahed-136 drones, including 222 of the 330 Russia has used so far. It is impossible to assess the degree to which ongoing unrest and growing strikes in Iran might interfere with Tehran’s ability to manufacture and ship drones to Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of four Ukrainian oblasts on September 30 ignited a schism within the Kremlin, which will likely intensify as Ukraine liberates more territories, according to Budanov. Budanov stated that Kremlin elites largely did not support Putin’s decision to annex Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk Oblasts prior to securing those territories, prompting many officials to contact their Western counterparts to express their disinterest in continuing the war in Ukraine. Budanov claimed that some Kremlin officials began advocating for negotiations with Ukraine to their Western counterparts while the Russian military-political command plotted missile strikes to scare Ukrainians into negotiations. Budanov‘s statement is consistent with the influx of Western reports about direct criticism of Putin within the Kremlin less than a week after the annexation announcement around October 6. Wagner Group–affiliated Telegram channels also noted the emergence of the pro-war and pro-negotiations factions within the Kremlin within the same timeframe. Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin has been consistently referencing the factionalization within the Kremlin since, even explicitly stating that he is part of the “war until victory” faction. These observations raise the possibility that hints from insiders of a Kremlin readiness to engage in serious negotiations may not reflect Putin’s own views or any decisions he has taken but may instead be part of efforts by those who have lost the internal argument with him to persuade the West and Ukraine to offer concessions in hopes of bringing him around to their point of view.
Prigozhin continues to accrue power and is setting up a military structure parallel to the Russian Armed Forces, which may come to pose a threat to Putin’s rule — at least within the information space. Russian milbloggers reported that Prigozhin is sponsoring the formation of a Wagner-based volunteer battalion recruited by a Russian war criminal and former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Igor Girkin. Girkin is an avid critic of the Russian higher military command and a prominent figure among the Russian ultra-nationalists who participated in the annexation of Crimea or the illegal Russian seizures of Ukrainian territory in Donbas in 2014. Milbloggers noted that the structure of the Russian Armed Forces has long prevented Girkin from forming his own volunteer battalion due to lack of supplies and other bureaucratic restrictions, while Prigozhin has the luxury to operate Wagner forces without the direct supervision of the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD). Milbloggers also noted that the Prigozhin-Girkin collaboration is likely making a large nationalist constituency accessible to Prigozhin in support of his maximalist goals for the war in Ukraine.
Prigozhin holds a uniquely advantageous position within the Russian state structure and information space that allows him to expand his constituency in Russia more readily than the disgraced Russian higher military command. Prigozhin can freely promote himself and his forces while criticizing Kremlin officials or the Russian Armed Force without fear of pushback. Putin depends on Wagner forces in Bakhmut and is likely attempting to appease Prigozhin despite the fact that Prigozhin is undermining the conventional Russian military. Prigozhin, for example, sarcastically stated in an interview that he is constructing the “Wagner Line” in an effort to make Russian Armed Forces that “hide behind Wagner’s backs” feel safe. Prigozhin also frequently levies his critiques of the Russian military in interviews with Russian online publications and among Wagner-affiliated Telegram channels, which allow him to reach and interact with audiences inaccessible to the Russian MoD, which is restricted in its public statements and means of communication. Prigozhin also benefits from holding no formal position of responsibility. He is not in command of any axis in Ukraine nor in charge of any major bureaucratic effort. He can critique those who are in positions of authority freely without fear that anyone can point to something he was specifically responsible for that he failed to achieve.
Prigozhin has seemingly distanced himself from a fellow strongman, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, after their joint critiques of the Russian higher military command on October 1 drew much attention. This rhetorical shift may indicate that Kadyrov is losing influence and standing and may fear losing his control over the Republic of Chechnya amid the Chechen public’s growing disapproval of his demands in support of Putin’s war.
Racism and bigotry continue to plague the Russian Armed Forces, increasing the likelihood of ethnic conflicts. Russian social media footage showed a Russian officer beating a Muslim soldier for attempting to pray at a certain time. While Russian milbloggers denied the authenticity of the footage, previous instances of violence along religious or ethnic lines, such as the shooting on a Belgorod Oblast training ground on October 15, indicate that such problems will intensify throughout time. Racial and religious tensions may also help explain Kadyrov’s relative quieting and Prigozhin’s apparent separation from him.
Russian forces are likely preparing to defend Kherson City and are not fully withdrawing from upper Kherson Oblast despite previous confirmed reports of some Russian elements withdrawing from upper Kherson. Budanov stated on October 24 that Russian forces are not retreating from Kherson City but are instead preparing the city for urban combat. This report is consistent with indicators that ISW has observed in late October. Recent reporting about Russian military operations in Kherson have not always distinguished clearly enough between activities in Kherson City and those in western Kherson Oblast generally. Russian forces have begun a partial withdrawal from northwestern Kherson Oblast even while preparing to defend Kherson City. They have not launched into a full withdrawal from the city or the oblast as of this report.
The Russian position in upper Kherson Oblast is, nevertheless, likely untenable; and Ukrainian forces will likely capture upper Kherson Oblast by the end of 2022. A Russian milblogger stated that Russia’s surrender even of Kherson City is overdue, as an attempt to hold the city will likely result in defeat. This milblogger argued that if Russia’s military command decides to wage the war in Ukraine to a successful end, then the surrender of Kherson City is “nothing terrible” in the long run. The Russian military likely has not prepared the information space for a military defeat in Kherson Oblast as of October 24. A Russian milblogger wrote that his Russian military contacts in Kherson Oblast do not want to nor plan to retreat. Russian media has not discussed the possibility of a major military loss in Kherson Oblast besides promoting information operations about a Ukrainian false-flag attack against the Kakhova Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP) Dam.
Ukrainian intelligence reported that Russian forces have not yet laid enough explosives to fully destroy the HPP Dam as of October 24. Budanov observed that the Russians have prepared parts of the dam for limited explosions that would not unleash the full force of the reservoir’s waters. The Russians may seek to damage the top portion of the dam, including the road that runs across it, to prevent the Ukrainians from following after retreating Russian forces if and when the Russians abandon the western bank of the Dnipro River.
- The Kremlin intensified its information operation to accuse Ukraine of preparing to conduct a false-flag attack using a dirty bomb for a second day in a row.
- Ukraine’s Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Chief Major General Kyrylo Budanov stated on October 24 that the impact of Russian terrorist strikes against critical Ukrainian infrastructure is waning.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of four Ukrainian oblasts on September 30 ignited a schism within the Kremlin, which will likely intensify as Ukraine liberates more territories according to Budanov.
- Prigozhin continues to accrue power and is setting up a military structure parallel to the Russian Armed Forces, which may come to pose a threat to Putin’s rule – at least within the information space.
- Russian forces are likely preparing to defend Kherson City and are not fully withdrawing from upper Kherson Oblast despite previous confirmed reports of some Russian elements withdrawing from upper Kherson Oblast.
- The Ukrainian General Staff confirmed that Ukrainian forces captured Karmazynivka, Miasozharivka, and Nevske in Luhansk Oblast and Novosadove in Donetsk Oblast.
- Kursk Oblast Govenor Roman Starovoit announced the completion of the construction of two reinforced defense lines on the border with Ukraine on October 23 — likely an act of security theater designed to target a domestic Russian audience since there is no danger whatsoever of a Ukrainian mechanized invasion of Russia.
- Wagner Group financer Yevgeny Prigozhin acknowledged the slow pace of Wagner Group ground operations around Bakhmut as Russian forces continued to lose ground near the city.
- Ukrainian forces continued targeting Russian force concentrations near the Zaporizhia Oblast front line on October 23–24 and struck a Russian force and equipment concentration in the vicinity of Enerhodar on October 22.
- Hurried Russian mobilization efforts to fix personnel shortages on the front lines have cannibalized the Russian force-generation staff and diminished Russia’s ability to effectively train and deploy new personnel and to staff domestic industries.
- Occupation administration officials have taken down communications systems in Kherson City in an attempt to limit civilian reporting on Russian positions to Ukrainian forces ahead of anticipated Ukrainian advances.
October 23, 2022 | 5:30 pm ET
ISW is publishing an abbreviated campaign update today, October 23. This report focuses on Russian Defense Minister Shoigu's several calls with his western counterparts and preposterous claims that Ukraine is preparing a false-flag “dirty bomb” attack against Russia, likely to pressure Ukraine into concessions and intimidate NATO. On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces conducted further offensive operations in northeastern Ukraine, and Russian forces continued to set conditions for a withdrawal from Kherson. Those developments are summarized briefly and will be covered in more detail tomorrow.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu likely sought to slow or suspend Western military aid to Ukraine and possibly weaken the NATO alliance in scare-mongering calls with several NATO defense ministers on October 23. Shoigu separately called his counterparts from France, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States on October 23, claiming that Ukraine is preparing to conduct a false-flag attack using a dirty bomb (a conventional explosive laced with radioactive material that is not a nuclear weapon) to accuse Russia of using weapons of mass destruction. Russian state media amplified this false and ridiculous claim. Russian Ministry of Defense reports on the calls contain slight differences; they state that Shoigu discussed a claimed “steady tendency towards further, uncontrolled escalation” in Ukraine in the call with his French counterpart; discussed the “situation in Ukraine” and made false claims that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb in his calls with the United Kingdom, France, and Turkey; and simply discussed the situation in Ukraine without reference to a dirty bomb in his conversation with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Shoigu last spoke with Secretary Austin on October 21. Representatives from the United States, United Kingdom, and Ukraine categorically denied and condemned Shoigu’s false allegations, and US Secretary Austin called his UK counterpart, Ben Wallace, following the calls with Shoigu. France and Turkey have not issued formal statements as of this writing.
The Kremlin is unlikely to be preparing an imminent false-flag dirty bomb attack. Shoigu’s claims further a longstanding Russian information campaign. The Kremlin has repeatedly claimed that Western states will help Ukraine conduct a false-flag WMD attack since the earliest stages of its invasion of Ukraine in February. The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed it had information the US was “preparing provocations to accuse the Russian Armed Forces of using chemical, biological, or tactical nuclear weapons” in April. Putin claimed in his pre-invasion speech on February 24 that Ukraine was preparing for a nuclear attack against Russia, and Russian state disinformation outlets repeatedly claimed Western states were supporting Ukraine’s development of nuclear weapons and planning false-flag attacks.
Shoigu’s claims likely do not portend Russian preparations to use non-strategic nuclear weapons in Ukraine either. ISW previously stated on September 30 that “ISW cannot forecast the point at which Putin would decide to use nuclear weapons. Such a decision would be inherently personal, but Putin’s stated red lines for nuclear weapon use have already been crossed in this war several times over without any Russian nuclear escalation.” Russia does not “need,” under formal Russian nuclear doctrine, a further event to justify nuclear weapons use. Ukraine is not apparently on the verge of tripping some new Russian redline, on the other hand, that might cause Putin to use non-strategic nuclear weapons against it at this time. Shoigu’s comments are thus unlikely to presage a nuclear terror attack against one or more major Ukrainian population centers or critical infrastructure in hopes of shocking Ukraine into surrender or the West into cutting off aid to Ukraine. Such attacks would be highly unlikely to force Ukraine or the West to surrender, as Ukraine’s government and people have repeatedly demonstrated their will to continue fighting, and the West would find it very challenging simply to surrender in the face of such horrific acts because of the precedent such surrender would set.
Shoigu’s calls—and Russian state media’s amplification of false dirty bomb threats—are therefore likely intended to intimidate Western states into cutting or limiting support for Ukraine as Russia faces continued military setbacks and the likely loss of western Kherson by the end of the year. ISW has assessed since May that Putin seeks to force Ukraine to accept his terms and deter continued Western support for Ukraine through nuclear brinksmanship. The recipients of Shoigu’s calls are also notable. The Kremlin has repeatedly framed the United States and the United Kingdom as Ukraine’s primary backers and the enablers of what it claims are aggressive policies toward Russia, while France and Turkey have (to varying degrees) framed themselves as mediators in the conflict. Shoigu’s round of calls was likely further Russian saber-rattling to intimidate Ukraine’s Western supporters and possibly widen fissures within the NATO alliance, not condition setting for imminent nuclear use.
Key inflections in ongoing military operations on October 23:
- Russian authorities likely cut internet access in Kherson City on October 22 to limit local reporting of Russian evacuations to the east bank of the Dnipro River. Russian sources claimed that Russian forces repelled Ukrainian ground attacks in northwestern Kherson Oblast.
- Ukrainian and Russian sources reported fighting near Siversk, Soledar, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Marinka in eastern Ukraine. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian forces repelled Ukrainian ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive operations in the direction of Kreminna and Svatove.
- Russian forces struck Zaporizhzhia City, Mykolaiv City, and other areas in Mykolaiv Oblast with Shahed 136 drones and S-300 missiles. Ukrainian sources reported that Russian forces targeted Nikopol and Marhanets with multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) strikes.
- A spokesperson for the Ukrainian Air Force Command claimed that Ukrainian forces have shot down a total of 273 Iranian-provided Shahed-136 drones since Russia began using them in Ukraine on September 13.
- A Ukrainian government source reported that Iranian instructors in Belarus (in addition to previously reported instructors in Crimea) aided Russian forces in the coordination of previous Shahed-136 drone strikes against Kyiv Oblast and northern and western oblasts in Ukraine.
- Russian outlets continued to set conditions to blame Ukraine for the destruction of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant, which Russian forces will likely destroy to slow advancing Ukrainian forces
- Russian sources widely discussed the construction of defensive positions in Kursk Oblast.
- A Ukrainian source reported that Russian authorities in Krasnodar Krai have “indefinitely” extended the “vacations” (meaning forced abductions as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign) of children from Enerhodar, Zaporizhia Oblast.
- Russian sources reported that private businesses are offering to train mobilized men on privately owned military and medical equipment in exchange for money. Another Russian fighter aircraft crashed into a two-story building in Novo-Lenino, Irkutsk Oblast.
October 22, 2022 | 7:00pm ET
Russian forces continued to withdraw from western Kherson Oblast while preparing to conduct delaying actions that will likely be only partially effective. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces have completely abandoned their positions in Charivne and Chkalove (both approximately 33km northwest of Nova Kakhovka), and Russian officers and medics have reportedly evacuated from Beryslav.[i] The Ukrainian General Staff added that Russian forces are also removing patients from the Kakhovka Hospital on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River, likely to free up hospital beds for Russian military casualties that may result from the withdrawal across the river.[ii] The Ukrainian General Staff noted that some Russian elements are preparing Kherson City for urban combat, while other servicemembers continue to flee the city via the ferry operating in the vicinity of the Antonivsky Bridge.[iii] The UK Ministry of Defense reported on October 22 that Russian forces completed construction of a barge bridge alongside the damaged bridge and forecasted that the barge bridge would become a critical crossing point for Russian forces as Ukrainian forces advance toward Kherson City.[iv] A large part of the Kherson City population has also reportedly left the city.[v]
Russian forces are preparing a series of delaying actions with mixed efficacy. Russian forces are likely preparing to destroy the dam at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (KHPP), flooding and widening the Dnipro River to delay any Ukrainian advances.[vi] Russian occupation authorities in Nova Kakhovka are likely attempting to moderate the resultant flooding; Nova Kakhovka Occupation head Vladimir Leontyev said on October 22 that Russian authorities are lowering the volume of water from the reservoir behind the dam to minimize damage in case the KHPP is destroyed but stayed true to the false narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, would blow the dam.[vii] Ukraine has no interest destroying the dam and every interest in preserving the energy supply in newly-liberated parts of Kherson Oblast. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reiterated that Russian military leadership has moved their officer corps across the river but left newly-mobilized men on the western bank of the Dnipro River as a detachment left in contact.[viii] Using such inexperienced forces to conduct a delaying action could prompt a Russian rout if Ukrainian forces choose to press the attack, as ISW previously assessed.[ix] One Russian milblogger noted that the situation in Kherson Oblast is dire for Russian troops, noting that it is ”virtually impossible” for Russia to evacuate troops from the first lines of defense and that only two questions remain: how to withdraw the final front line of forces, and how to explain the withdrawal to the Russian population.[x]
Russian occupation authorities ordered the forcible “evacuation” of civilians from Kherson City on October 22. The Russian Kherson Occupation Administration announced that “all citizens of Kherson must immediately leave the city” and said that all civilians and “all departments and ministries of civil administration must now cross over to the [east] bank of the [Dnipro River].”[xi] The occupation administration cited the “tense” situation at the front, “increased danger of massive shelling of the city and the threat of terrorist attacks” and provided instructions for where evacuees can find boats to take them across the river. The occupation administration encouraged evacuees to bring clothes, valuables, and documents, indicating that they do not expect a rapid Russian or civilian return to western Kherson. Russian forces expect to leave the city and are therefore likely trying to depopulate parts of the oblast that Ukraine will recapture, damaging the long-term social and economic viability of southern Ukraine. Russian authorities are likely also making initial efforts to evacuate at least those civilians who are willing to cooperate with Russian occupation authorities and would otherwise be in the path of flooding resulting from the blown Kakhovka dam.
