Issue 276, 06 March – 12 March 2023 (Weekly update)
Key takeaways from last week’s developments:
- There were no operational or strategic changes in the situation in Ukraine over the past two weeks;
- Russian focus remains firmly placed on capturing Bakhmut, the only area where they noted a visible, albeit small, progress; In other regions, Russian advances were repelled;
- No major events took place in the Kharkiv Oblast; positional battles continued and brought no impact on the battlefield;
- Russians also made no progress in the Luhansk Oblast, and their capacity to make gains west of Kreminna now appears nonexistent; Unconfirmed Ukrainian reports claimed that Ukrainian units pushed east of Chervonopopivka;
- Likewise, there were no changes in the broader Donetsk Oblast;
- Ukrainian units withdrew from eastern parts of Bakhmut, while Russians also made some gains in the northern parts of the city; Ukrainian ability to defend Bakhmut is increasingly threatened, especially without further reinforcements; Bakhmut is a battle of attrition for both sides;
- No frontline changes occurred in the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson Oblasts; Pro-Russian sources stated that Ukrainians were accumulating forces for an attack in the Zaporizhzhia direction;
- The Belarusian Armed Forces’ posture did not change; The intensity of training activities remained limited; Belarus will call up 250 officer reservists for duty in 2023. This number is higher compared to previous years, which could be explained by the increased tempo of Belarusian exercises and joint training undertakings with Russia;
This UCM issue was prepared in collaboration with R.Politik: an independent analysis project on contemporary Russian politics. The project was founded in 2018 by Tatiana Stanovaya and seeks to shed much-needed light on the inner workings of Russian foreign and domestic politics. R.Politik focuses on elite infighting, the mechanisms of decision-making at the federal and regional levels, and explaining the logic behind key political firings and appointments.
Tatiana kindly shared with us R.Politik’s analysis of the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC) attack on villages in the Bryansk Oblast on 2MAR.
This week’s general outlook will be different. As some of you may know, two weeks ago, Michael Kofman, Rob Lee, Franz-Stefan Gady, and I went to Ukraine for our second field trip study to learn more about the war, its direction and general trends. Below is the list of my impressions from this trip.
I am not going to attribute any specific statement to a particular person, but for clarity, when in Kyiv, we met frontline soldiers, drone operators, units commanders, a military branch commander, NGOs representatives, and diplomatic personnel:
- The battle for Bakhmut is increasingly unpopular among Ukrainian soldiers. There is little understanding behind the political-military leadership’s decision to hold the town. Although defensive positions were set up west of the city, no indications were there suggesting that they would be used soon;
- We assess an internal struggle within the Ukrainian political-military leadership. Zelensky is at odds with General Zaluzhny (Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces), while General Syrsky (Ground Forces Commander) is the president’s protégé. Zaluzhny’s presence in the reported meeting with Syrksy and Zelensky last week was probably to sanction the continued defence of Bakhmut and show unity within the command structures.
- Ukrainian losses are significant. Over the past month, we assess that the ratio is Ukrainian to Russian losses stood at 1:1 or 1:2. In some areas and days. It may have even been greater. The battle greatly attires Ukrainian units, while the impact on Russian military formations is tiny. The battle for Bakhmut is mostly done by Wagner fighters supported by Russian 106th Airborne Division elements. So Ukrainians are attiring Wagner, while Wagner is attiring Ukrainian ground forces.
- Ukrainians are fighting with entire brigades, not with battalions detached from these brigades;
- However, we also need to stress Russian artillery expenditure, which is very high. Thus, one could claim that another point of holding Bakhmut is forcing Russians to use up as many shells as possible, which will hinder its operations throughout spring. As of last week, the ratio in artillery fires stood at 1:5.
- Ukrainians suffer heavy casualties in the city’s northern parts, which features no basements. It is difficult for the defenders to maintain their defensive positions, and they are very susceptible to artillery strikes;
- There were two weeks’ worth of supply in the city if it were to be cut off.
- Russians use aviation over Bakhmut, but only at night. Polish Piorun MANPAD is the only tool available to engage aviation after sunset.
- There are two Wagner forces. Convicts man one, and they are essentially an expandable force. Their objective is to move forward; unless they are severely wounded, it would be better if they didn’t return. Often they are used as a breaching force.
