Ukraine Project

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 16, 2023

The Russian MoD has begun to remove commanders from some of the Russian military’s most combat effective units and formations and appears to be accelerating this effort. The recent dismissal of 58th Combined Arms Army Commander (CAA) Colonel General Ivan Popov and the reported dismissal of 106th Guards Airborne (VDV) Division Commander Major General Vladimir Seliverstov prompted further discussions of other alleged recent dismissals and arrests.[1] Russian sources amplified an alleged audio message from personnel of the 7th Guards Mountain VDV Division on July 15 in which the personnel claimed that the Russian military command dismissed 7th VDV Division Commander Major General Alexander Kornev in early July.[2] Russian sources also claimed that Russian authorities arrested 90th Tank Division (Eastern Military District) Commander Major General Ramil Ibatullin as well as two unspecified deputies on an unspecified date.[3] A prominent Kremlin-affiliated milblogger suggested that the Russian military command is also planning to dismiss the 31st VDV Brigade Commander, who is reportedly Colonel Sergei Karasev.[4] Russian sources speculated that the Russian MoD may be preparing to arrest VDV Commander Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky.[5] ISW has not observed confirmation of Seliverstov’s and Kornev’s dismissals nor of Ibatullin’s arrest, although these claims follow a pattern similar to that of previous claims of command changes that have proven true.[6]

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 15, 2023

Russian sources reported on July 15 that the Russian military command dismissed 106th Guards Airborne (VDV) Division Commander Major General Vladimir Seliverstov. Russian sources stated that the reason for Seliverstov’s dismissal is currently unknown but speculated that it could be associated with Seliverstov’s reputation for speaking up on behalf of his soldiers. Russian sources claimed that the 106th VDV Division has been operating in the Bakhmut area since January, and ISW has recently observed the 106th VDV Division’s 137th Guards VDV Regiment defending against Ukrainian counteroffensive operations on Bakhmut’s northern flank. A Russian milblogger has claimed that elements of the 106th VDV Division are also supporting Russian defensive operations south of Bakhmut. Relatives of mobilized personnel serving in the 137th VDV Regiment notably appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Tula Oblast Governor Alexei Dyumin, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in April about poor conditions and lack of supplies in the unit. Vocal discontent about conditions in areas where Russian forces are defending against Ukrainian counteroffensive operations may have prompted Seliverstov to appeal to the Russian military command, which may have contributed to his dismissal. ISW has not observed confirmation of Seliverstov’s dismissal, but Russian reporting about the dismissal follows a pattern similar to that of previous claims of command changes that have proven true.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 14, 2023

Russian President Vladimir Putin further indicated he intends to maintain the Wagner Group as a cohesive fighting force rather than breaking it up but seeks to separate Wagner Financier Yevgeny Prigozhin from Wagner leadership and forces. Putin confirmed to Russian news outlet Kommersant in an interview published on July 13 that he met with Prigozhin and 35 Wagner commanders on June 29. Putin claimed that he offered Wagner fighters the option to serve under a Wagner commander (callsign “Seda”) who has commanded Wagner forces for the last 16 months, further confirming ISW’s previous assessment that the Kremlin seeks to retain Wagner as a cohesive fighting force while separating it from Prigozhin. Putin claimed that “many [Wagner commanders] nodded” in response to his offer, but that Prigozhin, “who was sitting in front of his personnel and did not see them nodding,” said that the Wagner commanders did not agree with the decision. Putin likely emphasized Prigozhin’s differing response to frame Prigozhin as a problem in contrast to loyal Wagner commanders. Former Russian officer and ardent nationalist Igor Girkin noted that Putin’s retelling of the July 29 meeting portrays Putin as succumbing to Prigozhin’s demands, but the final outcome of the July 29 meeting is unclear. When asked directly by Kommersant about Wagner’s future as a combat unit, Putin continued to maintain the absurd notion that private military companies (PMCs) do not exist in Russia. Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder stated on July 14 that Wagner forces are not participating in military operations in Ukraine in any significant support or combat roles. ISW has previously observed Russian sources reporting that Wagner forces are not involved in combat operations in Ukraine.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 13, 2023

Former Commander of the 58th Combined Arms Army (CAA) Major General Ivan Popov claimed in leaked audio that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu dismissed him for expressing persistent grievances about problems on the western Zaporizhia Oblast frontline to senior commanders. Russian State Duma Deputy and former Deputy Commander of the Southern Military District (SMD) Lieutenant General Andrei Gurulev leaked Popov’s audio message on July 12 in which Popov stated that Russian command fired him for expressing grievances over the lack of support for Russian forces and replaced him with Lieutenant General Denis Lyamin. Popov claimed that he expressed concerns to the “highest level” of Russian command over the lack of Russian counter-battery warfare capabilities, the absence of artillery reconnaissance stations, significant Russian casualties from Ukrainian artillery fire, and other issues. Popov claimed that Shoigu fired him because his honesty in voicing various problems in the Russian military threatened the Russian command. Popov claimed that he chose to “call a spade a spade” in the name of his dead comrades instead of “remaining in silent cowardice.” Russian sources previously claimed that Chief of the Russian General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov dismissed Popov for expressing concerns over the need for troop rotations in western Zaporizhia Oblast amid Ukrainian counteroffensive operations.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 12, 2023