Russian forces conducted massive missile and drone attacks to degrade Ukrainian energy infrastructure in nine oblasts on October 22. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on October 22 that Russian forces launched 40 missile strikes and 16 Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones at Ukrainian infrastructure and that Ukrainian forces shot down 20 Russian cruise missiles and 11 Russian drones.[xii] Russian strikes hit Ukrainian energy infrastructure in Volyn, Rivne, Kharkiv, Khmelnytskyi, Kirovohrad, Cherkasy, Zaporizhia, Odesa, and Mykolaiv oblasts. Ukrenergo, the Ukrainian state energy company, announced on October 22 that the scale of Russian strikes on October 22 met or exceeded the scale and effect of Russian strikes on October 10-12, which Russian President Vladimir Putin had falsely implied were a discrete response to Ukraine’s October 8 attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge.[xiii] Instead, Russian forces are likely attempting to degrade Ukraine’s will to fight and to force the Ukrainian government to apply additional resources to protecting civilians and energy infrastructure in lieu of channeling those resources toward Ukraine’s counteroffensives in the east and south.
Ongoing Russian strikes on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure are extraordinarily unlikely to erode the Ukrainian will to fight but will increasingly pose an economic and humanitarian challenge for Ukraine as temperatures drop. Russian shelling and strikes have damaged approximately 30% of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in recent weeks, prompting rolling blackouts across the country, not just along the front lines.[xiv] Blackouts combined with cold winter weather and damaged civilian buildings will likely increase the suffering of Ukraine’s civilian population this winter. Russia’s campaign of targeting Ukrainian energy infrastructure is creating a humanitarian tragedy without meaningfully altering the battlefield situation, and Russian excuses for such strikes are wearing increasingly thin. The Russian Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Vasily Nevenzya, claimed on October 22 that Russian drones are only hitting civilian targets in Ukraine because Ukrainian defensive fire requires the drones to change course, a bizarre admission of culpability.[xv]
Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin continues to create rifts within the Russian government by publicizing the so-called “Wagner line” of fortifications in northeastern Ukraine, which appears misaligned with Kremlin-led narratives on the course of the war. Prigozhin and Wagner-affiliated Telegram channels announced that Russian regional officials paused the extension of the Wagner Line fortifications that run behind the line of contact in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts and into Russia’s Belgorod Oblast.[xvi] Prigozhin accused the Russian bureaucracy—which he characterized as ”bureaucrat-enemies”—of ”directly opposing the interests of the population” and not protecting the Russian population by supporting the construction of the line. The Russian nationalist community has repeatedly accused the Kremlin of failing to defend the Belgorod Oblast border, and Prigozhin may be attempting to amplify their demands. The Kremlin is likely attempting to maintain its limited framing of the war, which will likely continue to upset the nationalist community that is seemingly concerned by the lack of defenses around Belgorod Oblast. Prigozhin and Wagner-affiliated Telegram channels previously indicated that there is an ongoing schism within the Kremlin’s power circles between officials that are hesitant to continue the war due to personal interest and those in favor of Russian total victory.[xvii]
Russian maps show that Prigozhin’s proposed Wagner Line extension would defend the border between Belgorod Oblast and Ukraine’s Sumy, Kharkiv, and Luhansk oblasts, but notably would not cover northern Luhansk Oblast up to the line of contact, placing it at odds with Kremlin promises to defend all of Luhansk.[xviii] Other maps show that the Luhansk-Donetsk Wagner Line segment will largely only defend the territory of Luhansk Oblast that Russian proxy forces controlled prior to their February 24 full-scale invasion. The line covers some newly occupied settlements like Lysychansk, Zolote, and Popasna, but excludes Kreminna and Severodonetsk.[xix] Prigozhin and Wagner commanders are likely preparing to defend the positions they think they can realistically hold, not the present extent of Russian lines or all of the territory the Kremlin claims to have annexed, and are likely not confident in Russia’s ability to defend settlements north of Lysychansk such as Kreminna and Svatove.
- Russian forces continued large-scale strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure. Ongoing strikes are unlikely to erode Ukrainian will to fight but will pose economic and humanitarian challenges throughout the winter.
- Russian forces continued to withdraw from western Kherson Oblast while preparing for delaying actions that will likely be only partially effective.
- Occupation authorities in Kherson Oblast ordered civilians to evacuate east on October 21. Evacuations from Kherson City will support likely Russian plans to blow up the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Plant (HPP) dam to cover their withdrawal.
- Prigozhin-led efforts to build a “Wagner Line” of defensive fortifications extend through central Luhansk Oblast and in limited capacity into Belgorod.
- Prigozhin’s efforts and messaging, including the creation of the “Wagner Line,” are increasingly out of line with Kremlin rhetoric and are critical of what Prigozhin claims are slow-moving “bureaucrat-enemies.” Such activism endears Prigozhin to Russian nationalists, who are dissatisfied with limited Kremlin escalation and MoD disorganization.
- Russian sources reported Ukrainian counteroffensives in the direction of Kreminna and Svatove on October 22.
- Russian forces conducted limited counterattacks with no confirmed advances to regain lost territory in Kharkiv, Luhansk, and Donetsk oblasts on October 22.
- Crimean occupation authorities banned filming of infrastructure and military logistics likely due to continued Ukrainian strikes targeting Russian supply hubs and lines.
- ISW identified additional reports on October 22 that Russian mobilization has not met force generation goals and will likely continue in alternative forms.
- Russian and occupation administration officials continued to forcibly relocate residents in Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine as of October 22.
- Russian and occupation officials continued to restrict the movement of residents living in Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine and increase the checkpoint controls as of October 22.
Correction: in our October 21 update, ISW initially misquoted the deputy chief of the Main Operational Department of the Ukrainian General Staff, Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov. Hromov assessed on October 20 that Russian military leadership may withdraw “the most combat-capable units” from the right bank part of the region to the left bank of the Dnipro river and leave mobilized soldiers in contact to cover the withdrawal. We have updated the text to use cardinal directions and apologize for the error.
October 21, 2022 | 8:00pm ET
The Russian withdrawal from western Kherson Oblast has begun. Russian forces likely intend to continue that withdrawal over the next several weeks but may struggle to withdraw in good order if Ukrainian forces choose to attack. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command stated on October 21 that Russian forces are “quite actively” transferring ammunition, military equipment, and some unspecified units from the Dnipro River’s west bank to the east bank via ferries.[i] The Southern Operational Command added that Russian forces deployed 2,000 mobilized men to hold the frontlines and are continuing to shell Ukrainian positions, likely in an effort to cover their withdrawal.[ii] Ukrainian military officials reported that the Russian occupation administration is preparing the evacuation of imported Russian specialists, Ukrainian collaborators, and Kherson’s banking system.[iii] Russian occupation administration in Beryslav and humanitarian facilities in Kherson City also reportedly ceased operations.[iv]
The Russian withdrawal from western Kherson requires that a Russian detachment left in contact hold the line against Ukrainian attack, covering other Russian forces as they withdraw. Such a detachment must be well-trained, professional, and prepared to die for its compatriots to effectively perform that duty. The deputy chief of the Main Operational Department of the Ukrainian General Staff, Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov, assessed on October 20 that that Russian military leadership may withdraw “the most combat-capable units” from the CorrectionCorrection: ISW initially misquoted the deputy chief of the Main Operational Department of the Ukrainian General Staff, Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov, in this update. Hromov assessed on October 20 that Russian military leadership may withdraw “the most combat-capable units” from the right bank part of the region to the left bank (and the left bank to the right bank) of the Dnipro river and leave mobilized soldiers in contact to cover the withdrawal. We have updated the text to use cardinal directions and apologize for the error.west bank part of the region to the east bank of the Dnipro river and leave mobilized soldiers in contact to cover the withdrawal. Russian milbloggers seized on Hromov’s assessment on October 21 and claimed that Ukrainian officials falsely said that elite units like the VDV and marines are being replaced by untrained mobilized men in Kherson. If Hromov’s assessment is correct, then Russian forces would be setting conditions for a Russian withdrawal to become a rout. Russia’s poorly trained, newly mobilized reservists are very unlikely to stand and resist a Ukrainian counterattack if Ukrainian forces chose to attack them and chase the withdrawing forces. The collapse of a mobilized reservist detachment left in contact would likely lead to a Ukrainian rout of Russian forces on the same scale as Ukraine’s rout of Russian forces in Kharkiv.
Russian officials have remained cagey about whether or not Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a withdrawal from Kherson and are likely continuing to prepare the information space for such a collapse, as ISW has previously assessed.[vii] Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov dodged a direct question from reporters addressing the likely withdrawal and directed reporters to the Ministry of Defense on October 21.[viii] One Russian milblogger noted on October 21 that Russian forces “will receive bad news from Kherson Oblast” in the coming week and that “November will be very, very hard.”[ix] A Russian war correspondent told Russian state-controlled television on October 19 that Ukrainian forces outnumber Russian forces by four to one and that "there will be no good news in the next two months, that’s for sure … severe territorial losses are likely in these two months, but defeat in one battle does not mean losing the war.”[x]
- The Russian withdrawal from western Kherson Oblast has begun. Russian forces likely intend to continue that withdrawal over the next several weeks but may struggle to withdraw in good order if Ukrainian forces choose to attack.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin is demonstrably setting conditions for Russia to continue a protracted war in Ukraine, not for a negotiated settlement or offramp.
- Russian forces will likely attempt to blow up the dam at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP) to cover their withdrawal from Kherson City and to prevent Ukrainian forces from pursuing Russian forces deeper into Kherson Oblast.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on October 21 creating a Russian government “coordination council” to improve wartime federal coordination.
- Russian and Ukrainian sources reported fighting northeast of Kharkiv City along the international border, on the Svatove-Kreminna frontline, and west of Lysychansk.
- Ukrainian military officials offered a limited overview of the situation on the frontline.
- Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command emphasized that Russian forces are using Ukrainian civilians as human shields when transporting military equipment across the Dnipro River, while Russian sources released footage showing a line of civilians awaiting the ferry from Kherson City.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks in Donetsk Oblast and routine fire west of Hulyaipole and in Mykolaiv Oblast.
- Russian authorities are attempting to maintain the façade of sustainable and strong logistics in southern Ukraine while accelerating measures to compensate for the Kerch Strait Bridge attack.
- Fissures between regional Russian officials, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and military commissariats, and the Russian civilian population from which mobilization draws will likely intensify in the coming months.
- Russian authorities are preventing Ukrainians in Russia from leaving Russia with complex residency and permit requirements to cross international borders.
- Russian occupation authorities continued the mass forced removal of civilians from the west bank of the Dnipro River under the guise of civilian “evacuations.”
October 20, 2022 | 7:00pm ET
Russia is likely continuing to prepare for a false flag attack on the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP). Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on October 20 that Russian forces mined the dam of the Kakhovka HPP and noted that the HPP holds over 18 million cubic meters of water, which would cause massive and rapid flooding of settlements along the Dnipro River, including Kherson City. Zelensky emphasized that the flooding would impact hundreds of thousands of people. Russian sources, however, continued to accuse Ukrainian forces of shelling the Kakhovka HPP and have widely circulated graphics depicting the flood path in the event of a dam breach. As ISW reported on October 19, Russian sources are likely setting information conditions for Russian forces to blow the dam after they withdraw from western Kherson Oblast and accuse Ukrainian forces of flooding the Dnipro River and surrounding settlements, partially in an attempt to cover their retreat further into eastern Kherson Oblast. Continued Russian preparation for a false-flag attack on the Kakhovka HPP is also likely meant to distract from reports of Russian losses in Kherson Oblast.
Russian forces are likely setting conditions to remove military and occupation elements from the west bank of the Dnipro River in anticipation of imminent Ukrainian advances. Kherson City Telegram accounts claimed on October 20 that Russian forces disbanded and looted a fire station in Kherson City and ferried fire trucks, stolen civilian cars, and other miscellaneous household items across the Dnipro River to Hola Prystan. ISW cannot independently confirm those reports. The Ukrainian service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty also reported on October 20 that Russian forces are moving military equipment from the west bank to the east bank of the Dnipro River in the face of recent Ukrainian advances, and posted satellite imagery that shows a Russian cargo ferry traveling across the Dnipro River from Kozatske (west bank) to Nova Kakhovka (east bank). Radio Liberty noted that the ferry is fully loaded when it arrives at Nova Kakhovka and empty when it returns to Kozatske and suggested that this movement has been ongoing since early October. Taken in tandem, these reports indicate that Russian troops are likely deliberately removing large amounts of personnel and equipment from the west bank of the Dnipro River. Russian forces have likely learned, at least in part, from their failures during the panicked Russian retreat from Kharkiv Oblast in the face of a previous Ukrainian counteroffensive. The militarily sensible thing would be to remove men and equipment in good order to avoid another devastating rout. Such a rout in Kherson could trap Russian forces and equipment on the west bank of the Dnipro River.
The White House confirmed on October 20 that Iranian military personnel are in Russian-occupied Crimea, Ukraine, to assist Russian forces in conducting drone attacks on Ukrainian civilians and civilian infrastructure. US National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that “a relatively small number” of Iranian personnel are in Crimea to train Russian personnel in the use of unfamiliar Iranian-made drones. Kirby emphasized that “Tehran is now directly engaged on the ground and through the provision of weapons that are impacting civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, that are killing civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure in Ukraine” and warned that Russia and Iran will continue to lie about their partnership. Russian officials have continued to deny their purchase of Iranian drones, but the existence of the deal is increasingly common knowledge even within Russia. A member of the Russian Ministry of Defense Public Council, Ruslan Pukhov, believed he was not being recorded when he told a Russian television host live on air on October 20 that “we won’t rock the boat too much, so I ask you not to [focus] too much on those Iranian [drones], like that classic story: ‘you have an ass but no word for it.’ We all know that they’re Iranian, but the authorities are not admitting that.” Iranian officials have also denied the sales despite the widespread Russian use of Iranian drones in Ukraine since mid-September, but Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei boasted on October 19 that ”a few years ago, when pictures of [Iran’s] advanced missiles & drones were published, they said they’re photoshopped pictures! Now they say Iranian drones are dangerous [and ask] why do you sell them to so & so?”
