The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced the commanders of the “central” and “southern” groupings of forces in Ukraine on June 24, confirming previously rumored changes reported on June 21. Spokesperson for the Russian MoD Igor Konashenkov stated on June 24 that Commander of the Central Military District Colonel General Alexander Lapin is in command of the "central” group of forces, which is responsible for operations against Lysychansk (and presumably Severodonetsk). Konashenkov additionally stated that Army General Sergei Surovikin, commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces, commands the ”southern” group of forces and oversaw the encirclement of Hirske and Zolote. The Russian MoD’s announcement confirms ISW’s assessment from June 21 that the Russian high command is reshuffling and restructuring military command in order to better organize operations in Ukraine, though the Russian MoD statement does not state when the changes occurred. The UK MoD confirmed that the Russian command has removed several generals from key operational roles in Ukraine, including Commander of the Airborne Forces (VDV) Colonel General Andrei Serdyukov and Commander of Russia’s Southern Military District Alexander Dvornikov, who was likely was acting as overall theatre commander. The UK MoD noted that command of the Southern Military District will transfer to Surovikin. The Russian MoD’s statement notably only discusses the center and south force groupings (not the Southern Military District as a whole), but Dvornikov has likely been removed from his previous role.
Ukrainian officials ordered a controlled withdrawal of troops from Severodonetsk on June 24. Luhansk Oblast Administration Head Serhiy Haidai announced that Ukrainian forces are withdrawing from “broken positions” in Severodonetsk to prevent further personnel losses and maintain a stronger defense elsewhere. Severodonetsk Regional Military Administration Head Roman Vlasenko stated that several Ukrainian units remain in Severodonetsk as of June 24, but Ukrainian forces will complete the full withdrawal in “a few days.” An unnamed Pentagon official noted that Ukrainian withdrawal from Severodonetsk will allow Ukrainian troops to secure better defensive positions and further wear down Russian manpower and equipment. The Pentagon official noted that Russian forces pushing on Severodonetsk already show signs of “wear and tear” and “debilitating morale,” which will only further slow Russian offensive operations in Donbas. Russian forces have been attempting to seize Severodonetsk since at least March 13, exhausting their forces and equipment over three months.
Ongoing Belarusian mobilization exercises will continue in Gomel Oblast until July 1 but are unlikely to be in preparation for direct Belarusian involvement in the war in Ukraine. The Belarusian Ministry of Defense announced on June 22 that the Belarusian Armed Forces will conduct a mobilization exercise with the military commissariats of Gomel Oblast to test the readiness of the military reserve from June 22 to July 1. The Ukrainian State Border Guard Service warned on June 23 that Belarusian forces may conduct provocations along the border with Ukraine over the backdrop of these exercises, and Belarusian-Russian military cooperation has seemingly intensified. Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin met with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu in Moscow on June 23 to discuss ongoing bilateral military agreements. Belarusian social media users additionally reported that Russian planes transported at least 16 S-400 missiles and one Pantsir system to the Gomel airport on June 21 and 22.
Ukrainian officials are emphasizing that the coming week will be decisive for Russian efforts to take control of Severodonetsk. Deputy Ukrainian Defense Minister Hanna Malyar reported that Russian leadership has set June 26 as the deadline for Russian forces to reach the Luhansk Oblast administrative border, which will likely result in intensified efforts to take full control of Severodonetsk and move westward towards the Oblast border. Head of the Luhansk Regional State Administration Serhiy Haidai reported that Russian forces control all of Severodonetsk except for the industrial zone as of June 20, which is the first explicit Ukrainian confirmation that Russian forces control all of Severodonetsk with the exception of the Azot plant. Russian forces will likely continue efforts to clear the Azot plant and complete encirclement operations south of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk by driving up the T1302 Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway.
Russian forces made marginal gains on the outskirts of Severodonetsk on June 18 but have largely stalled along other axes of advance. Russian troops are likely facing mounting losses and troop and equipment degradation that will complicate attempts to renew offensive operations on other critical locations as the slow battle for Severodonetsk continues. As ISW previously assessed, Russian forces will likely be able to seize Severodonetsk in the coming weeks, but at the cost of concentrating most of their available forces in this small area. Other Russian operations in eastern Ukraine—such as efforts to capture Slovyansk and advance east of Bakhmut—have made little progress in the past two weeks. Russian forces are continuing to fight to push Ukrainian troops away from occupied frontiers north of Kharkiv City and along the Southern Axis, but have not made significant gains in doing so, thus leaving them vulnerable to Ukrainian counteroffensive and partisan pressure.
