Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 1, 2023
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 1, 2023
Riley Bailey, Kateryna Stepanenko, Nicole Wolkov, and Frederick W. Kagan
April 1, 9 pm ET
Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.
Click here to access ISW’s archive of interactive time-lapse maps of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These maps complement the static control-of-terrain maps that ISW produces daily by showing a dynamic frontline. ISW will update this time-lapse map archive monthly.
Russian, Ukrainian, and Western sources observed on April 1 that the Russian winter offensive has failed to achieve the Kremlin’s goals of seizing the Donetsk and Luhansk oblast administrative borders by March 31. Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov had announced on December 22 that Russian forces were focusing most of their efforts on seizing Donetsk Oblast, and Russian forces launched their winter offensive operation in early February along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna-Lyman line and on select frontlines in western Donetsk Oblast. The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) observed that Gerasimov has failed to extend Russian control over Donbas during his appointment as the theater commander in Ukraine and has achieved only marginal gains by expending mobilized personnel. Ukrainian intelligence representative Andriy Yusov stated that Gerasimov missed the Kremlin’s deadline to capture Donbas by March 31.
Russian milbloggers fretted that Russian forces must finish their offensive operations in Bakhmut and Avdiivka to prepare for the Ukrainian counteroffensives they expect between Orthodox Easter on April 16 and Soviet Victory Day on May 9. Milbloggers highlighted their disappointment that there have not been any decisive battles throughout the winter and observed that Russia will not be capable of continuing a large-scale offensive operation if it is unable to secure Bakhmut and Avdiivka in the coming weeks. Deputy Head of the Main Directorate of the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) in occupied Donetsk Oblast Alexander Khodakovsky stated that he agrees with former theater commander Army General Sergey Surovikin that Russia needs to shift to defensive positions. (ISW is not aware of any publicly reported statement Surovikin has made along these lines.) Khodakovsky noted that failures during the offensive cause manpower losses and spark negative sentiments among the personnel, and argued that unnamed actors may be attempting to continue the offensive for personal reasons rather than taking a rational approach to the issue. Khodakovsky’s comment likely implies that Gerasimov is pursuing personal interest in sustaining the offensive in order to retain favor with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Khodakovsky’s recent appointment on March 30 as regional Rosgvardia deputy head and the return of Surovikin (at least by proxy) to the information space may indicate that Gerasimov’s unsuccessful theater-wide offensive may already be costing him favor with Putin.
Khodakovsky’s and milbloggers’ requests for Russian forces to prioritize defensive operations are not unreasonable and indicate that nationalist groups are sensible to the changing dynamics on the frontlines. ISW had long assessed that the Russian winter offensive is unlikely to be successful due to persistent failures of the Russian command to comprehend the time and space relationships involved in such a campaign. ISW also assessed that Russia would lack the combat power necessary to sustain more than one major offensive operation in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, and ongoing recruitment campaigns in Russia and occupied Ukrainian territories may indicate that Russia is preparing for reserve shortages.
Growing Russian speculation about Russian military command changes likely indicates that Russia may soon reshuffle its senior military command due to the failed winter offensive. Russian milbloggers claimed on April 1 that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) recalled Russian Airborne (VDV) Forces commander Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky from leave on March 30 after the Russian MoD reportedly replaced him with Lieutenant General Oleg Makarevich on January 13. The Russian MoD never confirmed Teplinsky’s dismissal, and it is likely that the MoD placed him on leave so it could recall him to command the VDV whenever it deemed necessary. Russian milbloggers claimed that Teplinsky immediately flew to the Russian Joint Grouping Headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, Krasnodar Krai to assume command of the VDV and that he is already planning future operations. One milblogger claimed that Chief of the General Staff of the Ground Forces and former Central Military District (CMD) Commander Colonel General Alexander Lapin flew with Teplinsky to the Joint Grouping Headquarters. The Russian MoD replaced Lapin with Lieutenant General Andrey Mordvichev as CMD commander officially on February 17 following intense public criticism of Lapin for his management of the Svatove-Kreminna line in the fall of 2022. It remains to be seen if Lapin will regain a role commanding forces in Ukraine, however. Russian sources speculated starting on March 27 that the Russian MoD has also recently dismissed Eastern Military District (EMD) Commander Colonel General Rustam Muradov in response to intense criticism of his command over significant losses in offensive operations near Vuhledar in early 2023. ISW has previously observed that intensified Russian speculation about changes in military command has corresponded with real changes in Russian commanders, although not necessarily following the exact claims of Russian sources.