Iran is providing military support to Russian forces in Ukraine despite new international sanctions likely in part because Iranian leaders believe that they need Moscow’s help to upend the US-led global order. The European Union imposed additional sanctions on Iranian officials and the manufacturer of the Shahed-136 drones that Iran has sold to Russia for use in Ukraine on October 20. Senior Iranian officials and state media frequently argue that Tehran must expand strategic relations with Russia and China to cooperate toward countering US global influence. Iranian leaders may worry that a Russian failure in Ukraine would seriously disrupt this vision and possibly threaten Vladimir Putin’s hold on power and, therefore, Iran’s security. Iran could further expand its military support to Russia in the coming months.
The risk of a Russian offensive from Belarus into northern Ukraine remains low despite a prominent Ukrainian official’s October 20 warning that the risk of a Russian offensive from Belarus is “growing.” The deputy chief of the Main Operational Department of the Ukrainian General Staff, Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov, stated that the risk of a renewed offensive from Russian forces against northern Ukraine is growing. Hromov stated that Russian forces may attack northwest Ukraine to disrupt Ukrainian supply lines from Western partner countries. Such a course of action remains unlikely in the coming months given that Russian forces lack the capability even to interdict Ukrainian supply lines from the west with a ground offensive. The nearest Ukrainian east-west rail line is 30 km from the Belarusian border, and the Pripet Marshes in northern Ukraine and Belarus make maneuver warfare across the international border in Volyn and Rivne oblasts exceptionally difficult. Ukraine’s road and rail network has sufficient nodes with Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Hungary that a Russian incursion from Belarus could not seriously degrade Ukrainian logistical lines without projecting deeper into Ukraine than Russians did during the Battle of Kyiv, when Russian forces were at their strongest. Those forces are now significantly degraded. A Russian milblogger reiterated on October 20 that the Russian force group in Belarus is too small to threaten Kyiv. White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby reiterated on October 20 that Belarus may concentrate manpower on the border to fix Ukrainian forces in northern Ukraine and prevent their deployment to the active area of operation in southern and eastern Ukraine, as ISW has assessed.
- Russia is likely continuing to prepare for a false-flag attack on the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP).
- Russian forces are likely setting conditions to remove military and occupation elements from the west bank of the Dnipro River in anticipation of imminent Ukrainian advances.
- The White House confirmed on October 20 that Iranian military personnel are in Russian-occupied Crimea, Ukraine to assist Russian forces in conducting drone attacks on Ukrainian civilians and civilian infrastructure.
- Iran is providing military support to Russian forces in Ukraine despite new international sanctions likely in part because Iranian leaders believe that they need Moscow’s help to upend the US-led global order.
- Iran is providing military support to Russian forces in Ukraine despite new international sanctions likely in part because Iranian leaders believe that they need Moscow’s help to upend the US-led global order.
- Russian sources continued to claim that Russian forces are consolidating limited regained positions in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast on October 20 despite Ukrainian reports that Ukraine has liberated all but 1.8% of Kharkiv Oblast.
- Russian sources indicated that Ukrainian troops have advanced in northern Kherson Oblast as Ukrainian forces continued their interdiction campaign.
- Russian forces continued to conduct ground assaults in Donetsk Oblast but Russian sources contradicted their own claims on control of Bakhmut. Russian forces are likely continuing to falsify claims of advances in the Bakhmut area to portray themselves as making gains in at least one sector amid continuing losses in northeast and southern Ukraine.
- Russian regional governments and the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) continue to blame each other for military administrative failures.
October 19, 2022 | 8:00pm ET
Russian authorities are likely setting information conditions to justify planned Russian retreats and significant territorial losses in Kherson Oblast. Commander of Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine Army General Sergey Surovikin reported during an appearance on Russian television that the Russian military leadership has to make “difficult decisions” regarding Kherson Oblast and accused Ukraine of planning to strike civilian and residential infrastructure in Kherson Oblast.[i] Kherson Occupation Head Vladimir Saldo relatedly noted that his administration is evacuating the west bank of the Dnipro River in anticipation of a “large-scale” Ukrainian offensive.[ii] Surovikin‘s and Saldo’s statements are likely attempts to set information conditions for a full Russian retreat across the Dnipro River, which would cede Kherson City and other significant territory in Kherson Oblast to advancing Ukrainian troops. Russian military leaders have evidently learned from previous informational and operational failures during the recent Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kharkiv Oblast and are therefore likely attempting to mitigate the informational and operational consequences of failing to defend against another successful Ukrainian advance.
Russian forces are also setting information conditions to conduct a false-flag attack on the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP). The Russian military may believe that breaching the dam could cover their retreat from the right bank of the Dnipro River and prevent or delay Ukrainian advances across the river. Surovikin claimed on October 18 that he has received information that Kyiv intends to strike the dam at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP), which he alleged would cause destructive flooding in Kherson Oblast.[iii] Saldo echoed this claim and warned that Ukrainian forces intend to strike dams upstream of Kherson City.[iv] Russian authorities likely intend these warnings about a purported Ukrainian strike on the Kakhovka HPP to set information conditions for Russian forces to damage the dam and blame Ukraine for the subsequent damage and loss of life, all while using the resulting floods to cover their own retreat further south into Kherson Oblast. The Kremlin could attempt to leverage such a false-flag attack to overshadow the news of a third humiliating retreat for Russian forces, this time from western Kherson. Such an attack would also further the false Russian information operation portraying Ukraine as a terrorist state that deliberately targets civilians.
Russia continues to use the guise of civilian “evacuations” as a cover for the mass forced removal of civilians from Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine. Saldo’s announcement of a mass withdrawal from the west bank of the Dnipro River is likely intended in part to evacuate Russian occupation officials, collaborators, and other occupation organs in anticipation of imminent Ukrainian advances, but Russian officials are likely also using the façade of humanitarian necessity to deport large populations of Ukrainians to Russia, as ISW has previously reported. Russia does not appear to reap any economic benefits from resettling tens of thousands of unwilling Ukrainians in Russia, suggesting that the purpose of such removals is both to damage Ukraine’s long-term economic recovery as it retakes its territory and, more importantly, to support Russia’s ethnic cleansing campaign, which is attempting to eradicate the Ukrainian ethnicity and culture.[v] The Russians may also intend to press “evacuated” Ukrainians into their armed forces, offsetting the losses and failures of the partial mobilization.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s October 19 declaration of martial law readiness is largely legal theater meant to legitimize activities the Russian military needs to undertake or is already undertaking while creating a framework for future mobilization and domestic restrictions.[vi] Putin declared varying levels of “martial law readiness” across Russia and in Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories. These declarations outline four levels of readiness, ranging from “maximum” (full-scale martial law in Russian-occupied Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts) to “basic” (across all of Russia).[vii]
Putin did not formally declare martial law outside of Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts, but instead directed areas outside Ukraine to build out the legal framework necessary to support Russian mobilization.[viii] Putin’s speech framed the declaration of martial law in four Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine as a continuation of the wartime status quo, adjusted to Russian legal frameworks after Russia’s illegal annexation of those territories.[ix] Putin’s decree did not spell out immediate next steps under martial law or elevated readiness levels but granted sweeping emergency powers to regional governors and gave local authorities until October 22 to develop and submit specific proposals for those next steps. Additional information will become apparent as regional governors and law enforcement submit and implement those proposals, which will likely be directed at least in part by the Kremlin but laundered through local authorities. Putin also left himself a path to expand his declarations of martial law, noting that “If necessary, in the Russian Federation during the period of martial law, other measures provided for by the [federal law covering martial law] may be applied.”[x] That language leaves open the door for future declarations and expansions of government authorities.
Putin’s decrees identified several sectors in which the Russian state will be exerting increasing control:
- In areas of maximum and medium readiness, the decree calls for unspecified “mobilization measures in the economic sphere,” likely to provide economic and industrial support to Putin’s so-called “partial” mobilization of at least 300,000 Russian men.
- In all areas, the decree makes provisions for government control of transportation and communications infrastructure as well as increased security around government buildings and other critical infrastructure.
- In areas of maximum application of martial law (Russian-occupied Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk), the decree calls for the establishment of “territorial defense” headquarters with unspecified roles.
- In areas of medium and elevated readiness, the decree enables regional leaders to take measures for territorial defense and civil defense.
- In areas of medium readiness, the decree enables governments to forcibly “temporarily resettle” civilians.
- The decree also includes vague language for each category, authorizing local authorities to “implement measures to meet the needs of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, other troops, military formations, bodies and needs of the population.” Such language could be used to legalize almost any government action.
- In areas of elevated, medium, and maximum readiness, the decree allows for restricting movements of people and vehicles. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgeny Ivanov claimed on October 19 that the government does not currently intend to restrict movement out of the country.[xi] However, Putin’s decree would likely provide legal cover for the implementation of such restrictions without passing additional decrees.
These moves closer to full-scale martial law are unsurprising but disordered—a competent modern military should implement economic mobilization, secure lines of transportation, and coordinate territorial defense before or as initial mobilization for war begins, not as follow-on reserve mobilization nears its completion (Putin announced on October 14 that his “partial” mobilization would end by early November).[i] These moves are likely necessary to fulfill basic military requirements, such as feeding, housing, equipping, and transporting mobilized and conscripted troops to the front lines; forcing defense contractors or other private businesses to align with government production requirements; and more easily controlling both the Russian population and the Ukrainian civilian populations in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine.
Putin has slow-rolled his introduction of legal concepts and frameworks like military and economic mobilization, annexation, and martial law to the Russian population since September, attempting to normalize these concepts and limit domestic dissent. Putin likely understands that these measures are unpopular but may be counting on an upswell of fatalistic patriotism as more Russian families and businesses become tied to, and implicated in, the war in Ukraine. By gradually introducing additional measures, he likely also intends to work out likely unsolvable bureaucratic flaws in the Russian system, creating a more competent bureaucracy to implement the autumn conscription cycle (beginning November 1) as well as likely future waves of mobilization.
Putin also may be setting conditions for a less orthodox kind of under-the-radar mobilization: the creation of Ukrainian-style Territorial Defense Forces. Putin ordered local authorities to create a “territorial defense headquarters” in the four occupied Ukrainian oblasts and empowered local governors to undertake unspecified “territorial defense activities” in medium and elevated readiness areas (largely territories that border or are near Ukraine). This preparation likely serves at least two purposes: creating a legal framework for the forcible mobilization of Ukrainian civilians in Russian-occupied territories, as ISW has forecasted, and at least experimenting with a new kind of Russian military force.[ii] Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces played a critical role in the defense of Kyiv and the recapture of other key Ukrainian cities. Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces are composed of a core of veterans and part-time reservists, largely officers, but can be built out by civilian volunteers in wartime who are then led by the officer corps.
Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin may also be driving Putin toward unconventional methods of continuing the war. Prigozhin announced on October 19 that he sent senior Wagner commander Andrey Bogatov to Belgorod Oblast within the last two weeks to “create a people’s militia.” Prigozhin claimed that Wagner instructors will teach this “people’s militia” to “defend the borders of the oblast.”[iii] The term he used for “people’s militia” (narodnoe opolcheniye) has a long history in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union but is essentially an irregular and untrained force that fights behind the frontlines or beside a conventional army. Prigozhin may be attempting to draw upon the historical notion of a people’s militia fighting a great patriotic war to reinvigorate Russian enthusiasm for the invasion of Ukraine, a notion that may appeal to the historically-minded Putin. However, Prigozhin’s proposed Belgorod People’s Militia is not apparently similar to the more structured Territorial Defense Forces and uses different language, suggesting at least rhetorical tension between the Kremlin’s and Prigozhin’s visions.
Prigozhin is also continuing efforts to set himself and Wagner Group forces apart from conventional Russian military elements. The Russian outlet RIA claimed that Wagner engineering units are actively building a fortified “Wagner Line” that runs adjacent to territories in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts.[iv] Prigozhin reportedly stated that the construction of the “Wagner Line” is meant to protect other elements of the Russian Armed Forces while Wagner units capture more territory in Donetsk Oblast.[v] Prigozhin’s statements indicate that he is likely continuing to promote Wagner units as superior to conventional Russian Armed Forces in a bid to increase his influence among Kremlin officials. Russian outlet RIA published a supposed map of the “Wagner line” that suggests that Prigozhin and Wagner forces may expect the Russian military to lose considerable territory in Luhansk Oblast, putting Prigozhin’s publicity of the line at odds with the specious Kremlin narrative that Russia will hold all of Luhansk Oblast.[vi]
- Russian authorities are likely setting information conditions to justify planned Russian retreats and the loss of significant territory in Kherson Oblast.
- Russian forces are setting information conditions to conduct a false-flag attack on the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP); the Russian military may believe that breaching the dam could cover their retreat from the right bank of the Dnipro River and prevent or delay Ukrainian advances across the river.
- Russia continues to use the guise of civilian “evacuations” as a cover for the mass forced removal of civilians from Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin’s October 19 declaration of martial law readiness is largely legal theater meant to legitimize activities the Russian military needs to undertake or is already undertaking while creating a framework for future mobilization and domestic restrictions.
- Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin is continuing efforts to set himself and Wagner Group forces apart from conventional Russian military elements.
- Russian forces continued to conduct limited assaults to recapture lost territory in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast.
- Russian and Ukrainian forces reportedly continued to conduct assaults in the Kreminna-Svatove area.
- Russian sources widely claimed that Ukrainian troops conducted another offensive push in northwestern Kherson Oblast.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin passed a decree on October 19 seeking to address Russian military personnels’ ongoing concerns about timely payments and setting the blame on Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Finance Minister Anton Siluanov for future payment issues.
- The Russian parliament proposed legal measures that would allow Russian authorities to minimize the domestic impacts of partial mobilization in potential future mobilization waves.
- Russian military officials continued to forcibly mobilize Ukrainian residents of Russian-occupied territories to labor or fight on behalf of the Russian military.
October 18, 2022 | 8:30pm ET
Russian forces continued to target critical Ukrainian civilian infrastructure with air, missile, and drone strikes on October 18. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces launched 19 missile strikes and 68 air strikes against over 10 areas, including Kyiv, Zhytomyr City, Kharkiv City, Dnipro City, Kryvyi Rih, Zaporizhzhia City, Mykolaiv City, Odesa City, and other areas in Donetsk, Kherson, and Mykolaiv Oblasts. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian forces targeted unspecified areas with 43 kamikaze drones, 38 of which Ukrainian forces shot down. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian forces continued to strike Ukrainian infrastructure and military command facilities. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on October 18 that Russian strikes between October 10 and October 18 destroyed 30% of Ukrainian power stations in a likely attempt to demoralize Ukrainian civilians that is unlikely to succeed.
- Russian forces continued to target critical Ukrainian civilian infrastructure with air, missile, and drone strikes.
- Russian troops conducted a limited ground attack in northern Kharkiv Oblast, seemingly suggesting that Russian forces may retain territorial aspirations in Kharkiv Oblast despite massive losses during recent Ukrainian counteroffensives.
- Current and former US officials confirmed that members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) are in Russian-occupied Crimea to train Russian forces on how to use the Iranian drones they purchased, thereby enabling likely Russian war crimes.
- Belarus continues to provide its territory and airspace to support the Russian invasion of Ukraine but remains highly unlikely to enter the war on Russia’s behalf.
- Russian sources claimed that Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast to regain lost positions.
- Russian sources stated that Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations across the entire frontline in Kherson Oblast.
