Ukrainian forces are likely preparing to launch or have launched a counteroffensive in Kherson Oblast as of July 23, but open-source visibility on the progress and tempo of the counteroffensive will likely be limited and lag behind events. Ukrainian Kherson Oblast Administration Adviser Serhiy Khlan stated on July 23 that Ukrainian forces have seized unspecified settlements in Kherson Oblast but called on Ukrainian civilians to remain silent on the progress of the counteroffensive until Ukrainian authorities release official statements. Foreign Policy National Security Reporter Jack Detsch reported on July 22 that an unspecified senior US defense official stated that Ukrainian forces have recaptured unspecified “portions of Russian-occupied villages” in Kherson over the past week of July 15-22, indicating that Ukrainian forces have made some unspecified territorial advances along frontlines. The area between the front line and Kherson City is rural and primarily composed of small settlements that are less likely to report on force movements and engagements, allowing control-of-terrain in this area to change without evidence appearing in open-source reporting. Russian authorities additionally have no incentive to report on Ukrainian territorial gains. The informational dynamics that allow ISW to report on Russian offensive operations with relatively little lag are thus inverted in this situation. ISW will report on the progress of any Ukrainian counteroffensives to the best of its ability within these constraints.
The United States announced a new $270 million security package for Ukraine, and Ukrainian officials detailed their procedures for keeping track of Western weapons on July 22. The US package includes an additional four high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), 36,000 artillery ammunition rounds, anti-armor systems, and 580 Phoenix Ghost drones. Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksii Danilov reiterated that the Ukrainian government is employing multiple monitoring mechanisms to keep track of weapons deliveries to Ukraine. Ukraine’s Modern Information and Analytical System of the Main Situational Center (COTA) reportedly allows Ukrainian officials to monitor the status of arms deliveries to Ukrainian frontlines and works in tandem with NATO’s LOGFAS logistics and accounting control system. Danilov’s statement is likely a response to an ongoing Russian information operation that seeks to discount Ukraine as a trustworthy recipient of Western military aid.
Russian forces conducted a few limited and highly localized ground attacks on July 21. The current Russian operational tempo is not markedly different from what it was during the officially declared operational pause between July 7 and July 16. Russian forces continued to conduct minor attacks throughout that period to the northwest of Slovyansk and around the Siversk and Bakhmut areas without capturing any decisive ground. Since July 16, Russian troops have continued local attacks to the east of Siversk as well as east and south of Bakhmut; they have not made any major territorial gains in these areas as of July 21. The Russian grouping northwest of Slovyansk has in fact conducted fewer ground attacks along the Kharkiv-Donetsk Oblast border than it did during the official operational pause. The lack of successful ground attacks beyond the Slovyansk, Siversk, and Bakhmut areas is consistent with ISW’s assessment that the Russian offensive is likely to culminate without capturing Slovyansk or Bakhmut.
The current Russian offensive may secure limited additional territorial gains in Donbas northeast of the E40 highway but will likely culminate before seizing major populated areas such as Slovyansk or Bakhmut. Russian forces have not made significant advances towards Slovyansk or along the Siversk-Bakhmut salient in the past few weeks and are continuing to degrade their own offensive combat power in localized fights for small and relatively un-important settlements throughout Donetsk Oblast. Russian troops have notably been attempting to take Siversk since the capture of Lysychansk and the Luhansk Oblast border on July 3 and have still not reached the city as of July 20. Similarly, Russian troops have failed to launch direct assaults on Bakhmut and have largely impaled themselves on fights for small settlements to its east and south. Efforts to advance on Slovyansk have mostly ground to a halt and have made no meaningful gains for weeks. The renewal of active ground offensives following the brief operational pause has not yet translated into meaningful Russian forward progress, although it is possible that either steady Russian pressure or the completion of Russian efforts to rebuild combat power could generate limited gains in the coming days or weeks.
The Institute for the Study of War and the IBM Center for The Business of Government have launched a three-event series, “Addressing the New Era of Deterrence and Warfare: Visualizing the Information Domain.”