The Group of Seven (G7) Coalition and NATO signed agreements to offer Ukraine long-term security commitments during the NATO Summit in Vilnius on July 12. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that NATO has agreed on a three-part package that will give Ukraine a multi-year program of practical assistance, create a NATO-Ukrainian coordination council, and commits NATO to allow Ukraine to join the alliance without going through a Membership Action Plan (MAP). G7 members Germany, Japan, France, Canada, Italy, Britain, and the United States signed a general framework document called the “Joint Declaration of Support for Ukraine” aimed at offering the Ukraine military, financial, and intelligence support and stated that each member of the G7 will enter into bilateral security negotiations with Ukraine regarding the document. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated that other countries would have the opportunity to join the declaration at a later stage. The general framework document also reportedly promises immediate steps to swiftly provide Ukraine with all necessary support in the event of a new attack but did not specify what that support would look like. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that the agreements reached at the NATO summit mean that Ukraine would receive formal security guarantees, although neither the NATO nor the G7 agreements currently provide such guarantees. Ukraine did secure notable agreements that will strengthen long-term Western support for Ukraine at the NATO summit, and these agreements will likely serve as the framework for potential increases in Western security assistance to Ukraine.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 11, 2023

Russian forces conducted a series of Shahed 131 and 136 drone strikes across Ukraine on July 11, likely in a demonstrative response to the 2023 NATO Summit in Vilnius and to threaten the Black Sea grain deal. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces shot down 26 of the 28 Russian Shahed 131 and 136 drones launched from the Primorsk-Akhtarsk (Krasnodar Krai) direction. The Ukrainian Southern Operational Command reported that Russian forces tried to strike the grain terminal in Odesa Oblast, and that two drones struck an administrative building at a port facility. Ukrainian Southern Operational Command Spokesperson Captain First Rank Nataliya Humenyuk stated that Russian forces targeted port infrastructure to disrupt the Black Sea Grain deal. Russia’s drone strikes on port infrastructure also coincide with the first day of the NATO summit in Vilnius and are likely intended to discourage NATO members from providing more military aid to Ukraine. Russia may be threatening the Black Sea grain deal to message the deal's original broker, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that his recent statement of support for Ukraine’s NATO membership and the return of the five Ukrainian Azovstal commanders on July 7 has not gone unnoticed and is not appreciated by the Kremlin.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 10, 2023

Ukrainian officials stated on July 10 that Ukrainian forces have fire control over Bakhmut and Russian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) around the city. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar stated that Ukrainian forces have taken control of unspecified heights around Bakhmut, allowing Ukrainian forces to establish fire control over Bakhmut itself. Ukrainian officials have recently signaled that Ukraine seeks to trap Russian forces within the city, and it appears that Ukrainian operations in the Bakhmut area in recent days have been intended to slowly envelop Russian troops in Bakhmut and on its flanks. ISW was previously conservative when assessing claims of Russian fire control and general interdiction of Ukrainian lines of communication in and around Bakhmut as Russian forces gradually took control of the settlement, but Ukrainian claims of establishing fire control may be more credible. Both Ukrainian and Russian sources have indicated in recent days that Ukraine is gaining ground in the Bakhmut area and on its southwestern flanks including specific terrain features that can give Ukrainian forces fire advantage. The fear of Ukrainian fire control and imminent threats to Bakhmut is also permeating the Russian information space, and Russian milbloggers have repeatedly expressed fear over Ukrainian forces encircling Russian forces in Bakhmut. Russian sources claimed at least since February that Russian forces maintained fire control over critical Ukrainian GLOCs around Bakhmut, while Ukrainian officials and sources did not express concern over these Russian claims, in contrast, and withdrew their forces in good order in the face of the Wagner Group‘s expensive frontal assaults. The persistent signaling of Ukrainian officials about Ukrainian operational intent in Bakhmut, alongside the clear concern of milbloggers over exactly what this intent may be, suggests that Ukrainian counteroffensive actions in this direction may be credibly threatening the Russian hold on Bakhmut, although it is far too early to forecast the liberation of the city.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 9, 2023

Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive operations on at least three sectors of the front on July 9. Ukrainian Ground Forces Commander Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi stated that Ukrainian forces successfully continue to advance in the Bakhmut direction. Ukrainian officials reported that Ukrainian forces continued to conduct counteroffensive operations in the Berdyansk and Melitopol directions. The Russian Ministry of Defense and Kremlin-affiliated milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted attacks in western Zaporizhia Oblast. A Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces are attacking Russian positions in small groups and are targeting Russian rear positions, warehouses, and infrastructure. Ukrainian military officials also reiterated that Ukrainian forces are continuing their interdiction campaigns in southern and eastern Ukraine.

Russian Offensive Assessment, July 8, 2023

Five hundred days ago Russia launched an unprovoked war of conquest against Ukraine. The Russian military intended to take Kyiv within three days but failed to accomplish any of its intended objectives in Ukraine. Determined and skillful Ukrainian resistance has forced the culmination of multiple Russian offensives including the one aimed at Kyiv and has liberated Sumy and Chernihiv oblasts, as well as the parts of Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, and Kherson oblasts that Russian forces had temporarily seized. Ukrainian forces have secured and retained the initiative and are conducting counteroffensive operations along most of the frontline with Russian forces focused almost entirely on trying to hold on to the Ukrainian lands they still occupy. With Western assistance, Ukraine has ensured its independence but faces the critical task of liberating the strategically vital territory still under Russian control.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 7, 2023

Ukrainian forces made tactically significant gains in the Bakhmut area and continued counteroffensive operations in at least three other sectors of the front on July 7. Geolocated footage published on July 6 indicates that Ukrainian forces have made tactically significant gains near Yahidne (2km north of Bakhmut). The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations north and south of Bakhmut, and Ukrainian Ground Forces Commander Colonel General Oleksandr Syrsykyi reported that Ukrainian forces established control over unspecified previously lost positions in the Bakhmut area.Ukrainian General Staff Spokesperson Andriy Kovalev reported that Ukrainian forces also achieved partial success near Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut).The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast and along the administrative border between Zaporizhia and Donetsk oblasts.The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and other Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations in the Kreminna direction along the Kharkiv-Luhansk Oblast border.