- Ukrainian forces continued to target Russian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) and ammunition depots in central Kherson Oblast.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks near Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
- Russian authorities are struggling to cope with their reduced logistics capacity through Crimea following the attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge.
- Russian occupation authorities kidnapped Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) personnel, likely to strengthen physical control over the ZNPP’s operations.
- The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) confirmed that mobilization ended on October 17 in Moscow Oblast, and Russian civilians continue to express their dissatisfaction with Russian mobilization.
- Russian occupation officials are attempting to incentivize Ukrainian citizens under Russian control in northern Kherson Oblast to flee to Russia as Ukrainian forces advance, and occupation authorities may increasingly force Ukrainian civilians to relocate further behind the frontlines or to Russia in the coming days.
October 17, 2022 | 8:30pm ET
Russian forces conducted a series of drone and missile strikes against residential areas and critical infrastructure throughout Ukraine on October 17. Russian troops struck Kyiv, Zaporizhzhia City, and areas in Vinnytsia, Sumy, Dnipropetrovsk, and Mykolaiv Oblasts and launched nine missile strikes and 39 air strikes on October 17. Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yuriy Ignat noted that Russian forces launched 43 drones from southern Ukraine, 37 of which Ukrainian troops destroyed and the majority of which were Iranian Shahed-136 drones. Five Shahed-136 drones struck infrastructure in the Shevchenkivskyi district of Kyiv, including the UkrEnergo (Ukrainian electricity transmission system operator) building.
- Russian forces conducted drone and missiles strikes against residential areas and critical infrastructure facilities throughout Ukraine on October 17.
- Russian drone strikes against residential areas in Kyiv on October 17 are indicative of Russian forces prioritizing psychological terror over tangible battlefield gains.
- Yevgeny Prigozhin and affiliated Telegram channels are increasingly commenting on the ineffectiveness of traditional Russian military institutions, which may be undermining the Kremlin.
- A fratricidal altercation between mobilized servicemen at a training ground in Belgorod Oblast on October 15 is likely a consequence of the Kremlin’s continual reliance on ethnic minority communities to bear the burden of mobilization in the Russian Federation.
- Russia is continuing to leverage its relationship with Iran to obtain drones and missiles, likely to compensate for its increasingly attritted missile arsenal.
- A Russian Su-34 crashed near a residential building in Yeysk, Krasnodar Krai on October 17.
- Russian sources continued to discuss potential Ukrainian counteroffensive operations northwest of Svatove on October 16 and 17.
- Russian sources continued to claim that Ukrainian Forces are conducting counteroffensive operations in Kherson Oblast on October 16 and 17.
- Russian forces conducted ground assaults in Donetsk Oblast on October 16 and 17.
- Ukrainian forces continued to strike Russian concentrations of manpower and equipment in Zaporizhia Oblast on October 16 and 17.
- Russian authorities continued measures to exert full control over the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).
- Moscow City officials announced the completion of partial mobilization in the city on October 17, likely in an effort to subdue criticism among Moscow residents of reports of illegal mobilization in the city.
- Russian and occupation administration officials continue to promote “vacation” programs to residents of Russian-occupied territories likely as pretext for the deportation of Ukrainian citizens and the resettlement of Russian citizens.
October 16, 2022 | 4:45pm ET
Ukraine must regain certain specific areas currently under Russian occupation to ensure its long-term security and economic viability. Ukraine’s ability to defend itself against a future Russian attack requires liberating most of Kherson and Zaporizhia Oblasts. Ukraine’s economic health requires liberating the rest of Zaporhizia Oblast and much of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, including at least some territory Russia seized in 2014. Ukraine’s security would be materially enhanced by liberating Crimea, which would also benefit NATO’s ability to secure its southeastern flank.
October 15, 2022 | 8:30pm ET
Russia continues to conduct massive, forced deportations of Ukrainians that likely amount to a deliberate ethnic cleansing campaign in addition to apparent violations of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin stated on October 14 that “several thousand” children from Kherson Oblast are “already in other regions of Russia, resting in rest homes and children’s camps.” As ISW has previously reported, Russian authorities openly admitted to placing children from occupied areas of Ukraine up for adoption with Russian families in a manner that may constitute a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Russian authorities may additionally be engaged in a wider campaign of ethnic cleansing by depopulating Ukrainian territory through deportations and repopulating Ukrainian cities with imported Russian citizens. Ethnic cleansing has not in itself been specified as a crime under international law but has been defined by the United Nations Commission of Experts on violations of humanitarian law committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia as “rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area” and “a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.” According to the UN definition, ethnic cleansing may be carried out by forcible removal, among other methods. These definitions of ethnic cleansing campaigns are consistent with reports of the forcible deportation and adoption of Ukrainian children, as well as reports by Ukrainian sources that reconstruction projects in Mariupol are intended to house “tens of thousands of Russians” who will move to Mariupol.
Prominent Russian milbloggers who yesterday announced the existence of “hit lists” reportedly originating with the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and targeting milbloggers for their coverage of operations in Ukraine walked back their claim on October 15. As ISW reported on October 14, prominent Russian milblogger Semyon Pegov of the WarGonzo Telegram channel accused “individual generals and military commanders” of the Russian MoD of developing a “hitlist” of Russian milbloggers whom the MoD intends to prosecute for “discrediting” the MoD’s handling of the war in Ukraine. Pegov’s claim was amplified by several other milbloggers and generated substantial panic about censorship in the hyper-nationalist Russian information space.
Pegov announced on October 15, however, that “there are no more lists”, and that the issue of lists has been removed from the agenda and congratulated his following and the wider milblogger community for being untouchable in the face of attempted crackdowns. Pegov also reiterated that he has been aware of the list for weeks and knew that administrative and political power structures had already begun working on investigations of individual channels. Pegov claimed that he has learned who the author of the list was and praised his followers and colleagues for supporting him. Other prominent milbloggers amplified Pegov’s statements and stated that milbloggers continue to lead the fight for truth in the information space.
As ISW has previously assessed the announcement of mobilization served as a catalyst for a breakdown in the Russian information space that put the increasingly alienated MoD further at odds with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the cohort of milbloggers that he has periodically supported and empowered. The Russian milblogger community may have strategically weaponized the rumors of MoD hit lists against the MoD itself by exposing the information and appearing to defeat the MoD attacks against it—whether or not they were real in the first place. The discourse surrounding the existence of these lists indicates continued structural fractures between the MoD establishment, the milbloggers, and the Kremlin.
The Wagner Group Private Military Company is likely continuing efforts to assert its supremacy over the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and conventional Russian ground forces. A video posted to social media on October 13 shows servicemen of the 126th Coastal Defense Brigade of the Black Sea Fleet in an unspecified location in Kherson Oblast complaining that they have been fighting in the area since the beginning of the war without breaks or troop rotation. The servicemen asserted that they are being “crushed” by Ukrainian forces and emphasized that they have one BTR (armored personnel carrier) for 80 people, which is greatly restricting their maneuverability. After the video circulated, a Wagner Group-affiliated Telegram channel announced on October 14 that Wagner Group leadership decided to transfer four off-road vehicles to the 126th Coastal Defense Battalion in support of their efforts to hold the frontline in Kherson Oblast. This exchange is noteworthy in light of ISW’s previous assessment that Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin is actively attempting to curry favor with Russian President Vladimir Putin and set Wagner Group forces apart from conventional MoD forces. The move to donate basic equipment to a detachment of conventional Russian ground forces may be an implicit critique of the MoD’s apparent inability to provide such necessities to its own soldiers.
Russia may have signed a new contract with Iran for the supply of Arash-2 drones. Ukrainian and Russian Telegram channels reported “leaked” information from unspecified Iranian sources that Russia has purchased an unknown number of Arash-2 drones, which are purportedly faster and more destructive than the Shahed-136 drones that are currently in use by Russian forces. Commander of the Iranian Ground Forces Brigadier General Kiomars Heydari previously claimed in early September that the Arash-2 drones have unique long-range capabilities and could target cities in Israel such as Tel Aviv and Haifa from bases in Iran. Reports that Moscow is continuing to rely on Tehran for destructive munitions are consistent with a report from the US Treasury Department that suggests Russia is rapidly expending its supply of microelectronics that are critical for the military-industrial complex because it cannot replace key components unavailable because of sanctions. Russia will likely continue to leverage its relationship with Iran to circumvent sanctions, although it is very unlikely that Russian forces will use the Arash-2 to any greater effect than they have used the Shahed-136 model.
- Russia is conducting forced deportation of Ukrainians that likely amount to a deliberate ethnic cleansing campaign in addition to apparent violations of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
- Prominent Russian milbloggers who yesterday announced the existence of “hit lists” reportedly originating with the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and targeting milbloggers for their coverage of operations in Ukraine walked back their claim on October 15.
- The Wagner Group Private Military Company is likely continuing efforts to assert its supremacy over the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and more conventional Russian ground forces.
- Russia may have signed a new contract with Iran for the supply of Arash-2 drones.
- Russian forces continued counterattacks west of Kreminna.
- Russian milbloggers widely discussed the likelihood of a Ukrainian counteroffensive on Kreminna and Svatove.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian troops launched a general counteroffensive in northern Kherson Oblast.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks in Donetsk Oblast.
- Ukrainian forces likely struck Russian military assets situated along Russian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) in Zaporizhia Oblast and southern Donetsk Oblast.
- Mobilized Russian forces engaged in a fratricidal altercation at a training ground in Belgorod Oblast.
- Russian and occupation administration officials continued to enact restrictions on movement and conduct strict law enforcement activities in Russian-occupied territories.
October 14, 2022 | 7:00 pm ET
Russian President Vladimir Putin likely attempted to make a virtue of necessity by announcing that his “partial” mobilization will end in “about two weeks”—the same time the postponed fall conscription cycle is set to begin. Putin told reporters on October 14 that “nothing additional is planned” and that "partial mobilization is almost over." As ISW previously reported, Putin announced the postponement of Russia’s usual autumn conscription cycle from October 1 to November 1 on September 30, likely because Russia’s partial mobilization is taxing the bureaucracy of the Russian military commissariats that oversee the semiannual conscription cycle. Putin therefore likely needs to pause or end his partial mobilization to free up bureaucratic resources for conscription. Putin ordered the conscription of 120,000 men for the autumn cycle, 7,000 fewer than in autumn 2021. However, Russia’s annexation of occupied Ukraine changes the calculus for conscripts. Russian law generally prohibits the deployment of conscripts abroad. Russian law now considers Russian-occupied Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts to be Russian territory, however, ostensibly legalizing the use of conscripts on the front lines.
Putin may intend for mobilized personnel to plug gaps in Russia’s frontlines long enough for the autumn conscripts to receive some training and form additional units to improve Russian combat power in 2023. Putin confirmed on October 14 that mobilized personnel are receiving little training before they are sent to the frontlines. Putin announced that of the 220,000 people who have been mobilized since his September 21 order, 35,000 are already in Russian military units and 16,000 are already in units “involved in combat missions.” Putin also outlined the training these mobilized forces allegedly receive: 5-10 days of “initial training,” 5-15 days of training with combat units, “then the next stage is already directly in the troops taking part in hostilities.” This statement corroborates dozens of anecdotal reports from Russian outlets, milbloggers, and mobilized personnel of untrained, unequipped, and utterly unprepared men being rushed to the frontlines, where some have already surrendered to Ukrainian forces and others have been killed. Even the 10 days of training that mobilized personnel may receive likely does not consist of actual combat preparation for most units; anecdotal reports suggest that men in some units wandered around training grounds without commanding officers, food, or shelter for several days before being shipped to Ukraine. Many would-be trainers and officers were likely injured or killed in Ukraine before mobilization began. Russian training grounds are also likely understaffed, a problem that will likely persist into the autumn conscription cycle. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on October 14 that Russian military officials in Krasnodar Krai suspended sending mobilized persons to the training grounds in Primorsko-Akhtarsk until November 1 because Russian training grounds are not ready to accommodate, train or comprehensively provide for a large number of personnel.
Ukrainian and Western officials continue to reiterate that they have observed no indicators of preparations for a Belarusian invasion of Ukraine, despite alarmist reports in the Belarusian information space that President Alexander Lukashenko has introduced a “counter-terrorist operation” regime. Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei gave an interview to Russian outlet Izvestia on October 14 wherein he claimed that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko introduced a ”counter-terrorist operation regime” after a meeting with several law enforcement agencies. Makei cited concern that unspecified neighboring states were planning provocations related to seizure of areas of Belarusian territory. This claim was amplified by several Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Russian sources, who claimed that as part of the ”counter-terrorist operation regime,” Lukashenko began deploying groups of Belarusian forces supplemented by Russian troops. Belarusian opposition outlet Nasha Niva claimed that as part of this regime, Belarusian forces are conducting covert mobilization under the guise of combat readiness checks. However, Lukashenko emphasized in a comment to the press that there has been no introduction of a ”counter-terrorist operation regime” and that he has instead introduced a ”regime of a heightened terrorist threat.”
Despite the contradicting claims of an escalated preparatory regime in Belarus, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told Voice of America that there are no indicators that Belarusian troops are preparing to enter Ukraine. ISW continues to assess that joint Belarusian and Russian forces will not invade Ukraine from the territory of Belarus. Russian forces continue to attrit their own combat capabilities as they impale themselves on attempts to capture tiny villages in Donbas and simply do not have the combat-effective mechanized troops available to supplement a Belarusian incursion into northern Ukraine and certainly not to conduct a mechanized drive on Kyiv. As ISW has previously reported, Lukashenko remains unlikely to enter the war on Russia’s behalf due to the domestic risks this would pose for the continued viability of his regime, as well as the low quality of Belarusian Armed Forces. Russian President Vladimir Putin is more likely weaponizing concerns over Belarusian involvement in the war to pin Ukrainian troops against the northern Ukraine-Belarus border.
Russian authorities are continuing to engage in “Russification” social programming schemes that target Ukrainian children. A local news outlet from Russia’s Novosibirsk Oblast reported on October 13 that 24 orphans from Luhansk Oblast arrived in Novosibirsk for placement with Russian foster families. Ukrainian Mayor of Melitopol Ivan Fedorov similarly reported that Russian occupation authorities in Melitopol and other occupied regions are deporting Ukrainian children to Russian-occupied Crimea, Krasnodar Krai, and Tula and Volgograd Oblasts under the guise of “children’s trips” and “further education” programs. As ISW has previously reported, such forced deportations of Ukrainian children to Russia and Russian-occupied territory may constitute violations of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Occupation authorities in Russian-occupied Mariupol are also reportedly pressuring Ukrainian teenagers to join the “Youth Guard,” a children’s paramilitary organization that encourages anti-Ukrainian sentiments. Mariupol Mayoral Advisor Petro Andryushchenko reported on October 14 that uniformed members of the Youth Guard visited a Ukrainian school and gave children one week to consider joining the group. The coerced engagement of Ukrainian children in youth militarization programs fits into wider Russification schemes intended to erase Ukrainian identity in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin stated on October 14 that there is currently no additional need for further massive strikes against Ukraine. Putin claimed that Russian forces struck 22 of their 29 intended targets and that there are now unspecified “other tasks” for Russian forces to accomplish. Putin’s statement was likely aimed at mitigating informational backlash among pro-war milbloggers who oppose curtailing the costly missile campaign; Russian milbloggers had largely praised the resumption of strikes against Ukrainian cities but warned that a short campaign would be ineffective. Putin’s statement supports ISW’s previous assessment that Putin knew he would not be able to sustain high-intensity missiles strikes for a long time due to a dwindling arsenal of high-precision missiles. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov claimed on October 14 that Russian forces have 609 high-precision missiles left from the pre-war stockpile of 1,844. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces continued cruise missile, aviation, kamikaze drone, and anti-aircraft missile strikes against Ukrainian critical infrastructure in Kyiv Oblast, Zaporizhzhia City, Mykolaiv City, and other areas in Mykolaiv Oblast on October 14. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed on October 14 that Russian forces targeted Ukrainian command and control elements and energy infrastructure in Kyiv and Kharkiv oblasts with sea-based missiles. These reports demonstrate a lower tempo of strikes than the 84 cruise missile strikes reported on October 10.