- Russian, Ukrainian, and Western sources observed that the Russian winter offensive has failed to achieve the Kremlin’s goals of seizing all of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts by March 31.
- Growing Russian speculation about Russian military command changes likely indicates that Russia may soon reshuffle its senior military command due to the failed winter offensive.
- Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces did not make any confirmed gains in or around Bakhmut and continued offensive operations along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City frontline.
- Russian forces continued to build defenses in occupied southern Ukraine.
- Russia began its semi-annual conscription on April 1, the largest conscription call-up since 2016.
- Russian occupation officials continue to deport Ukrainian children to Russia under rest-and-rehabilitation schemes.
- Russian nationalist figures criticized Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for failing to pursue the Union State between Russia and Belarus efforts since mid-1990s.
We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.
- Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of two subordinate main efforts)
- Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1—Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and push westward into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and encircle northern Donetsk Oblast
- Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2—Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
- Russian Supporting Effort—Southern Axis
- Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
- Activities in Russian-occupied Areas
Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine
Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1— Luhansk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and continue offensive operations into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and northern Donetsk Oblast)
Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks along the Svatove-Kreminna line on April 1. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Kreminna; within 21km northwest of Kremina near Chervonopopivka and Makiivka; and within 20km south of Kreminna near Dibrova, Hryhorivka, Bilohorivka, and Verkhnokamyanske. Geolocated footage published on March 31 and April 1 indicated that Ukrainian forces made limited advances west of Chervonopopivka and northeast of Verkhnokamyanske. The Ukrainian Luhansk Oblast Military Administration stated that the most intense fighting occurred near Bilohorivka. Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty stated that Russian forces operating in the Kupyansk-Lyman direction are mostly composed of mobilized personnel in airborne and motorized rifle units and 2nd Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Army Corps units. Footage published on March 31 allegedly shows the 24th Guards SPETSNAZ Brigade operating in Makiivka. A Russian news aggregator published an interview on April 1 purportedly showing BARS-13 (Russian Combat Reserve) elements operating near Kreminna. Footage published allegedly show the LNR-affiliated ”Prizrak” Battalion striking Ukrainian positions in the Siversk direction.
Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2—Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)
Russian forces did not make any confirmed gains in or around Bakhmut on April 1. The Bakhmut area recently received heavy snowfall and weather conditions may have slowed Russian advances in the city. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces continued assaults on Bakhmut itself and conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Bohdanivka (6km northwest of Bakhmut) and Ivanivske (6km west of Bakhmut). Ukrainian Eastern Grouping of Forces Spokesperon Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty reported that there were 25 combat clashes in the Bakhmut area, and that the tempo of Russian assaults continues to decrease compared to two weeks ago. Cherevaty stated that Russian forces are continuing to regroup in the Bakhmut area, and ISW previously assessed that Russian forces may decide to recommit personnel and resources after regrouping to increase the tempo of offensives in and around Bakhmut. Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner Group fighters conducted assault operations in the southern and northern parts of Bakhmut and are gradually breaking through Ukrainian defenses in the southern and southwestern parts of the city. A Russian milblogger claimed that Wagner fighters continued to advance into the center of Bakhmut and hold positions 200-250m away from the Bakhmut city administration building. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces operating in Bakhmut have become apathetic to the deaths of their comrades. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted an unsuccessful assault towards Orikhovo-Vasylivka (11km northwest of Bakhmut).
Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City frontline on April 1. Geolocated footage published on April 1 indicates that Ukrainian forces likely made marginal gains northeast of Vodyane (8km southwest of Avdiivka). The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Avdiivka, Novobakhmutivka (14km northwest of Avdiivka), and within 27km southwest of Avdiivka near Sieverne, Pervomaiske, and Marinka. Russian sources claimed that Russian forces conducted assaults operations near Stepove (8km northwest of Avdiivka) and Keramik (14km north of Avdiivka) on April 1, and that Russian forces continued offensives south and southwest of Kamianka (5km northeast of Avdiivka) on March 31. A Russian milblogger amplified footage on April 1 purporting to show the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) 58th Separate Special Purpose Brigade (formerly the 3rd Separate Special Purpose Brigade) of the 1st Army Corps striking Ukrainian positions north of Vodyane. A Russian source claimed on March 31 that Russian forces occupied the Marinka administration building (27km southwest of Avdiivka), although ISW has not observed visual confirmation of this claim.