Calls among Russian nationalist and pro-war voices for Russian President Vladimir Putin to expand Russia’s war aims, mobilize the state fully for war, and drop the pretext that Russia is not engaged in a war reached a crescendo on July 19. Former Russian militant commander and nationalist milblogger Igor Girkin presented an extensive list of military, economic, and political actions that he argues the Kremlin must take to win the war in Ukraine; first among this list is abandoning the rhetoric of the “special military operation” and defining the official goals of the war in Ukraine. Girkin advocated for expansive territorial aims beyond the Kremlin’s stated ambitions in Donbas, including the reunification of the entire territory of “Novorossiya” (which Girkin maintains includes Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Mykolaiv, Odesa, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts as well as Kryvyi Rih) with the Russian Federation and the creation of a Malorossiya state (all of Ukraine up to the Polish border), which Girkin claims should be reunified with Russia through the Russia-Belarus Union State. Girkin also called for the Kremlin to shift the Russian economy fully to a war footing and to carry out extensive mobilization measures including forced conscription and the (further) suspension of Russians’ rights. Girkin has often criticized what he views as a lack of ambition and decisive action in the Kremlin’s handling of the war in Ukraine through his calls for maximalist objectives and measures to support territorial gains. His newest list of demands adds to the growing discontent within the Russian pro-war nationalist zeitgeist.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu’s July 18 meeting with the commander of the Eastern group of forces Lieutenant General Rustam Muradov supports ISW’s assessment that Moscow will not prioritize an attack to seize Slovyansk in this stage of the operation but will instead focus on seizing Siversk and Bakhmut. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced on July 18 that Shoigu inspected the Eastern group and directed Muradov to prioritize the destruction of Ukrainian long-range missiles and artillery systems. This is the first time ISW has observed explicit mention of the Eastern force grouping operating in Ukraine in this phase of the war. The Russian MoD previously reported that the Central and Southern force groups took part in the capture of Luhansk Oblast under the leadership of Colonel General Aleksandr Lapin and Army General Sergey Surovikin. The Eastern group of forces is likely comprised of elements of the Russian Eastern Military District (EMD), which have been active along the Izyum axis in Kharkiv Oblast. It is still unclear whether Muradov also directly controls operations around Kharkiv City. Muradov‘s forces are operating in the Izyum-Slovyansk direction ostensibly with the objective of eventually seizing Slovyansk itself, and it is noteworthy that Shoigu did not direct Muradov to prioritize taking ground along this axis at this time. Muradov holds a lower rank than both Lapin and Surovikin, suggesting that the Kremlin considers the Izyum-Slovyansk area to be a lower priority than capturing territory in Donetsk Oblast as part of the wider Donbas campaign. The Kremlin likely is focusing military resources and high-rank leadership on localized and discrete gains around Siversk and Bakhmut, despite Shoigu’s earlier calls for the intensification of operations along all axes of advance.
Russian forces are continuing a measured return from the operational pause and conducted limited ground attacks in Donetsk Oblast on July 17. As ISW has previously noted, the end of the Russian operational pause is unlikely to create a massive new wave of ground assaults across multiple axes of advance despite Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s public order for exactly that. Russian troops are prioritizing advances around Siversk and Bakhmut while maintaining defensive positions north of Kharkiv City and along the Southern Axis. Russian forces continued to set conditions for resumed offensives toward Slovyansk, shelled settlements along the Izyum-Slovyansk salient, and otherwise conducted artillery, missile, and air strikes throughout Ukraine. The Russian Ministry of Defense notably did not claim any new territorial gains on July 17. ISW continues to forecast that the end of the operational pause will be characterized by a fluctuating and staggered resumption of ground offensives.
The Russian Defense Ministry announced that the Russian operational pause has concluded on July 16, confirming ISW’s July 15 assessment. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu ordered Southern Group Commander General of the Army Sergey Surovikin and Central Group Commander Colonel General Alexander Lapin to increase offensive operations on all axes on July 16, but the tempo of the resuming Russian offensive will likely fluctuate or stutter over the coming days. Russian forces conducted fewer ground assaults on all axes on July 16 than on July 15, but maintained increased artillery and missile strikes on July 16.
The Russian Federation has launched a large-scale drive to form volunteer battalions in the 85 “federal subjects” (or regions) that comprise the federation. Recruiting for some volunteer battalions began in June but has intensified in July, with new volunteer units being reported daily. The battalions apparently will consist of roughly 400 men each aged between 18 and 60. They will belong to various branches of service including motorized rifle, tank, and naval infantry, but also signals and logistics. Recruits are not required to have prior military service and will undergo only 30 days of training before deployment to Ukraine.