A prominent Russian milblogger accused unspecified senior officials within the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) of preparing to censor Russian milbloggers on October 14. Prominent Russian milblogger Semyon Pegov (employed by Telegram channel WarGonzo) accused “individual generals and military commanders” of developing a “hitlist” of Russian milbloggers that the MoD seeks to criminally prosecute for “discrediting” the Russian MoD’s activity and the Russian special military operation in Ukraine. Russian news aggregator Mash reported on October 14 that Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov personally signed an order instructing Russian state media censor Roskomnadzor to investigate prominent Russian milbloggers Igor Girkin (also known as Igor Strelkov), Semyon Pegov (WarGonzo), Yuri Podolyaka, Vladlen Tatarsky, Sergey Mardan, Igor Dimitriev, Kristina Potupchik, and authors of the Telegram channels GreyZone and Rybar. Unspecified Russian authorities detained the manager of several milblogger Telegram channels linked to Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin on October 5. Moscow police previously arrested and released Pegov under unusual circumstances (reportedly for drunkenly threatening a hotel administrator) in Moscow on September 2. The situation will likely become clearer in the coming days. A key indicator for the status of a crackdown on Russian milbloggers will be any status update from former Russian militant commander and nationalist milblogger Igor Girkin. Girkin has not posted since October 10—a significant change in his behavior given that he usually posts multiple times daily.
There has been no official confirmation of an investigation or prosecution of these milbloggers as of October 14. Senior Russian propagandist and RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan responded to Pegov’s claim on October 14 and implied that prosecuting military bloggers is not only a bad idea but impossible to implement. Many milbloggers expressed outrage at the prospect that elements of the Russian government would seek to censor ardent patriots who seek to hold the MoD accountable and expressed hopes that ”rumors” about the milblogger hitlist are untrue. The interests of the Kremlin do not intrinsically align with the MoD in this situation: Putin has overtly courted the support of the milblogger community in recent months, as ISW has extensively covered, and has used the milbloggers to frame senior MoD officials and the MoD as a whole as possible scapegoats for military failures in Ukraine. Nor did the milbloggers blame the Kremlin for the alleged hitlist; Pegov emphasized that this sort of alleged censorship was likely not Putin’s intention when he opened dialogue with milbloggers in June and called for reporters and journalists to tell the truth about the “special military operation.”
- Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his “partial” mobilization will end in “about two weeks”—likely to free up bureaucratic bandwidth for the normal autumn conscription cycle that will begin on November 1.
- Putin may intend for mobilized personnel to plug gaps in Russia’s frontlines long enough for the autumn conscripts to receive some training and form additional units to improve Russian combat power in 2023.
- Ukrainian and Western officials continue to reiterate that they have observed no indicators of preparations for a Belarusian invasion of Ukraine, despite alarmist reports in the Belarusian information space that President Alexander Lukashenko has introduced a “counter-terrorist operation” regime.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin stated on October 14 that there is currently no additional need for further massive strikes against Ukraine.
- Russian authorities are continuing to engage in “Russification” social programming schemes that target Ukrainian children.
- A prominent Russian milblogger accused unspecified senior officials within the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) of preparing to censor Russian milbloggers on October 14, but there is no official confirmation of an investigation or prosecution of these milbloggers.
- Russian sources continued to claim that Ukrainian forces are conducting counteroffensive operations in northeast Kharkiv Oblast east of Kupyansk.
- Russian troops conducted limited ground attacks west of Kreminna in order to regain lost positions.
- Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks in northwestern Kherson Oblast in order to regain lost positions.
- Russian troops continued ground attacks around Bakhmut and Donetsk City.
- Russian authorities expressed increasing concern over Ukrainian strikes against Russian rear logistics lines in southern Donetsk Oblast.
- Russian occupation authorities are continuing to consolidate control of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) through strengthened security measures amid negotiations to establish a nuclear safety and protective zone at the plant.
- Russian officials continued to brand their movement of populations out of Kherson Oblast as recreational “humanitarian trips” rather than evacuations.
October 13, 2022 | 9:30 pm ET
Public reports of the first deaths of ill-prepared mobilized Russian troops in Ukraine have sparked renewed criticism of the Russian military command. Russian media reported that five mobilized men form Chelyabinsk have already died in combat in Ukraine just three weeks after President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of partial mobilization on September 21. The report led many pro-war milbloggers to claim that the number of dead and wounded among mobilized servicemen is likely higher than this due to lack of promised training, equipment, unit cohesion, and commanders, as well as repeated instances of wrongful mobilization.
Russian milbloggers claimed that Commander of the 58th Combined Arms Army of the Southern Military District (SMD), Mikhail Zusko, ordered the immediate deployment without any pre-combat training of newly mobilized servicemen of the 15th Regiment of the 27th Motor Rifle Brigade from Moscow City and Moscow Oblast to the collapsing frontline around Svatove around October 2nd and 3rd. Ukrainian outlets had previously reported that the Kremlin has arrested Zusko due to combat losses, and it is unclear why an SMD commander would issue orders pertaining to a unit within the Western Military District (WMD). Milbloggers noted that relatives found half of the 15th Regiment personnel wounded in a Belgorod Oblast hospital after the unit got caught in heavy artillery fire when attempting to reach the Svatove frontline. Milbloggers noted that the regiment had no orders, military command supervision, signal, or supplies, and that the other half of its personnel is still at the Svatove frontline. Another milblogger noted witnessing the coffins of mobilized men arrive in Chelaybinsk, Moscow, and Yekaterenburg, and claimed that many mobilized men are surrendering to Ukrainian forces. One Russian milblogger complained on October 13 that newly mobilized men are being deployed in a haphazard way that will lead to 10,000 deaths and 40,000 injuries among them by February 2023.
Russian mobilization structures are continuing to face bureaucratic challenges, which may further undermine the combat effectiveness of mobilized personnel. Milbloggers claimed that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) did not set proper conditions to integrate and monitor the deployment of mobilized men at the frontlines. Russian military units reportedly disperse mobilized men among different units without keeping proper records of their deployed locations on the frontlines, causing families to complain to military leadership. Russian military officials are also continuing to assign men with previous military experience to units that do not match their expertise. One milblogger even warned that Russian MoD‘s inability to properly update families of the whereabouts of their relatives will lead mothers and wives to form human rights groups that “will break Russia from within.“
ISW cannot independently verify milblogger claims, but the community has been proactive in highlighting the Kremlin’s mobilization since the day of its declaration in hopes of improving the prospects of the Russian war in Ukraine. ISW has also previously reported on a video of mobilized men from Moscow Oblast in Svatove who complained about the lack of equipment and deployment to the frontlines without proper training that corroborates some milblogger reports. The persistence of such complaints supports ISW’s assessment that the mobilization campaign will not produce enough combat-ready Russian personnel to affect the course of the war in the short term. The Kremlin’s rapid deployment of mobilized servicemen to the Kreminna-Svatove line may also indicate that Russian President Vladimir Putin is willing to throw away the lives of mobilized men in a desperate effort to preserve a collapsing frontline.
The Kremlin continues to struggle to message itself out of the reality of mobilization and military failures. The Kremlin continued its general pattern of temporarily appeasing the nationalist communities by conducting retaliatory missile strikes on Ukraine in an effort to deflect from persistent mobilization problems. Renewed milblogger critiques about mobilization again show how ephemeral are the Kremlin’s successes at deflecting attention from them. The nationalist community resumed its calls on the Kremlin to replace senior officials and commanders and declare war, which some had anticipated would be the Kremlin’s response to the Kerch Strait Bridge explosions, broken mobilization process, and loss of most of Kharkiv Oblast and Lyman. The Kremlin remains trapped in a cycle of appeasing its pro-war constituencies but retaining Russian President Vladimir Putin’s vision of a limited war in Ukraine that is incompatible with their demands and expectations.
Russian forces continued to launch strikes on critical Ukrainian infrastructure on October 13. Ukraine’s Western Air Command noted that Russian forces launched Kalibr cruise missiles at infrastructure in western Ukraine, four of which Ukrainian troops destroyed. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian troops launched missile strikes on critical infrastructure and civilian objects in Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Mykolaiv Oblasts over the day on October 13. Ukrainian military sources also reported that Russian troops continued drone attacks throughout Ukraine and that Ukrainian troops shot down four drones over Vinnytsia and Cherkassy on October 12. Social media footage additionally shows explosions in Rivne, Ternopil, Lviv, Chernivitsi Oblasts following the activation of Ukrainian air defense systems.
Russian forces are likely continuing to use Iranian Shahed-136 drones to support massive strike campaigns against critical Ukrainian infrastructure due to their low efficacy in active combat situations. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command Spokesperson Nataliya Humenyuk claimed on October 13 that Russian forces are employing Shahed-136s primarily to strike buildings and infrastructure because the drones have limited efficacy against troop concentrations. Humenyuk cited various sources who stated that Russia has received between 300 to several thousand Shahed-136s and are using them in areas as far away as 1,000km from the launch point, which is why Shahed-136 use has been densely concentrated around southern Ukraine. Russian forces are also increasingly trying to launch the drones from the northern border area. Humenyuk’s statement, and the pattern of recent Shahed-136 strikes against infrastructure in Ukrainian rear areas, supports ISW’s previous assessment that Shahed-136s will not generate asymmetric effects for Russian forces because they are not being used to strike areas of critical military significance in a way that directly influences the frontline.
Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin is likely continuing efforts to distinguish himself and Wagner Group forces from more conventional Russian and proxy troops. Prigozhin emphasized in a comment to Russian outlet RIA FAN that Wagner Group forces singlehandedly took control of Ivanhrad, a settlement just south of Bakhmut, on October 13. However, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Territorial Defense Force claimed that Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) and DNR joint forces took control of Ivanhrad and the nearby settlement of Opytne, apparently contradicting Prigozhin’s statement that ”not a single person from other units, except for employees of the Wagner Private Military Company” was in Ivanhrad at the time of its capture. Prigozhin additionally rebutted the claim that Russian forces have taken Opytne and stated the fierce fighting is ongoing on its outskirts. The disconnect between Prigozhin’s and the DNR Territorial Defense’s claims, as well as Prigozhin’s apparent desire to have Wagner Group fighters receive sole credit for the capture of Ivanhrad, is consistent with ISW’s previous observations that Prigozhin is jockeying for more prominence against the backdrop of his recent harsh critiques of the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) establishment.
Increasingly degraded morale, discipline, and combat capabilities amongst Russian troops in combat zones in Ukraine may be leading to temporary suspensions in offensive operations in limited areas. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that, particularly in Donetsk Oblast, certain Russian units are receiving orders from commanders to temporarily halt offensive operations due to extremely low morale, psychological conditions, high rates of desertion, and non-execution of combat orders. The General Staff statement is likely a reflection of the fact that Russian detachments are becoming increasingly degraded as they impale themselves on relatively small and insignificant settlements throughout Donetsk Oblast, especially around Bakhmut and the Donetsk City area. As these units become more degraded, they are likely reconstituted ad hoc with disparate combat elements, which leads to further demoralization and incoherence in the conduct of offensive operations. However, the apparent suspension of offensive operations in areas of Donetsk Oblast, nearly the only areas in Ukraine where Russian troops are engaged in offensive operations, will further complicate Russian efforts to take additional territory and likely further contribute to poor morale and overall attrition of combat capabilities.
- Public reports of the first deaths of ill-prepared mobilized Russian troops in Ukraine have sparked renewed criticism of the Russian military command.
- Russian forces continued to launch strikes on critical Ukrainian infrastructure on October 13.
- Increasingly degraded morale, discipline, and combat capabilities amongst Russian troops in combat zones in Ukraine may be leading to temporary suspensions in offensive operations in limited areas.
- Ukrainian forces made gains northwest of Svatove.
- Russian forces are continuing defensive operations in anticipation of potential Ukrainian attacks towards Kreminna.
- Ukrainian and Russian sources stated that Russian troops are attempting to recapture positions in northern and northwestern Kherson Oblast.
- Damage to the Kerch Strait Bridge continues to impede the movement of Russian supplies and personnel to southern Ukraine.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks in Donetsk Oblast and claimed to make marginal advances south of Bakhmut.
- Russian incompetence continues to take its toll on mobilized personnel before they even reach the front lines, likely exacerbating already-low morale.
- Russian officials are likely increasingly limiting freedom of movement in Russia to preserve additional mobilizable populations and prevent them from fleeing the country.
- Russian occupation officials called for the evacuation of civilians from occupied Kherson Oblast.
October 12, 2022 | 7:45 pm ET
Russia has seemingly intensified its information operation to falsely portray Ukraine as a terrorist state, likely to set information conditions to counter efforts to designate Russia as a terrorist state. Several Russian sources made unverified claims that Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officers detained Ukrainian citizens for allegedly planning “terrorist attacks” in Sverdlovsk, Moscow, and Bryansk oblasts on October 12.[i] Russian milbloggers relatedly amplified rhetoric accusing Ukraine of being a terrorist state and calling for Russian authorities to enhance “counterintelligence” procedures and formally designate Ukraine as a terrorist state.[ii] Claims of preparations for alleged and subversive Ukrainian activity in Russia align with a wider attempt to set information conditions to respond to Ukrainian attempts to formally designate Russia a terrorist state, especially in the wake of recent massive attacks on critical Ukrainian infrastructure and residential areas. The Russian information space may also be setting conditions to justify further massive strikes on Ukrainian rear areas; although, as ISW has previously assessed, these tactics are part of the Russian way of war and will likely be utilized regardless of informational conditions.[iii] Russian authorities may also be setting conditions for false-flag attacks against Russia framed as Ukrainian-perpetrated acts of terrorism.
Russian forces may have brought Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-affiliated personnel to occupied areas in Ukraine to train Russian troops in the use of Shahed-136 drones. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on October 12 that Russian forces brought an unspecified number of Iranian instructors to Dzankoi in Crimea and Zalizniy Port and Hladivtsi in Kherson Oblast to teach Russian forces how to use Shahed-136 attack drones.[iv] The Resistance Center stated that the Iranian instructors directly control the launch of drones on civilian targets in Ukraine, including in Mykolaiv and Odesa oblasts.[v] The IRGC is notably the primary operator of Iran‘s drone inventory, so these Iranian instructors are likely IRGC or IRGC-affiliated personnel.[vi]
- Russia is intensifying efforts to set information conditions to falsely portray Ukraine as a terrorist state to deflect recent calls to designate Russia as a terrorist state.
- Russian forces may have imported Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-affiliated personnel to occupied areas in Ukraine to train Russian troops in the use of Shahed-136 drones.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian troops continued counteroffensive operations toward Svatove and Kreminna. Russian forces are continuing defensive operations in this area.
- Russian sources continued to claim that Ukrainian forces are conducting ground attacks in northwestern and western Kherson Oblast.
- Russian forces conducted ground attacks around Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
- Russian forces are likely reinforcing the frontline in western Zaporizhia Oblast.
- The Russian military continues to face problems equipping individual Russian soldiers with basic personal equipment.
- Russian and occupation administration officials continue to employ coercive measures against residents in Russian-occupied territories.