Russian forces’ focus on offensive operations on Marinka may be compromising Russian offensives elsewhere in Donetsk Oblast. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on April 1 that Russian forces conducted about 20 assaults in the Marinka area out of the roughly 70 that they conducted in all of Ukraine. The relatively high tempo of Russian offensives operations around Marinka is likely diverting manpower and resources that Russian forces otherwise could commit to their recent attempts to intensify operations in the Avdiivka area. Russian forces likely diverted some personnel and resources away from Bakhmut and likely decided not to resume offensive operations on Vuhledar (30km southwest of Donetsk City) in order to intensify operations in the Avdiivka area in hopes of encircling the settlement. Russian offensive operations in the Marinka area do not support the Russian effort to encircle Avdiivka, however, and Russian forces would have to advance far beyond Marinka for the offensives to result in operationally or even tactically significant gains. Russian forces have been attempting to capture Marinka since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine and have only advanced roughly two kilometers into the settlement since then.
Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast on April 1. Russian Eastern Grouping of Forces Spokesperson Aleksandr Gordeev claimed that Russian forces repelled a Ukrainian reconnaissance-in-force operation in an unspecified area of western Donetsk Oblast. Geolocated footage published on March 31 shows Russian forces firing incendiary munitions at Vuhledar.
Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)
Russian forces continued to build defenses in occupied southern Ukraine. Zaporizhia Oblast occupation official Vladimir Rogov published footage on April 1 purportedly showing engineering and sapper units mining areas in the Zaporizhia direction. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty-associated investigative outlets Krym Realii and Skhemy published satellite imagery showing that Russian forces have constructed new fortifications in Crimea since the start of 2023. The images show that Russian forces constructed defenses behind the administrative border near the Armyansk checkpoint, on the Perekop Isthmus, on the Yevpatoria beaches, and along the E97 and E105 highways. Satellite imagery published on April 1 shows that Russian forces fortified the Berdyansk airport with trenches and ”dragon’s teeth,” and have constructed defenses along the road leading to the airport since the start of 2023. ISW has previously reported that Russian forces continue to build defenses in rear areas of the frontline suggesting that Russian forces may be concerned over their ability to hold occupied territory in southern Ukraine.
Russian forces conducted routine shelling in Zaporizhia and Kherson oblasts on April 1.
Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)
Russia began its semi-annual conscription on April 1the largest conscription call-up since 2016. The Kremlin may be attempting to make up for unfulfilled conscription quotas from the previous fall 2022 conscription cycle. The Crimean Human Rights Group reported that 10 of Crimea’s occupation military recruitment offices did not conscript the expected number of men during the previous conscription cycle, inducting 1,932 Crimeans or 78.8% of the required quota. Crimean occupation officials also deployed 47 men for contract service. Documents signed by the acting Crimean occupation military recruitment official, Yevgeny Kutuzov, stated that Crimea was unable to meet conscription quota due to the delayed start and the shortening of the fall 2022 conscription cycle by one month. Russian President Vladimir Putin postponed the fall 2022 conscription from October 1 to November 1 to accommodate partial mobilization. Kutuzov also noted that the massive ”outflow of citizens” from Crimea, employee and funding shortages within military recruitment centers, and “sabotage of conscription events by citizens of the Crimean Tatar nationality” led to the failure of the fall conscription cycle. Kutuzov also noted that many medical facilities in Crimea lack equipment and specialists certified under the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) to administer physical examinations for conscription. The September 2022 mobilization likely overwhelmed the Russian military recruitment centers and negatively affected the postponed fall conscription cycle.
The Kremlin continues its efforts to expand the defense industrial base (DIB). Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin signed a decree on March 31 to establish a plant for the repair of rocket and artillery systems. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu reportedly met with deputy defense minsters regarding the provision of troops with ammunition. Shoigu noted that the Russian MoD and Government are controlling all supplies to Russian armed formations and are undertaking all necessary measures to expand the DIB. Shoigu claimed that the expansion of the DIB has already increased Russian production of conventional and high-precision weapons in accordance with Putin’s orders. Shoigu also discussed efforts to improve the efficiency of the Russian logistics system. Shoigu’s recent public appearances in relation to the Russian DIB may be an informational attempt to convince Putin and the Russian public that the Russian MoD is attempting to promptly restore Russia’s military industrial capacities. Former Russian officer and avid critic of the Kremlin, Igor Girkin, criticized Shoigu’s announcement for its vagueness and expressed doubt that the Russian MoD significantly improved the DIB. A Kremlin-affiliated milblogger claimed that Shoigu’s announcement indicated that Russia will soon be able to increase its shell usage to the same levels seen during early phases of the war.
