Chronicle of the Russian 2023–2024 Ground Campaign to Date (May 1, 2024)

Chronicle of the Russian 2023–2024 Ground Campaign to Date

By ER Team

May 1, 2024

With U.S. aid en route to Ukraine and recent significant tactical Russian advances in Donetsk Oblast, here is a brief chronicle of the seven-month Russian 2023–2024 ground campaign up till now collated from ISW Assessments and Special Reports to supplement the daily tempo of our coverage.

The Russian military maintains the theater-wide initiative in Ukraine, and Russia’s ability to conduct offensive operations in almost any area of the frontline will continue to strain Ukraine’s already stretched resources, regardless of any one operation’s success in actually seizing a targeted city or settlement. Russian forces have only achieved tactical gains during the past six months of worsening Ukrainian constraints, however, and remain unlikely to achieve an operational breakthrough that would collapse the frontline if American aid reaches the frontline in time. ISW also continues to assess that it is unlikely that Russian forces will conduct an offensive operation this summer that will be significantly larger and more intense than their previous offensive efforts in 2023.

The Russian 2023–2024 ground campaign began on October 10, 2023, when Russian forces launched a large offensive effort to capture Avdiivka and subsequently intensified localized offensive operations elsewhere in eastern Ukraine as Ukrainian forces started to scale back counteroffensive operations, which had begun in early June 2023, on their own accord.

Russian forces seized Avdiivka on February 17, 2024, and proceeded to maintain a relatively high tempo of offensive operations in the area to exploit tactical opportunities initially offered by the Russian seizure of the settlement, making relatively quick tactical gains west of Avdiivka in late February prior to Ukrainian forces establishing more cohesive defensive lines. In late March, ISW observed an increase in platoon-, company-, and battalion-sized mechanized assaults in Donetsk Oblast near Chasiv Yar (west of Bakhmut) and Tonenke, as well as west of Avdiivka and in the Lyman direction. (The previous pattern of Russian infantry-led attacks did not employ armored vehicles at scale — at the expense of greater manpower losses.)

Since early April, Russian forces near Chasiv Yar and Donetsk City and directly west of Avdiivka have made only marginal, gradual tactical advances, whereas Russian forces north and northwest of Avdiivka have made significant tactical gains and succeeded in creating three small salients along a frontline about seven kilometers long that are all likely aimed at supporting the Russian operational-level goal of reaching the Donetsk Oblast administrative boundary.

The continued Russian widening and stabilization of its salient northwest of Avdiivka (pushing into and westward of Ocheretyne) made Ukrainian positions along the Berdychi-Semenivka-Umanske line increasingly difficult to hold and ultimately forced Ukrainian forces on April 28 to withdraw from Berdychi (northwest of Avdiivka) and Semenivka (west of Avdiivka) to more defensible positions further west in order to preserve Ukrainian personnel. Still, these Russian offensive operations west of Avdiivka remain roughly 30 kilometers from their reported operational objective of Pokrovsk, and the arrival of reconstituted Ukrainian reinforcements in the Avdiivka direction will likely allow Ukrainian forces to slow Russian tactical gains and possibly stabilize the front. Russian forces currently have opportunities to achieve operationally significant gains near Chasiv Yar, however, and are preparing reserves to support a large-scale offensive effort expected this summer.

ISW continues to assess that delays in US security assistance specifically impacted Ukraine’s ability to respond to the increased tempo of these Russian mechanized assaults in eastern Ukraine. When adequately provisioned, Ukrainian forces have previously demonstrated their ability to repel Russian mechanized assaults and inflict significant equipment losses on Russian forces.

The Russian offensive effort in the Kharkiv-Luhansk Oblast border area began in early January 2024. There, Russian forces attacked along four parallel, mutually supporting axes in pursuit of multiple objectives with the aim of reaching the Oskil River in Kharkiv Oblast. (For an in-depth look at this axis, read “The Russian Winter–Spring 2024 Offensive Operation on the Kharkiv-Luhansk Axis” published in February.) By contrast, Russian offensives up till then had generally either concentrated large masses of troops against singular objectives (such as Bakhmut and Avdiivka) or consisted of multiple attacks along axes of advance that were too far away to be mutually supporting. (Russian tactical performance in this sector has not materially improved thus far from previous Russian tactical shortcomings, however.)

Although Russian ground forces have not been as active on the Kharkiv-Luhansk Axis in the past weeks, President Zelensky warned in early April about the threat of a potential Russian ground offensive operation targeting Kharkiv City. The threat of a Russian offensive operation targeting Kharkiv City may force the Ukrainian military to redistribute its limited manpower and materiel to the construction of defensive fortifications in those areas and away from other currently active and critical sectors of the front. The Russian military has, however, recently been conducting a concerted air and information operation to destroy Kharkiv City, convince Ukrainians to flee, and internally displace millions of Ukrainians ahead of a possible Russian offensive operation against the city or elsewhere in Ukraine.

Russian forces have also been making marginal, gradual advances in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area and on the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast amid positional engagements all along the line of contact.

Ukrainian forces ceased meaningful counteroffensive operations in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area in early October 2023; and the bridgeheads on the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast that Ukrainian marines secured by mid-November 2023 have been met with “meat assaults” by Russian forces, leading to extensive Russian casualties, to try to push Ukrainian forces from them. These assaults, however, have failed to capture all the territory Ukrainian forces captured in Kherson Oblast during the summer–fall counteroffensive. (On April 13–14, Russian sources claimed that the Russian military command fired the commanders in charge of the units fighting near Krynky, Kherson Oblast and Robotyne, Zaporizhia Oblast.)

Three key points:

1. The arrival of US aid at the front in the coming weeks – if timely – should allow Ukrainian forces to address their current acute materiel constraints and blunt ongoing Russian offensive operations.

2. Russian forces have opportunities to make significant tactical gains in the Avdiivka area and pursue an operationally significant objective with the seizure of Chasiv Yar. Neither of these efforts is likely to develop into an operationally significant penetration in the near term, let alone cause the collapse of the Ukrainian defensive line in Donetsk Oblast should aid reach the frontlines in time.

3. Well-provisioned Ukrainian forces will likely be able to prevent operationally significant Russian advances during Russia’s expected summer offensive effort, although Russian forces will nevertheless leverage select advantages and adaptations to pose a significant threat to Ukraine this summer.