October 11, 2022 | 8:15 pm ET
Russian forces conducted massive missile strikes across Ukraine for the second day in a row on October 11. The Ukrainian General Staff stated that Russian forces fired nearly 30 Kh-101 and Kh-55 cruise missiles from Tu-95 and Tu-160 strategic bombers and damaged critical infrastructure in Lviv, Vinnytsia, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, and Zaporizhia oblasts. Ukrainian air defense reportedly destroyed 21 cruise missiles and 11 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Social media footage shows the aftermath of strikes throughout Ukraine. Russian forces additionally continued to launch attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure with Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian air defense destroyed eight Shahed-136 drones in Mykolaiv Oblast on the night of October 10 and 11.
- Russian forces conducted massive missile strikes across Ukraine for the second day in a row.
- Army General Sergey Surovikin’s previous experience as commander of Russian Armed Forces in Syria is likely unrelated to the massive wave of missile strikes across Ukraine over the past few days, nor does it signal a change in the trajectory of Russian capabilities or strategy in Ukraine.
- The Russian Federation is likely extracting ammunition and other materiel from Belarusian storage bases, which is incompatible with the notion that Russian forces are setting conditions for a ground attack against Ukraine from Belarus.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued to conduct counteroffensives east of the Oskil River and in the direction of Kreminna-Svatove.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian troops continued ground attacks in northern and western Kherson Oblast.
- Ukrainian forces are continuing an interdiction campaign to target Russian military, technical, and logistics assets and concentration areas in Kherson Oblast.
- Russian forces continued to conduct ground assaults in Donetsk Oblast.
- Russian reporting of explosions in Dzhankoy, Crimea, indicated panic over losing further logistics capabilities in Crimea following the Kerch Strait Bridge explosion.
- Russian federal subjects are announcing new extensions and phases of mobilization in select regions, which may indicate that they have not met their mobilization quotas.
- Russian and occupation administration officials continue to conduct filtration activities in Russian-occupied territories.
October 10, 2022 | 9:30 PM ET
Russian forces conducted a massive missile strike attack against over 20 cities, including Kyiv, on October 10. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces launched over 84 cruise missiles and 24 drone attacks, 13 of which were carried out with Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones. Ukrainian air defense shot down 43 cruise missiles, 10 Shahed-136 drones, and 3 unspecified drones. Russian forces launched missiles from 10 strategic bombers operating in the Caspian Sea and from Nizhny Novgorod, Iskander short-range ballistic missile systems, and 6 missile carriers in the Black Sea. Russian forces launched the Shahed-136 drones from Crimea and Belarus. Ukrainian media reported that Russian missile strikes hit 70 targets, including 29 critical infrastructure facilities, 4 high-rise buildings, 35 residential buildings, and a school.
Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to have ordered the missile strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure in retaliation for a “terrorist act” at the Kerch Strait Bridge, likely in part to curry favor with the Russian pro-war nationalist camp that has been demanding such retaliation. Putin accused Ukraine during his meeting with the Russian Security Council of conducting terrorist acts against Russian civilian and critical infrastructure, namely against the Kerch Strait Bridge, the Kursk Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), and segments of the Turkish Stream gas transmission system. Ukrainian officials have not formally taken responsibility for the explosion at the Kerch Strait Bridge. The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) also reported that Putin has been planning this attack prior to the Kerch Strait Bridge explosion, and if true, could indicate that Putin planned this attack for the deflection of the Kharkiv-Izyum-Lyman failures.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu also attended the meeting despite speculations that Putin would force him to resign, which may suggest that Putin settled on responding to only one of the pro-war community’s demands at this time.
Putin emphasized that he would conduct proportional escalation in any future retaliatory actions. He stated that if Ukraine continues to carry out “terrorist attacks against [Russian] territory, then Russian responses will be harsh, and their scale will correspond to the level of the threat to the Russian Federation.” This declaration of proportionality suggests that Putin intends to continue climbing the escalation ladder rung by rung and cautiously rather than jumping to more dramatic measures such as the use of nuclear weapons. Putin may also mean to message the Russian pro-war camp that they should manage their expectations of an ongoing daily bombardment of Ukraine similar to the one conducted today. Russian milbloggers, for their part, have overwhelmingly welcomed the strikes and amplified Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev’s statement that more attacks against Ukraine will follow soon. Ukrainian and Western intelligence have previously reported that Russia has spent a significant portion of its high-precision missiles, and Putin likely knows better than Medvedev or the milbloggers that he cannot sustain attacks of this intensity for very long.
The October 10 Russian attacks wasted some of Russia’s dwindling precision weapons against civilian targets, as opposed to militarily significant targets. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian forces successfully completed the mission of striking Ukrainian military command centers, signal infrastructure, and energy systems in Ukraine. Social media shows that Russians instead hit a children’s playground, a park, a German consulate, and a business center among other non-military targets. Ukrainian air defenses also shot down half of the Russian drones and cruise missiles. Russian attacks on the Ukrainian energy grid will not likely break Ukraine’s will to fight, but Russia’s use of its limited supply of precision weapons in this role may deprive Putin of options to disrupt ongoing Ukrainian counter-offensives in Kherson and Luhansk Oblasts.
Russian and Belarusian forces remain unlikely to attack Ukraine from the north despite Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's October 10 announcement that Belarus and Russia agreed to deploy the Union State’s Regional Grouping of Forces (RGV) —a strategic formation of Russian and Belarusian units tasked with defending the Union State. Lukashenko stated that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on October 7 on an unspecified “deployment” of the Russian-Belarusian RGV in “connection with the escalation on the western borders of the Union State” but did not clearly define the deployment’s parameters. Lukashenko stated that over a thousand Russian personnel will deploy to Belarus and that a Russian-Belarusian group began forming on October 8. The Russian component of any RGV formations in Belarus will likely be comprised of low-readiness mobilized men or conscripts who likely will not pose a significant conventional military threat to Ukraine.
The Russian component of the RGV is comprised of elements of the 1st Guard Tank Army, 20th Combined Arms Army, and airborne units– formations that have all sustained heavy combat losses in Ukraine and have a severely reduced combat capacity. A Kyiv Post reporter claimed that Russian soldiers are deploying to Belarus en masse via cattle railcars without mechanized equipment on October 10—a characterization consistent with ISW's assessment. ISW has previously assessed that Ukrainian reports from late September of Belarus preparing to accept 20,000 mobilized Russian men indicate that Russia hopes to use Belarusian military facilities and infrastructure to hold and potentially train newly mobilized Russian forces, but that it remains exceedingly unlikely that these are leading indicators of imminent Belarusian involvement in Ukraine on Russia’s behalf. The Kremlin may seek to use additional Russian forces in Belarus to fix Ukrainian forces near Kyiv and prevent their redeployment elsewhere to participate in counter-offensives. ISW has previously assessed that Lukashenko cannot afford the domestic ramifications of Belarusian involvement in Ukraine. ISW also assesses that Russia does not have the ability to form a ground strike force from scratch or from existing units in Belarus quickly. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that it has not observed indicators of Russian forces forming offensive groups in Belarus and explicitly stated “there is no threat of an attack from the territory of the Republic of Belarus as of October 10.”
- Russian forces conducted massive, coordinated missile strikes on over 20 Ukrainian cities.
- President Vladimir Putin claimed that the coordinated missile strikes were in retaliation for the explosion on the Kerch Strait Bridge, likely in part to curry favor with “pro-war” factions.
- Russian and Belarusian ground forces remain unlikely to attack Ukraine from Belarusian territory to the north.
- Ukrainian forces have likely liberated over 200 square kilometers of territory in western Luhansk Oblast as of October 10.
- Russian forces continued unsuccessful attempts to regain recently lost territory in northwest Kherson Oblast while reinforcing nearby positions with damaged and hastily mobilized units.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks in Donetsk Oblast.
- Russian and occupation administration officials are setting conditions to move up to 40,000 residents out of Kherson Oblast to Russian-occupied Crimea and the Russian Federation.
- Russian forces cannot supply mobilized forces, likely due to years of supply theft by contract soldiers and commanders.
October 9, 2022 | 9:35 pm ET
The attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge, coupled with recent Russian military failures and partial mobilization, is generating direct criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin from the Russian pro-war nationalist community. Some milbloggers, who represent and speak to that community on Telegram, criticized Putin’s and the Kremlin’s failure to address major events forthrightly, noting that it is challenging to rally behind Putin when his government relies on secrecy.[i] Others noted that Putin has consistently failed to address incidents such as the sinking of the cruiser Moskva or the prisoner exchange of Azovstal fighters whom the Kremlin had consistently demonized since the Battle of Mariupol.[ii] Some milbloggers said that Putin must retaliate for the explosion on the Kerch Strait Bridge lest his silence be perceived as ”weakness.”[iii] Milbloggers who did not criticize Putin instead criticized Russian Deputy Chairman of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev’s silence following the explosion after he had made several public claims that an attack on the Crimean Bridge was a Russian “red line.”[iv] Direct criticism of Putin from this community is almost unprecedented. Milbloggers and other nationalist figures continue to express overwhelming support for Putin’s goals in Ukraine and have hitherto blamed failures and setbacks on the Russian military command or the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD).
Key inflections in ongoing military operations on October 9:
- Ukrainian forces continued to advance east of the Oskil Rver in the direction of Luhansk Oblast and have entered Stel’makhivka (about 18km west of Svatove). Russian forces launched unsuccessful assaults on Burdaka on the Kharkiv Oblast-Russian border, and Terny northeast of Lyman.
- Russian sources reported that Russian forces attempted to attack in the direction of Ternovi Pody (approximately 30km northwest of Kherson City) Ukrainian sources reported that Russian forces continued to target newly liberated settlements in northern Kherson Oblast with artillery, MLRS, and aviation.
- Ukrainian sources reported that Ukrainian forces repelled over 30 attacks in the Bakhmut and Avdiivka areas. Russian forces launched an unsuccessful assault southwest of Donetsk City.
- Russian forces targeted residential areas of Zaporizhzhia City with cruise missiles.
- A Russian milblogger accused North Ossetia and Vladikavkaz of failing to fulfill mobilization orders due to carelessness and the personal interests of regional officials.
- Ukrainian sources reported that Russian occupation authorities are moving their families from Kherson Oblast to Crimea, and from Starobilsk to Luhansk City.
October 8, 2022 | 10:30 pm ET
A large-scale explosion damaged the Kerch Strait Bridge that links occupied Crimea with Russia on October 8. Maxar satellite imagery shows that the explosion collapsed one lane of the road bridge and damaged the nearby railway track. The Russian Investigative Committee stated that a truck exploded on the bridge and ignited seven fuel tanks on the railroad. A small fraction of Russian milbloggers speculated that Ukrainian saboteurs used a boat to detonate the bridge from the sea, though there is no visible evidence for such a conclusion. The Kremlin refrained from accusing Ukraine of sabotage or attack, echoing similar restraint following the sinking of the cruiser Moskva and the Ukrainian strike on Saky airfield in Crimea. Ukraine did not claim responsibility for the incident, but The New York Times reported that an unnamed senior Ukrainian official stated that Ukrainian intelligence participated in the explosion. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov noted that the Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a government commission composed of government officials, security services, and the Ministry of Emergency Situations to investigate the ”emergency.”
The explosion will not permanently disrupt critical Russian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) to Crimea, but its aftermath is likely to increase friction in Russian logistics for some time. The road bridge appears at least partially operational, and the railroad bridge did not suffer significant structural damage according to Russian reports that generally seem plausible based on the available video evidence. Russian footage shows people walking on the damaged road bridge and a train moving on the railroad bridge. The Head of occupied Crimea Sergey Aksyonov claimed that the remaining lane of the road bridge opened to cars and buses after a rigorous security check, but that trucks must move by ferry. The collapsed lane of the road bridge will restrict Russian military movements until it is repaired, forcing some Russian forces to rely on the ferry connection for some time. Russian forces will likely still be able to transport heavy military equipment via the railroad. Russian officials will likely intensify security checks on all vehicles crossing the bridge, however, adding delays to the movement of Russian military equipment, personnel, and supplies to Crimea. Putin has already signed a decree strengthening the security protocol on the bridge under the supervision of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).
The Kremlin is likely continuing to frame the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) as the scapegoat for the Kerch Bridge explosion and other Russian military failures to deflect the blame from Putin. The Russian MoD has not issued an official statement regarding the incident as of this publication. Russian opposition outlet Meduza reported that the Russian Presidential Administration sent out a guide to Russian mass media on the appropriate way to downplay the severity of the damage to the bridge, and it is possible that the Kremlin has ordered the Russian MoD to remain quiet regarding the situation. Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov stated that Russia must initiate a strike campaign on critical Ukrainian infrastructure instead of listening to Russian MoD promises.
Some nationalist voices noted that Putin and his close circle are failing to immediately address the attack on a symbolic bridge, voicing direct criticism of Putin for the first time. A milblogger warned that if Putin fails to undertake retaliatory actions it “will be mistaken for the weakness of the president himself.” Another milblogger noted that it is hypocritical for the Kremlin to call on Russians to rally behind Putin if he is unable to comment on significant events such as the Moskva sinking, prisoner exchanges including Azovstal fighters, or the collapse of the Kharkiv frontline. Others criticized the silence of Russian Deputy Chairman of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev regarding the explosion, given that Medvedev had made several statements defining any attacks on the Kerch Bridge as a violation of Russian ”red lines.” Russian milbloggers and propagandists alike called on the Kremlin to resume strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure and notably did not make any calls for Russia to use tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine.
Ukrainian and Russian sources claimed that the Kremlin targeted some higher military command figures following the Kerch Bridge explosion, but these reports remain unverified as of this publication. The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that the Kremlin detained, arrested, and blocked unspecified military officials and ordered the units of the elite Dzerzhinsky Separate Operation Purpose Division to enter Moscow on October 8. Milbloggers who favor the Wagner Group claimed that the Kremlin has replaced Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov supposedly with Tula Governor Alexey Dyumin and the deputy commander-in-chief of the ground forces, Lieutenant General Alexander Matovnikov, respectfully. ISW cannot independently verify either of these reports at this time.
The Kremlin named the Russian Commander of the Aerospace Forces, Army General Sergey Surovikin, the new commander of the Russian operation in Ukraine, and this appointment has generated positive feedback within the nationalist community. Sorovikin previously commanded the “southern” group of forces in Ukraine and was reportedly responsible for the capture of Lysychansk in July. Milbloggers shared their excitement regarding Surovikin’s appointment, noting that Surovikin has the “tough” character necessary to regain the initiative in Ukraine. Wagner financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin extravagantly praised Surovikin because he “got into a tank and rushed to save” the Soviet Union during the 1991 coup attempt in Moscow. Prigozhin’s interview further confirmed reports of a fissure between pro-war and “liberal” factions within the Kremlin, which ISW will consider in more detail in subsequent reports.
- A large-scale explosion seriously damaged the Kerch Strait Bridge that links occupied Crimea with Russia.
- The Kremlin named the Russian Commander of the Aerospace Forces, Army General Sergey Surovikin, the new commander of the Russian operation in Ukraine, and this appointment has generated positive feedback within the nationalist community.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in Kharkiv and Luhansk Oblasts.
- Russian forces continued establishing defensive positions in northern Kherson Oblast.
- Russian forces continued to attack settlements around Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and west of Donetsk City.
- Ukrainian forces reportedly continued to shoot down Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones.
- Russian federal subjects are facing financial challenges in funding mobilization.
- Russian and occupation administration officials continued measures to remove Ukrainian children from their homes in Russian-occupied territories.