Russian forces are continuing to deploy additional forces to support offensive operations in the Severodonetsk-Lysychansk area, and Ukrainian defenses remain strong. Ukrainian Defense Ministry Spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzyanyk reported that Russian forces are transferring tanks, armored personnel carriers, engineering equipment, and vehicles from Svatove, along the Russian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) in Luhansk Oblast, to Starobilsk, just 40 km east of Severodonetsk. Social media users reported that Russian forces are likely redeploying equipment from northern Kharkiv Oblast to Donbas and published footage of Russian heavy artillery arriving by rail in Stary Osokol, Belgorod Oblast on June 17. UK Chief of Defense Tony Radakin stated that Russian forces are “diminishing” in power by committing large quantities of personnel and equipment for incremental gains in one area. The Russian military has concentrated the vast majority of its available combat power to capture Severodonetsk and Lysychansk at the expense of other axes of advance and is suffering heavy casualties to do so.
The leaders of Germany, France, Italy, and Romania committed to Ukrainian officials that the West would not demand any concessions from Ukraine to appease Russia and will support Ukraine to the end of the war during a visit to Kyiv on June 16. French President Emmanuel Macron declared that France, Germany, Italy, and Romania are “are doing everything so that Ukraine alone can decide its fate.” Macron added that Ukraine “must be able to win” and pledged to provide six more self-propelled howitzers. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated that Germany will continue to provide financial, humanitarian, and weapons assistance for “Ukraine’s war of independence.” Macron, Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis additionally vowed to back Ukraine’s bid to become an official candidate for European Union membership. Sustained Western military support to Ukraine will be essential to enable Ukrainian forces to liberate Russian-occupied territory.
Western officials announced additional military aid for Ukraine on June 15. US President Joe Biden pledged $1 billion worth of military aid, including coastal defense weapons, advanced rocket systems, artillery, and ammunition to support Ukrainian operations. NATO members additionally announced they will additionally continue to provide Ukraine with heavy weapons and long-range systems and plan to agree on a new assistance package after consultations with Ukraine’s Defense Ministry. This newest round of military aid will be invaluable to support Ukrainian operations, especially in the face of increasingly protracted and artillery-heavy fighting against Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine, though Ukraine will require further sustained support.
The Belarusian Armed Forces began a command-staff exercise focused on testing command and control capabilities on June 14. However, Belarus remains unlikely to join the war in Ukraine on behalf of Russia. Head of Logistics for the Belarusian Armed Forces Major General Andrei Burdyko announced that the exercise will involve military authorities, unspecified military units, and logistics organizations and is intended to improve the coherency of command-and-control and logistics support to increase the overall level of training and practical skills of personnel in a “dynamically changing environment.” Despite the launch of this exercise, Belarus remains unlikely to join the war in Ukraine due to the threat of domestic unrest that President Alexander Lukashenko faces if he involves already-limited Belarusian military assets in combat. Any Belarusian entrance into the war would also likely provoke further crippling sanctions on Belarus. Any unsupported Belarusian attack against northern Ukraine would likely be highly ineffective, and the quality of Belarusian troops remains low. ISW will continue to monitor Belarusian movements but does not forecast a Belarusian entrance into the war at this time.
Kremlin-sponsored outlet Izvestia published and quickly removed an appeal by the First Deputy Head of the Russian Presidential Administration Sergey Kirelenko for Russia to rebuild the Donbas on June 12 and blamed hackers for what they (likely falsely) claimed was a “fake publication.” Izvestia likely intended to save the article for a later date to set informational conditions for Russian annexation of Donbas. Kirelenko’s appeal stated that Russia will restore the Donbas regardless of high costs or if doing so lowers the standard of living in Russia. Izvestia blamed unknown hackers for publishing a “fake article,” but it is possible that hackers instead released an article Izvestia had prepared to publish at a later date. The Kremlin previously published and removed an article prematurely celebrating a Russian victory over Ukraine in late February and discussing the capture of Ukraine in past tense in anticipation of Ukraine’s capitulation during the first Russian-Ukrainian negotiations in Belarus. Unnamed Kremlin officials previously identified Kirelenko as the future head of a new Russian federal district, which would encompass Donbas, and occupied settlements in Kherson and Zaporizhia Oblasts.