Russia continues to face shortages of trainers necessary to prepare its forces for combat. A Russian milblogger agreed with other milbloggers that Russia is not offering sufficient sapper training to mobilized personnel. The milblogger proposed that the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) should train mobilized personnel elementary sapper skills.
Wagner Group continues to recruit mercenaries across Russia. A Wagner employment account posted a recruitment ad seeking contract servicemen, signals personnel, systems and drone operators, and medical staff. A Russian milblogger also amplified a purported Wagner recruitment ad on an adult entertainment site.
Activity in Russian-occupied Areas (Russian objective: consolidate administrative control of annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)
Russian occupation officials continue to deport Ukrainian children to Russia under rest-and-rehabilitation schemes. Advisor to the head of the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Rodion Miroshnik claimed on April 1 that an additional 100 children and mothers from occupied territories in Ukraine will soon depart to the Klyazma sanatorium in Moscow Oblast as part of the “We Help Our Own” project’s effort to send Ukrainian children and mothers to sanatoriums in Russia. Miroshnik claimed that 20 residents from occupied Horlivka, Donetsk Oblast are currently at the Klyazma sanitorium in Moscow Oblast.
Russian forces deported more than 2,500 Ukrainian prisoners from Kherson Oblast to Russia while withdrawing from the west (right) bank of Kherson Oblast in autumn 2022. The New York Times reported on April 1 that Russian forces deported more the 2,500 prisoners from local penitentiaries on the west (right) bank of Kherson Oblast and distributed them to prison colonies throughout Russia, primarily in southern Russia. Ukrainian prisoners reportedly faced beatings at detention facilities in occupied Crimea immediately following their deportation from Kherson Oblast. The Ukrainian prisoners reported that Wagner representatives did not attempt to recruit them as part of Wagner’s autumn 2022 prison recruitment campaign in Russian prisons. The prisoners also reported that they faced re-arrest and fines upon release from Russian prisons for supposedly violating Russian immigration laws. It is not clear how many of these Ukrainian prisoners from Kherson Oblast remain in Russia.
A Russian occupation official acknowledged the negative impact of Russian military field fortifications on agricultural activities in occupied Kherson Oblast. Kherson Oblast occupation administration head Vladimir Saldo acknowledged on April 1 that extensive Russian field fortifications from the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River to the border with occupied Crimea pass through sown agricultural plots and that this inconveniences the spring field work season in Kherson Oblast. Saldo asserted that farmers in Kherson Oblast have adapted to the situation and that agricultural machinery operates next to Russian military field fortifications.
Russian Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova met with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow on March 31 to discuss efforts for creating social benefits for the children of Russian military chaplains serving in occupied territories.
Significant activity in Belarus (ISW assesses that a Russian or Belarusian attack into northern Ukraine in early 2023 is extraordinarily unlikely and has thus restructured this section of the update. It will no longer include counter-indicators for such an offensive.)
ISW will continue to report daily observed Russian and Belarusian military activity in Belarus, but these are not indicators that Russian and Belarusian forces are preparing for an imminent attack on Ukraine from Belarus. ISW will revise this text and its assessment if it observes any unambiguous indicators that Russia or Belarus is preparing to attack northern Ukraine.
Russian nationalist figures criticized Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for avoiding the implementation of the Union State between Russia and Belarus efforts since mid-1990s. A former Russian State Duma parliamentarian Viktor Alksnis stated that he is alarmed by Lukashenko’s efforts to suppress pro-Russian organizations and sentiments. Alksnis criticized Lukashenko’s March 31 speech stating that all Lukashenko’s statements are ambiguous about his allegiance to Russia. Former Russian officer and avid Kremlin critic, Igor Girkin, stated that Lukashenko appears to be more level-headed than Russian President Vladimir Putin because he understands the depth of the military and economic crisis resulting from the “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Belarusian forces continue to conduct exercises. The Belarusian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed on April 1 that the 103rd Vitebsk Separate Guards Airborne Brigade completed brigade tactical exercises at the Losvido training ground in Vitebsk Oblast and the 11th Separate Guards Mechanized Brigade departed for a planned field exercise.
Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update.
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