ISW Is Adding More Ukraine Briefing Opportunities

May 26, 2023 - Press ISW

Yesterday we announced a new opportunity for interested members of the public to listen to and engage with our analysts who provide the industry-leading updates on Russia’s war in Ukraine. We are pleasantly surprised to report that interest was so overwhelming that registrations for the event were completely filled within the first few hours! Our goal was to keep the audience small for this event to allow for a conversation, but it seems we underestimated how many of you in the community of interest want to participate.

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, May 26, 2023

May 26, 2023 - Press ISW

The People’s Liberation Army debates on the strategic role of hybrid warfare may mean the CCP’s ongoing “unification” campaigns targeting Taiwan do not primarily rely on military force.
The recent appointment of Xie Feng as Chinese Ambassador to the United States is unlikely to initiate a thawing of Sino-American relations by the CCP.

The dominant but contested domestic framing of the 2024 Taiwanese presidential election as a choice between peace and war likely supports CCP efforts to coerce Taiwan into supporting cross-strait engagement. Framing the upcoming election as a choice between war and peace, regardless of the election result, likely supports the CCP’s objective to alter Taiwan’s security policy towards the United States.

Salafi-Jihadi Movement Weekly Update, May 24, 2023

May 26, 2023 - Press ISW

ISIS is attempting to reconstitute itself and rebuild its capabilities in the areas surrounding Baghdad, but it is likely to succeed only north of Baghdad, where local conditions are more advantageous to the group. ISIS can generate local support north of Baghdad by appealing to communities threatened by abuse and harassment from Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi’a militias, which have threatened to commit sectarian cleansing against Sunni communities. ISIS attempts to rebuild its capabilities south of the city are enfeebled by long, third-rate supply lines through unpopulated desert. ISIS cells south of the city also suffer from bad operational security and a lack of local support.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 26, 2023

May 26, 2023 - Press ISW

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that Wagner forces continue to hand over positions in Bakhmut to the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and withdraw from the city. Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed on May 26 that the MoD is fulfilling its agreement by actively deploying regular Russian units to Wagner-held positions in Bakhmut city. Prigozhin claimed that Wagner is conducting an organized withdrawal from Bakhmut and reiterated that the Russian MoD will fully control the city and its surrounding areas by June 1. A Russian milblogger published footage of Prigozhin visiting Russian rear positions where Wagner forces are allegedly withdrawing to. ISW has not observed visual confirmation of regular Russian forces taking up Wagner positions in Bakhmut itself or that Wagner is leaving the city. ISW has recently observed footage purporting to show elements of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) 123rd Brigade, likely previously deployed near Siversk, operating in the Bakhmut area, and DNR forces may be replacing Wagner formations.

Iran Update, May 25, 2023

May 25, 2023 - Press ISW

1. Axis of Resistance news sources coordinated a disinformation campaign that claimed the United States will establish a new base in Iraq, likely to reignite domestic US pressure on policymakers to withdraw forces from the Middle East.
2. The Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) stands to gain a significant increase in funds from Iraq’s 2023 budget, which very likely would position the group to improve its status as a parallel security institution in Iraq to state security forces.
3. Syrian regime military security coordinated with the IRGC Quds Force in Albu Kamal to monitor civilians, which may advance Iranian efforts to secure the Albu Kamal-Deir ez Zor City land route in eastern Syria.
4. An Iranian-backed militia leader stressed the need for secrecy around headquarters in Deir ez Zor City, likely to secure advanced weapons and IRGC Quds Force commanders from Israeli targeting.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 25, 2023