October 7, 2022 | 9:15 pm ET
Western and Russian reports of fractures within the Kremlin are gaining traction within the Russian information space, undermining the appearance of stability of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime. The Washington Post reported that US intelligence obtained information that a member of Putin’s inner circle directly criticized Putin’s “extensive military shortcomings” during the war in Ukraine, and other Western and Kremlin-affiliated officials noted rising criticism of Putin’s mishandling of the war and mobilization. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov acknowledged that there have been debates in the Kremlin regarding mobilization in a statement to The Washington Post but denied all allegations of a member of the Kremlin confronting Putin. ISW cannot verify any of these reports are real or assess the likelihood that these arguments or fractures will change Putin’s mind about continuing the war, let alone if they will destabilize his regime. Word of fractures within Putin’s inner circle have reached the hyper-patriotic and nationalist milblogger crowd, however, undermining the impression of strength and control that Putin has sought to portray throughout his reign.
Some Russian milbloggers have begun speculating that there are two factions within the Kremlin following Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Wagner Private Military Company financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s harsh criticism of the Russian higher military command. A milblogger told his nearly one million readers that Kadyrov and Prigozhin are part of the faction that seeks to continue the war and accomplish its ideological goals regardless of cost. The milblogger noted that the faction opposed to them consisted of government officials who wish to negotiate with the West to save their assets and residences in the West but are too afraid to confront Putin directly. The milblogger expressed hope that the pro-war faction will defeat the faction that fails to see that Russia cannot afford to end the war.
The presentation of fundamental disagreements within Putin’s inner circle and challenges to his decisions, even if quiet, within the Russian nationalist space risks depicting Putin as weak and not fully in control of his government. The truth or falseness of that presentation is less important than its injection into the audiences on which Putin most relies for continued support in his war. Putin himself may have externalized his own concerns about this break in the façade of his power and of the unanimity of his trusted senior officials in an odd exchange with a teacher on October 5. Putin asked the teacher how he taught his students about the causes of the Pugachev Rebellion that challenged Catherine the Great in the mid-1770s. The teacher, from Izhevsk, one of the towns that Pugachev captured during his revolt, offered answers that did not satisfy Putin, including the observation that the rebellion had occurred because of the appearance of “a leader who could capitalize on a wave of dissatisfaction,” and that the lesson to be drawn from that episode of history was “that it is necessary to respect the views of other members of society.” Putin offered his own answer: “The leader [Pugachev] claimed to be tsar. And how did that arise? Why was that possible?...Because of the element of weakening of the central power.” The exchange was bizarre and fascinating since there is no reason Pugachev’s Rebellion should have been on Putin’s mind at this time, nor any reason for him to worry about someone else “claiming to be tsar.”—unless, of course, Putin himself perceives a weakening of the central power, i.e., himself.
Kadyrov and Prigozhin will likely attempt to make minor ground advances in Donetsk Oblast to maintain their prominence and reputation in the nationalist and proxy information spaces. Russian forces have been making incremental advances around Bakhmut and Avdiivka between October 6 and October 7, likely with the support of Wagner and Kadyrov’s elements in the area. Some milbloggers and Ukrainian officials reported that Prigozhin committed 1,000 of his troops to strengthen positions in Lysychansk to secure Russian frontlines following the collapse of the Lyman frontline. Head of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Denis Pushilin even awarded Kadyrov the title of hero of the DNR. The claims about Kadyrov and Prigozhin making gains and preparing to save the day coincides with Kremlin efforts to improve the reputation of the Commander of the Central Military District, Colonel-General Alexander Lapin whom they both attacked earlier. Milbloggers even reported meeting Lapin, who is now reportedly commanding the Svatove-Kreminna frontline in Luhansk Oblast.
Russian President Vladimir Putin may have waited to announce that he had replaced Eastern Military District (EMD) Commander Aleksandr Chaiko until Putin could use Chaiko as a scapegoat for Russian military failures in Kharkiv and Lyman. Russian media reported on October 7 that Putin replaced Chaiko with Lieutenant General Rustam Muradov. Chaiko is the second military district commander to be replaced since the Russian lines in Kharkiv collapsed—Putin replaced the Western Military District commander on October 3, as ISW previously reported. Oddly, Russian milbloggers first reported that Muradov had replaced Chaiko on September 4, but the Kremlin has yet to formally confirm the appointment. State-run and independent media outlets quoted the governor of Dagestan congratulating Muradov on his appointment and cited an entry in the Unified State Register of Legal Entities to confirm the replacement. Muradov had previously commanded the eastern grouping of Russian forces in Ukraine, which is likely comprised of elements of the EMD, as of July.
- Western and Russian reports of fractures within the Kremlin are gaining traction within the Russian information space, undermining the appearance of stability of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin may have waited to announce that he had replaced Eastern Military District (EMD) Commander Aleksandr Chaiko until he needed to use Chaiko as a scapegoat for Russian military failures in Kharkiv Oblast and Lyman, Donetsk Oblast.
- Ukrainian forces likely continued counteroffensive operations along the Kreminna-Svatove road in western Luhansk Oblast.
- Russian forces continued to establish defensive positions in northern Kherson Oblast, and Ukrainian and Russian sources reported ongoing battles north and northwest of Kherson City.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks in Donetsk Oblast.
- Anecdotal reports of poor conditions for mobilized personnel in the Russian information space are continuing to fuel the accurate narrative of Kremlin and Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) incompetence.
- Russian officials offered basic concessions for mobilized men and their families on October 7 but continue to rely on local governments and other non-federal institutions to provide support, including food and training, to newly mobilized men.
- Russian occupation authorities in Donetsk Oblast are continuing to forcibly mobilize Ukrainian civilians, belying Russian claims that residents of newly-annexed territories will not be mobilized.
October 6, 2022 | 6:15 pm ET
Russia’s use of Iranian-made drones is not generating asymmetric effects the way the Ukrainian use of US-provided HIMARS systems has done and is unlikely to affect the course of the war significantly. The deputy chief of the Main Operational Department of the Ukrainian General Staff, Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov, stated on October 6 that Russian forces have used a total of 86 Iranian Shahed-136 drones against Ukraine, 60% of which Ukrainian forces have already destroyed. As ISW reported yesterday, Russian forces do not appear to be focusing these drones on asymmetric nodes near the battlefield. They have used many drones against civilian targets in rear areas, likely hoping to generate nonlinear effects through terror. Such efforts are not succeeding. Ukrainian Air Force Command Spokesperson Yuri Ignat stated that the Russian army is increasingly using the Iranian-made drones to conserve its stock of high-precision missiles. Russian forces have likely used a non-trivial percentage of the Shahed-136 supply so far if the claims of an anonymous US intelligence official at the end of August were correct that Iran would likely provide ”hundreds” of drones to Russia.
The Wagner Private Military Company announced the creation of its own private Telegram channel on October 6, indicating that Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin may want a voice that is clearly his own to compete with milbloggers and possibly Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov, who all have their own Telegram channels. A Telegram channel affiliated with Prigozhin shared the invitation to the Wagner channel, “Peacekeeper.” The Russian-language invitation reads “👹We arrived from Hell. We are WAGNER - our business is death, and business is going well.” In addition to Peacekeeper, the channel suggested that followers subscribe to the “Novorossiya Z Project,” another private channel. The creation of a group for Wagner to share “uncensored materials from the front” may be in part a recruitment tool but is likely also an attempt to establish a formal means for Prigozhin and his allies to directly influence the information space in much the same way that Kadyrov and the Russian nationalist milbloggers use Telegram.
- Russia’s use of Iranian-made drones is not generating asymmetric effects the way the Ukrainian use of US-provided HIMARS systems has done and is unlikely to affect the course of the war significantly.
- The Wagner Private Military Company announced the creation of its own private Telegram channel on October 6, indicating that Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin may want a voice that is clearly his own to compete with milbloggers and possibly Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov, who all have their own Telegram channels.
- Ukrainian forces likely continued counteroffensive operations in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast near Kupyansk and operations to threaten Russian positions along the Kreminna-Svatove road in western Luhansk Oblast on October 6.
- Russian troops are likely establishing defensive positions in upper Kherson Oblast following the collapse of the Russian line in northeast Kherson.
- Russian troops continued ground attacks in Donetsk Oblast on October 6 and likely made incremental gains around Bakhmut.
- Russian forces continued to conduct routine artillery, air, and missile strikes west of Hulyaipole, and in Dnipropetrovsk and Mykolaiv Oblasts on October 6.
- Local Russian officials appear to be frantically looking for ways to fund their mobilized units as the Kremlin increasingly expects local administrations to pay for the war effort from their own budgets.
- The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on October 6 that Russian forces began the forced mobilization of Ukrainian citizens in Russian-occupied Kremmina and Starobilsk, Luhansk Oblast.
October 5, 2022 | 8:00 pm ET
Ukraine’s northern Kharkiv counteroffensive has not yet culminated after one month of successful operations and is now advancing into western Luhansk Oblast. Ukrainian forces captured Hrekivka and Makiivka in western Luhansk Oblast (approximately 20 km southwest of Svatove) on October 5. Luhansk Oblast Head Serhiy Haidai reported that Ukrainian forces have begun liberating unspecified villages in Luhansk Oblast on October 5. Ukrainian forces began the maneuver phase of their counteroffensive in Kharkiv Oblast— which has now reached Luhansk Oblast—on September 6. Russian forces have failed to hold the banks of the Oskil and Siverskyi Donets rivers and leverage them as natural boundaries to prevent Ukrainian forces from projecting into vulnerable sections of Russian-occupied northeast Ukraine. The terrain in western Luhansk is suitable for the kind of rapid maneuver warfare that Ukrainian forces used effectively in eastern Kharkiv Oblast in early September, and there are no indications from open sources that the Russian military has substantially reinforced western Luhansk Oblast. Ukraine’s ongoing northern and southern counteroffensives are likely forcing the Kremlin to prioritize the defense of one area of operations at the expense of another, potentially increasing the likelihood of Ukrainian success in both.
Russian forces conducted a Shahed-136 drone strike against Bila Tserkva, Kyiv Oblast, on October 5, the first Russian strike in Kyiv Oblast since June. Footage from the aftermath of the strike shows apparent damage to residential structures. Russian milbloggers lauded the destructive capability of the Shahed-136 drones but questioned why Russian forces are using such technology to target areas deep in the Ukrainian rear and far removed from active combat zones. That decision fits into the larger pattern of Russian forces expending high-precision technology on areas of Ukraine that hold limited operational significance.
Russian President Vladimir Putin took measures to assert full Russian control over the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP). Putin issued a decree transferring control of the ZNPP to Russian state company Rosenergoatom on October 5. The ZNPP’s current Ukrainian operator Energoatom announced that its president assumed the position of General Director of the ZNPP on October 5. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian officials are coercing ZNPP workers into obtaining Russian passports and signing employment contracts with Rosenergoatom. International Atomic Energy Agency General Director Rafael Grossi plans to meet with both Ukrainian and Russian officials this week in Kyiv and Moscow to discuss the creation of a “protective zone” around the ZNPP. Russian officials will likely attempt to coerce the IAEA in upcoming discussions and negotiations into recognizing Rosenergoatom’s official control of the ZNPP, and by implication Russia’s illegal annexation of Zaporizhia Oblast.
- The Ukrainian counteroffensive that began in Kharkiv Oblast has not yet culminated and is actively pushing into Luhansk Oblast.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin took measures to assert full Russian control over the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).
- Russian forces conducted the first strike on Kyiv Oblast since June with a Shahed-136 drone.
- The Head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, announced that Putin awarded him the rank of Colonel-General.
- Increasing domestic critiques of Russia’s “partial mobilization” are likely driving Putin to scapegoat the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and specifically Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
- Ukrainian troops likely consolidated positions and regrouped in northern Kherson Oblast after making major gains over in the last 48 hours.
- Russian sources reported Ukrainian offensive preparations northwest, west, and northeast of Kherson City.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks in Donetsk Oblast on October 5.
- Russian milbloggers continued to criticize the implementation of the Russian “partial mobilization” on October 5.
- Russian citizens who are economically disadvantaged and ethnic minority Russian communities continue to bear a disproportionate burden in mobilization rates and casualty rates according to investigative reports, suggesting that Russian authorities may be deliberately placing poor and minority Russian citizens in more dangerous positions than well-off or ethnic Russians.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin completed the final formality in the process for illegally annexing Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories on October 5.
October 4, 2022 | 10:00 pm ET
Ukrainian forces continued to make significant gains in Kherson Oblast while simultaneously continuing advances in Kharkiv and Luhansk oblasts on October 4. Ukrainian forces liberated several settlements on the eastern bank of the Inhulets River along the T2207 highway, forcing Russian forces to retreat to the south toward Kherson City. Ukrainian forces also continued to push south along the Dnipro River and the T0403 highway, severing two Russian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) in northern Kherson Oblast and forcing Russians south of the Kherson-Dnipropetrovsk Oblast border toward the Beryslav area. Ukrainian military officials noted that the Ukrainian interdiction campaign is crippling Russian attempts to transfer additional ammunition, reserves, mobilized men, and means of defense to frontline positions. Ukrainian forces also continued to advance east of the Oskil River in Kharkiv Oblast, and Russian sources claimed that battles are ongoing near the R66 Svatove-Kreminna highway.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of partial mobilization is having more significant short-term impacts on the Russian domestic context than on the war in Ukraine, interacting with Russian battlefield failures to exacerbate fractures in the information space that confuse and undermine Putin’s narratives. Ukrainian sources have rightly observed that the partial mobilization is not a major threat in the short term because the Ukrainian counteroffensive is moving faster than the mobilization can generate effects. Ukrainian Intelligence Chief Kyrylo Budanov even stated that mobilization in Russia is a “gift” to Ukraine because the Kremlin is finding itself in a “dead end,” caught between its failures and its determination to hold what it has seized. The controversies surrounding the poorly executed partial mobilization, coupled with significant Russian defeats in Kharkiv Oblast and around Lyman, have intensified infighting between pro-Putin Russian nationalist factions and are creating new fractures among voices who speak to Putin’s core constituencies.
Putin is visibly failing at balancing the competing demands of the Russian nationalists who have become increasingly combative since mobilization began despite sharing Putin’s general war aims and goals in Ukraine. ISW has identified three main factions in the current Russian nationalist information space: Russian milbloggers and war correspondents, former Russian or proxy officers and veterans, and some of the Russian siloviki—people with meaningful power bases and forces of their own. Putin needs to retain the support of all three of these factions. Milbloggers present Putin’s vision to a pro-war audience in both Russia and the proxy republics. The veteran community is helping organize and support force generation campaigns. The siloviki are providing combat power on the battlefield. Putin needs all three factions to sustain his war effort, but the failures in Ukraine combined with the chaotic partial mobilization are seemingly disrupting the radical nationalist community in Russia. Putin is currently trying to appease this community by featuring some milbloggers on state-owned television, allowing siloviki to generate their own forces and continue offensive operations around Bakhmut and Donetsk City, and placating veterans by ordering mobilization and engaging the general public in the war effort as they have long demanded.
Russian failures around Lyman galvanized strong and direct criticism of the commander of the Central Military District (CMD), Alexander Lapin, who supposedly commanded the Lyman grouping, as ISW has previously reported. This criticism originated from the siloviki group, spearheaded by Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov and Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin. Kadyrov and Prigozhin represent an emerging voice within the regime’s fighting forces that is attacking the more traditional and conventional approach to the war pursued by Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu and the uniformed military command. The chaotic execution of Putin’s mobilization order followed by the collapse of the Lyman pocket ignited tensions between the more vocal and radical Kadyrov-Prigozhin camp, who attacked the MoD and the uniformed military for their poor handling of the war. Putin now finds himself in a dilemma. He cannot risk alienating the Kadyrov-Prigozhin camp, as he desperately needs Kadyrov’s Chechen forces and Prigozhin’s Wagner Group mercenaries to fight in Ukraine. Nor can he disenfranchise the MoD establishment, which provides the overwhelming majority of Russian military power in Ukraine and the institutional underpinnings needed to carry out the mobilization order and continue the war.
