Ukraine Project

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, October 8

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.”

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, October 7

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.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, October 6

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.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, October 5

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.[1] Luhansk Oblast Head Serhiy Haidai reported that Ukrainian forces have begun liberating unspecified villages in Luhansk Oblast on October 5.[2] Ukrainian forces began the maneuver phase of their counteroffensive in Kharkiv Oblast— which has now reached Luhansk Oblast—on September 6.[3] 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 Offensive Campaign Assessment, October 4

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.

Iran Crisis Update, October 4

University and high school students have begun largely leading the ongoing protest movement in Iran—at least for the moment. Anti-regime protests occurred in at least 17 cities in 14 provinces on October 4, primarily around universities and high schools. Students expressed frustration with the regime and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, October 3

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 Offensive Campaign Assessment, October 2

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.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, October 1

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.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 30

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the illegal Russian annexation of four Ukrainian territories on September 30 without clearly defining the borders of those claimed territories. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov declined to specify the borders of the newly annexed territories in a September 30 conversation with reporters: "[the] Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics [DNR and LNR] were recognized by Russia within the borders of 2014. As for the territories of Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts, I need to clarify this. We will clarify everything today.”[1] DNR head Denis Pushilin added that even the federal district into which the annexed territories will be incorporated remains unclear: “What will it be called, what are the borders—let's wait for the final decisions, consultations are now being held on how to do it right.”[2] Russian officials may clarify those boundaries and administrative allocations in the coming days but face an inherent problem: Ukrainian forces still control large swathes of Donetsk and Zaporizhia and some areas of Luhansk and Kherson oblasts, a military reality that is unlikely to change in the coming months.

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