May 25, 2023 - Press ISW

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin announced on May 25 that the Wagner Group began handing over its positions in Bakhmut to the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and claimed Wagner will entirely withdraw from the city on June 1. Footage posted on May 25 shows Prigozhin speaking with Wagner fighters in Bakhmut and announcing that Wagner began handing over their positions to the Russian MoD and withdrawing to rear areas of the city. Prigozhin reminded some of the fighters that Wagner will withdraw from the city entirely and reconstitute, rest, and train following June 1. Prigozhin also claimed that Wagner plans to leave behind ammunition and provisions for regular Russian troops if necessary and sardonically showed two Wagner fighters who he claimed he will leave behind for the Russian MoD. ISW has previously reported that Prigozhin announced that Wagner would hand over its positions to the MoD starting on May 25 and withdraw from Bakhmut by June 1, but it remains unclear if Wagner will be able to withdraw the entirety of its contingent by June 1 and if Russian MoD troops will execute a successful relief in place.

Join ISW's Ukraine Experts for a Virtual Briefing on June 8

May 25, 2023 - Press ISW

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) invites you to join us on June 8th at 7 pm ET for a unique virtual briefing and Q&A session about this critical next phase of the war, hosted by ISW's Director of Strategic Initiatives Jennifer Cafarella and Russia Team Lead Mason Clark.

Iran Update, May 24, 2023

May 24, 2023 - Press ISW

Key Takeaways

1. Iran has transferred unsophisticated air defense weapons to Syria, possibly to protect advanced weapons shipments and IRGC Quds Force commanders from Israeli drone strikes.

2. The Raisi administration is pursuing greater economic cooperation with Indonesia, which could help Iran evade sanctions by transporting oil to China via Indonesia.

3. Media reports discussing former Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Secretary Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani may reflect an intra-regime struggle over Shamkhani’s future political trajectory.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 24, 2023

May 24, 2023 - Press ISW

Discussions regarding reported Russian losses in Bakhmut have saturated the pro-war information space and are drowning out any remaining positive informational effect resulting from the city’s capture. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed during an interview with Russian political strategist Konstantin Dolgov on May 23 that Wagner lost 10,000 convict recruits and 10,000 full-time professional Wagner fighters killed in action over the course of the Battle for Bakhmut. Prigozhin specifically noted that Wagner had recruited 50,000 prisoners, 20 percent of whom (10,000) died in fighting for Bakhmut. Russian milbloggers immediately seized on the reported losses, thereby shifting the overall Russian conversation away from discussions of the significance of the capture of Bakhmut and towards amplifying speculation surrounding the reported losses. The nationalist pro-war faction, exemplified by the views of former Russian officer Igor Girkin, commented on the massive scale of the reported losses and speculated that real losses may be much higher. Russian politician Viktor Alksnis simply remarked that the Soviet Army lost far fewer soldiers (15,051) in nine years in Afghanistan. Girkin stated that he believes that Wagner’s actual losses could be more than 1.5 times higher than Prigozhin’s claims and pointed out that of the 50,000 recruits Wagner received from prisons, 10,000 died in action and 26,000 reportedly received pardons and returned to Russia, leaving 14,000 prison recruits unaccounted for. Girkin suggested that a large portion of these 14,000 unaccounted-for prison recruits may have also been killed in action and claimed that Wagner has likely suffered more than 40,000 killed in action. Girkin suggested that Prigozhin “keep [his] mouth shut” and stop talking about “wild losses for a very insignificant result.” Another Russian milblogger, by contrast, praised Prigozhin for being open about the scale of losses and stated that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) would have hidden such figures.

The Kremlin’s Pyrrhic Victory in Bakhmut: A Retrospective on the Battle for Bakhmut

May 24, 2023 - Press ISW

Russia declared victory over Bakhmut on May 21, 2023, after fighting for the city for nearly a year. The battle marks the first claimed Russian victory over a large city since the capture of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in the summer of 2022. The Battle for Bakhmut is still ongoing as Ukrainian forces regained the initiative and are counterattacking Bakhmut’s flanks north and south of the city. The Russian year-long drive began as part of a theoretically sensible but overly-ambitious operational effort but ended as a purely symbolic gesture that cost tens of thousands of Russian casualties.