The Kadyrov-Prigozhin incident sparked a rift between the siloviki and the milbloggers, with the milbloggers defending Lapin. Milbloggers are criticizing Kadyrov’s attack on Lapin, claiming that it stems from competition between Lapin and Kadyrov-Prigozhin. The Kremlin did not punish Kadyrov or Prigozhin for their direct attacks on Lapin and the Defense Ministry but has instead deflected blame for the Russian defeat in Kharkiv Oblast onto the Western Military District (WMD). Kremlin-affiliated outlets have even interviewed milbloggers who have painted Lapin as a hero for saving the stranded WMD units in Lyman, likely in an effort to divert responsibility for the Russian defeat there onto recently fired WMD Commander Colonel-General Alexander Zhuravlev. Milbloggers, who had frequently complimented Kadyrov or Prigozhin before this incident, are now more skeptical of the siloviki community, attacking it for being too self-interested.
Fractures are emerging within the Russian milblogger community itself, moreover. Milbloggers have begun increasingly questioning each other's military credentials and rights to offer recommendations for the Russian Armed Forces. One milblogger complained that commentators without appropriate military experience have been improperly criticizing current military commanders and should be focusing on simply portraying the situation on the frontlines without editorializing. These critiques have been largely aimed at the milblogger discourse following the Russian defeat in Lyman and the Kadyrov-Prigozhin incident. These attacks on some milbloggers’ credentials have drawn responses from milbloggers who have met with Putin himself and are being featured on Kremlin-controlled television channels, who now declare that they are the ones who have shown the true shortcomings of the Russian forces to Putin so that he can address them.
The veterans’ community is dissatisfied with the execution of Putin’s mobilization. ISW reported in May that an independent Russian veterans’ organization, the All-Russian Officers Assembly, published an open letter calling on Putin to declare war on Ukraine, announce partial mobilization, and form new war-time administrations to execute the mobilization order. Those new administrations would likely have improved or supplanted the military commissariats that have been mishandling the current partial mobilization. The Assembly also encouraged Putin to recognize that Russia is fighting NATO in Ukraine, not Ukrainians, long before this narrative gained prominence in the Kremlin’s justifications for its defeat in Kharkiv Oblast and Lyman. This elder nationalist military community has long been warning Putin of the limitations of his forces, problems in the Russian military-industrial complex, and the failings of the Russian mobilization system. Putin has refused to order general mobilization or declare war against Ukraine, and the partial mobilization has likely been executed as poorly as those who had recommended fixing the mobilization system had feared. Former Deputy Commander of the Russian Southern Military District Andrey Gurulev stated that the Russian military command must disclose its inability to mobilize 300,000 combat-ready reservists and broaden the mobilization criteria if Russia is to have any hope of regaining the initiative in this war. Gurulev even expressed his support for Kadyrov’s and Prigozhin’s attack on Lapin, highlighting the growing fractiousness of the nationalist information space.
The fragmentation of the Russian nationalist information space could have significant domestic impacts and could even affect the stability of Putin’s regime. Putin will be unable to meet the mutually exclusive demands of various groups. Kadyrov and Prigozhin are pushing for a change in the way Russia fights the war to one more suited to their unconventional modes of mobilizing personnel and fighting. The veterans have been pushing for a more traditional overhaul of the Russian higher military command and MoD and for putting Russia on a conventional war footing and the Russian MoD. Russian milbloggers are currently defending the Kremlin’s selection of uniformed commanders while continuing to attack the MoD and making a variety of extreme demands and recommendations of their own—all the while reporting on Russia’s frontline failings in detail even as the MoD tries to silence them. Putin cannot afford to lose the support of any of these groups, nor can satisfy them all as the war wears on and Russian troops continue to sustain losses. The shocks of the Kharkiv and Lyman defeats, energized by the partial mobilization and its poor management, have exposed these deepening fissures within Putin’s core constituencies to the view of all Russians. They could even begin to seed the notion that Putin is not fully in control of his own base. The ramifications of such a development for his regime are hard to predict.
- Ukrainian forces continued to make significant gains in Kherson Oblast while simultaneously continuing advances in Kharkiv and Luhansk Oblast.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of partial mobilization is having more significant short-term impacts on the Russian domestic context than on the war in Ukraine, catalyzing fractures in the information space that confuse and undermine Putin’s narratives.
- Ukrainian forces continued to make substantial gains in northern Kherson Oblast on October 4, beginning to collapse the sparsely-manned Russian lines in that area.
- Ukrainian forces continued to make gains in eastern Kharkiv Oblast west of Svatove on October 4, pushing past the Oskil River and increasingly threatening Russian positions in Luhansk Oblast.
- Russian forces continued to conduct artillery, air, and missile strikes west of Hulyiapole and in Dnipropetrovsk and Mykolaiv Oblasts on October 4.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks in Donetsk Oblast on October 4.
- The Kremlin effectively ordered local Russian administrations and non-Ministry of Defense institutions to fund a significant part of the mobilization effort from local budgets.
- Russian security officials are attempting to maintain their domestic security apparatus as Putin’s partial mobilization drains the Russian security sector to generate additional forces to fight in Ukraine.
October 3, 2022 | 9:00 pm ET
Ukrainian forces continued to make substantial gains around Lyman and in Kherson Oblast in the last 48 hours. Ukrainian and Russian sources reported that Ukrainian troops made significant breakthroughs in northern Kherson Oblast between October 2 and 3. Geolocated footage corroborates Russian claims that Ukrainian troops are continuing to push east of Lyman and may have broken through the Luhansk Oblast border in the direction of Kreminna. As ISW has previously reported, the Russian groupings in northern Kherson Oblast and on the Lyman front were largely comprised of units that had been regarded as among Russia’s premier conventional fighting forces before the war. Elements of the 144th Motorized Rifle Division of the 20th Combined Arms Army reportedly withdrew from Lyman to rear positions near Kreminna before October 2. Russian sources previously reported that elements of the Russian Airborne Forces (VDV), especially the 76th Guards Air Assault Division, are active in Kherson Oblast. Both the 144th Motorized Rifle Division and the 76th Guards Air Assault Division were previously lauded as some of Russia’s most elite forces, and their apparent failures to hold territory against major Ukrainian counter-offensive actions is consistent with ISW’s previous assessment that even the most elite Russian military forces are becoming increasingly degraded as the war continues. This phenomenon was also visible in the collapse of the 4th Tank Division of the 1st Guards Tank Army earlier in the Kharkiv counter-offensive.
Russian President Vladimir Putin may be continuing efforts to redirect blame for recent Russian military failures in Kharkiv Oblast. Russian outlet РБК (RBK), citing sources within the Russian regime, reported on October 3 that Lieutenant-General Roman Berdnikov has replaced Colonel-General Alexander Zhuravlev as commander of the Western Military District (WMD). As ISW previously assessed, WMD units have been largely operating in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast over the last few months but without a clear commander. Zhuravlev has not been seen for some time, and Putin cycled through two commanders of the “western grouping of forces" in two weeks. Putin may be attempting to redirect the growing anger for Russian losses in Kharkiv Oblast and Lyman by assigning a new face prominently to the WMD. This announcement may also be an effort to shield Colonel General Alexander Lapin, commander of the Central Military District (CMD), from widespread criticism for recent Russian failures around Lyman. Putin may seek to shift the blame for future Russian losses in Kharkiv and possibly Luhansk Oblasts to Berdnikov. Criticism of Lapin in recent days has served as a catalyst for wider breakdown within the Russian nationalist information space, and Berdnikov’s appointment may be intended to distract and redirect that growing dissatisfaction.
Russian officials released Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) director Ihor Murashov from detention and are likely continuing to undermine Ukrainian control of the plant. Energoatom reported that the Russian military detained Director General of the ZNPP Ihor Murashov on September 30 and released him into Ukrainian-controlled territory on October 3 following talks with International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Raphael Grossi. Russian officials will likely not allow Murashov to return to his position at the ZNPP. Russian officials will likely attempt to use their physical removal of Murashov to assert further control over the nuclear power plant.
- Ukrainian forces have made substantial gains around Lyman and in northern Kherson Oblast over the last 24 hours. The Russian units defeated on these fronts were previously considered to be among Russia’s premier conventional fighting forces.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin may use the appointment of Lieutenant-General Roman Berdnikov to the command of the Western Military District to redirect blame for recent or future Russian military failures in Kharkiv Oblast.
- Russian officials released the director of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, whom they had illegally detained, and are likely continuing to undermine Ukrainian control of the plant.
- Ukrainian forces made advances on the Oskil River-Kreminna line towards the Luhansk oblast border.
- Ukrainian forces advanced in northern Kherson Oblast.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin is introducing punitive measures to target the Russian bureaucratic institutions responsible for the execution of partial mobilization.
- Russian officials acknowledged that the Kremlin intends to invade, occupy, and illegally annex additional Ukrainian territory in the south and east and may alter the claimed borders of its occupied territories.
- The Russian State Duma approved the Kremlin’s illegal accession treaties on October 3 and laid out the administrative timeline for integrating illegally annexed Ukrainian territory into the Russian Federation.
Special Edition on Russian Information Space Following the Defeat in Lyman
This campaign assessment special edition focuses on dramatic changes in the Russian information space following the Russian defeat around Lyman and in Kharkiv Oblast and amid the failures of Russia’s partial mobilization. Ukrainian forces made continued gains around Lyman, Donetsk Oblast, and have broken through Russian defensive positions in northeastern Kherson Oblast. Those developments are summarized briefly and will be covered in more detail tomorrow when more confirmation is available.
October 1, 2022 | 7:00 pm ET
Ukrainian forces inflicted another significant operational defeat on Russia and liberated Lyman, Donetsk Oblast, on October 1. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced the withdrawal of Russian troops from Lyman to “more advantageous positions” to avoid the “threat of encirclement” in the settlement. Social media footage and Ukrainian military officials confirmed that Ukrainian forces have entered Lyman and are likely clearing the settlement as of October 1.
The Russian information space – composed of Kremlin propagandists, pundits, and milbloggers – registered the defeat as the result of the Russian military command’s failure to send reinforcements in a timely manner, while openly criticizing repeated bureaucratic failures during the mobilization. Russian commentators overwhelmingly expressed their hopes that partial mobilization would generate enough force to resume offensive operations and regain the initiative. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, apparently devastated by the defeat in Lyman, called on Russia to continue to fight to ”liberate” the four annexed territories with all available means including low-yield nuclear weapons.
Kadyrov’s rant is similar to the disorganized and often hyperbolic milblogger rants that call for the Kremlin to continue the war in Ukraine, and his call for the use of nuclear weapons was not representative of the discourse within the Russian information space. Russian federal TV channels and ultra-hawkish milbloggers have often discussed Russian nuclear capabilities as part of their efforts to stoke patriotic sentiments among Russian domestic audiences, and Kadyrov’s statement was not especially noteworthy in this context.
Kadyrov’s call for using tactical nuclear weapons is likely inconsistent with his demands to continue the “special military operation” to bring more Ukrainian territory under Russian control. The Russian military in its current state is almost certainly unable to operate on a nuclear battlefield even though it has the necessary equipment and has historically trained its units to do so. The chaotic agglomeration of exhausted contract soldiers, hastily mobilized reservists, conscripts, and mercenaries that currently comprise the Russian ground forces could not function in a nuclear environment. Any areas affected by Russian tactical nuclear weapons would thus be impassible for the Russians, likely precluding Russian advances. This consideration is another factor that reduces the likelihood of Russian tactical nuclear weapons use.
Kadyrov blamed the commander of the Central Military District (CMD), Colonel General Alexander Lapin, for failures around Lyman. Kadyrov’s attacks gained significant traction within the Russian information space and indicates that the rift between Russian traditional and non-traditional forces is likely growing. Kadyrov stated that Lapin, responsible for the ”central” group of forces in Ukraine, failed to properly equip units operating in the Lyman area and moved his headquarters far from the frontlines. Kadyrov also accused the Russian General Staff and specifically Chief of the General Staff, Army General Valery Gerasimov, of covering up Lapin’s failures. Wagner Group financier Evgeniy Prigozhin publicly agreed with Kadyrov’s criticism of Lapin, saying that the higher military command should fight “barefoot with machine guns on the frontlines.” Milbloggers and state television hosts praised Kadyrov‘s and Prigozhin’s critiques of the Russian military command, adding that the command is corrupt and disinterested in Russian strategic goals. Kadyrov, Lapin, and Prigozhin are all operating in the Donbas sector, and such comments indicate the strains within the Russian forces operating in Ukraine and their leadership. The Kremlin may be amplifying such criticism to set informational conditions for personnel changes within the higher military command in weeks to come.
The defeat around Lyman also indicates that Russian President Vladimir Putin – who has reportedly been micromanaging Russian commanders on the ground – is deprioritizing defending Luhansk Oblast in favor of holding occupied territories in southern Ukraine. Ukrainian and Russian sources consistently indicate that Russian forces continued to reinforce Russian positions in Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts, despite the recent collapse of the Kharkiv-Izyum front and even as the Russian positions around Lyman collapsed. The decision not to reinforce vulnerable Kupyansk or Lyman front lines was almost certainly Putin’s, not that of the military command, and suggests that Putin cares far more about holding the strategic terrain of Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts than he does about Luhansk Oblast.
Russia is likely setting conditions to assume legal responsibility of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP). Russian authorities detained the general director of the ZNPP, Ihor Murashov, on September 30. A Russian miblogger claimed that Murashov’s detention will have no tangible impact on the operation of the plant since the power units are already shut down and stated that authorities are currently undertaking ”routine“ legal work to transfer control of the plant to Russian state nuclear energy corporation Rosatom and create a new legal entity for the ZNPP. Murashov’s detention and the ”legal” process of transferring control of the ZNPP to Rosatom are noteworthy indications that Russian authorities will likely seek to exploit their control of the ZNPP to pressure the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to legitimize the illegal Russian annexations of occupied Ukrainian territory by coercing it to acknowledge Russia‘s legal control over the ZNPP.
Russian forces conducted a failed ground attack on Kozacha Lopan in northern Kharkiv Oblast on October 1. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled a Russian ground attack on Kozacha Lopan, 5km from the Kharkiv Oblast-Russia border. Such attacks indicate that Russian President Vladimir Putin likely retains the aim of regaining control of territory beyond the oblasts he has illegally annexed and is willing to allocate Russian military assets to such offensive actions rather than dedicating them to defending against the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Donbas.
- Ukrainian forces liberated Lyman and are likely clearing the settlement as of October 1.
- Russia is likely setting conditions to assume legal responsibility of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).
- Ukrainian troops are continuing to conduct counteroffensive operations in Kherson Oblast and setting conditions for future advances.
- Russian forces conducted ground attacks in the Bakhmut and Avdiivka areas of Donetsk Oblast.
- Russian forces continued routine strikes against Ukrainian rear areas in the south.
- Russian military leadership is continuing to compromise future reconstitution of the force by prioritizing the immediate mobilization of as many bodies as possible for ongoing fighting in Ukraine.
- Russian mobilization authorities continue to carry out discriminatory mobilization practices.
Full list of Ukraine invasion updates are available here.