- The second Wagner is a well-trained and well-equipped force with a very flexible approach in offence and defence. They are equipped with thermal cameras, night-vision goggles and any equipment necessary for urban warfare;
- Wagner assault force involves four groups: two assault, one support and one evacuation. Altogether, some 56-64 men.
- Wagner was indeed cut off from artillery supplies, but this issue was solved when the organisation started fighting along the 106th Airborne Division;
- EW is a problem, but Ukrainian assets increasingly suffer from their own systems;
- Ukrainians are preparing for a counteroffensive. During the previous visit to Ukraine, we were told three army corps were being established to facilitate the breakthrough. Ukrainians are indeed progressing with this process, but we obtained no exact data on their force structure;
- Ukrainian high-rank commanders increasingly get involved in making tactical decisions;
- The current war is a war of reservists. The core of both armies is not destroyed (killed), and the quality of their reserve force will be key in how the war develops; At the same time, both commands are increasingly focused on Soviet-era operations, and there appears to be little appreciation for flexibility and decentralised command and control;
- Nevertheless, both forces innovate. For instance, Russians use Lancet UAVs for counterbattery fire; Lancet strikes on M777s do not render them irreparable;
- We are probably behind the peak point of Western military supplies to Ukraine. Although more equipment will undoubtedly come (Leopards, Abrams, Patriot, etc.), the number of pieces of equipment the west can offer to Ukraine is increasingly small;
- Both Ukrainians and Russians suffer from shell hunger, but Russians generally enjoy the preponderance of force. However, not everywhere. With the focus on Bakhmut, as stated above, the artillery ratio stands 1:5, but near Vuhledar, it is closer to 1:1. Russians need to prioritise as well;
- As a side note, after the trip to Ukraine, we went to Brussels for a Track 2 conversation about Russian nuclear and conventional policies over the next 5-10 years. There, we heard about an increasing number of voices which oppose the remilitarisation of Europe as “Russia is already militarily defeated”. So what’s the point of rebuilding and expanding national defence capabilities if Russia is no longer the threat;
Bryansk attack (Written in collaboration with R.Politik)
According to Bryansk regional authorities, Ukrainian UJ-22 airborne strike drones attacked several Russian settlements over the border from Chernihiv Oblast, Ukraine, on 2 March. While Russian security forces were dealing with the aftermath of the attack, a group of 15-20 militants (according to another account, 40-45) crossed the border into Russia and infiltrated the village of Lyubechane. At the same time, another group infiltrated Sushany, another settlement some 20km away, where, according to Kommersant, “militants were scaring people by putting them under the machine gun and shooting indiscriminately”. According (Rus) to Kommersant, attackers blocked routes out of the village and seized the local administration, post office and medical clinic. Two men were killed and one child was wounded. The raid ended with participants recording several messages, unfurling the flag of the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC), and depositing anti-personnel mines and grenades on tripwires as they departed, apparently to make it more difficult for FSB and Ministry of Defence personnel to pursue them. The version of events presented by Russian media seems rather dubious and contradicts itself in places; the information that has been released to the public is too unreliable to establish any detailed understanding of what happened.
Locals told (Rus) Dozhd that infiltrators destroyed a house, a water-pumping station and a gas-distribution station. Two people were killed. They also said that Russia’s military arrived very late to the scene. According to one local woman, “we were waiting all day and ‘our’ [people] only arrived at 4:30pm.” Another local complained that the Russian-Ukrainian border had not been protected at all and that anyone could cross it. One of the participants in the raid corroborated (Rus) these statements, claiming that serious shelling only started an hour after they had left the area and that by the time Russia’s defence ministry had released a statement claiming that the group had been located and wiped out, several participants were already smoking shisha in Kyiv.
Presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak termed Russia’s claims of a sabotage and reconnaissance group acting in Bryansk Region “a classic provocation”. Kyiv maintained that it had nothing to do with the raid. Pro-Ukrainian sources stressed that the assailants were Russians fighting Putin’s regime from the Ukrainian side. At the same time, Podolyak said, “the partisan movement in the Russian Federation is becoming stronger and more aggressive.” Ukraine’s public position is understandable: the state prefers to keep its distance from such amateur forays, especially those that affect civilians. His denial may also provoke suspicion that Russia’s underground anti-war movement is growing fast and becoming more daring – a narrative that is politically useful for Ukraine. The RVC, an organisation predominantly composed of far-right Russian associates who started fighting under the Azov regiment and other Russian nationalists fighting on Ukraine’s side, claimed (Rus) responsibility for the incursion. Among those visible in videos from the raid, were organisation founder Denis Nikitin (previously Kapustin), former artist Kirill Kanakhin, and possibly Oswald Lemokh, who left Russia for Ukraine in 2017 and actively participated in events in Donbas. Nikitin is a well-known neo-Nazi. The North Rhine-Westphalia Interior Ministry described him as “one of Germany’s most influential” neo-Nazi activists and noted that he had professionalised the country’s far-right fighting subculture. According to the German migration service, a 16-year-old Nikitin moved from Moscow to Cologne with his family in 2001 and was granted a permanent residence permit as a “refugee of Jewish origin”. In 2012 he became a key figure among right-wing extremists and football hooligans in western Europe, and in 2013, Kommersant reported (Rus) in detail about Nikitin’s attempts to launch business projects back in Russia: a nationalist sportswear brand and a series of far-right martial arts tournaments (Project White Rex). In 2017, Nikitin moved to Ukraine, where he already had good connections with the nationalist ‘scene’ (by that time Russia’s security services, namely the interior ministry’s Centre E, had started surveilling extremists in the country, making it both uncomfortable and risky to pursue their activities). In October 2018, he was detained by Ukraine’s security services (according to Der Spiegel (Ger)) allegedly for manufacturing amphetamines. German security services believed that Nikitin’s activities may have been financed by Russia, at least at the time. However, according to R.Politik’s understanding, many Russians sought to play the ‘nationalist card’ in Europe in the 2000s and 2010s in order to build relationships with Russia’s political authorities, proposing that they undertake ‘geopolitical services’, while hoping to reap some financial benefits.
Denis Nikitin said in an interview (Rus) after the attack that the RVC fights as a fully-fledged part of the Ukrainian army against Russian forces on Ukrainian territory. However, he claimed that over the border in Russia, the RVC makes its own decisions and acts independently. He said that neither the military nor political leadership of Ukraine participate in their external activities. However, Financial Times previously quoted Nikitin as saying that “of course, this action was agreed, otherwise it couldn’t have happened”. It is highly unlikely that they would carry out these types of operations (which have the potential to lead to serious escalation) without Ukrainian approval.
According to Nikitin, the goal of the action was to infiltrate Russian territory, record a video near an administrative building, and then return to Ukraine. The aim was to show Russians that there are compatriots who stand against the war and do not fear taking matters into their own hands. According to Financial Times, he said, “you can and must take up arms. We will support everyone who wants to remove these Kremlin usurpers from power.” Nikitin denied all responsibility for the shelled civilian car and wounded boy, saying that they were fabricated by Russia’s secret services.
Initially, many observers confused (Rus) the RVC with the ‘Freedom of Russia’ legion (we will use the acronym LFR), managed by Ilya Ponomarev, a Ukraine-based former Russian politician (Pomonarev was initially affiliated with the Communist Party, then Left Front and A Just Russia; he is also a known former associate of Vladislav Surkov – who oversaw domestic affairs and then Donbas in the Presidential Administration). LFR is a military unit formed by Russian prisoners of war and volunteers who have defected to the Ukrainian side. In contrast (Rus) to the LFR, RVC leadership does not rely on former Russian servicemen who have surrendered but is composed of right-wing emigrants already living in Ukraine. Many of them also served in the far-right Azov Regiment. Ponomarev has tried to cooperate with them, looking to combine their efforts in the fight against the Putin regime. On 31 August 2022, he even signed the “Declaration of the Russian Armed Opposition” with the LFR on behalf of the “National Republican Army“, saying that RVC representatives had initially agreed to join them. However, it later emerged that RVC had not signed the declaration and did not recognise the white-blue-white flag as their symbol. Ponomarev’s statements at the time caused a lot of media buzz by implying that the RVC was taking responsibility for the murder of Daria Dugina, daughter of ultraconservative ideologist Aleksander Dugin. However, this was a mix-up. Ponomarev actually said (Rus) that the “National Republican Army” took responsibility for the attack and only claimed that the RVC participated in NRA activities. Nevertheless, the narrative has been adopted by the FSB, which has linked (Rus) the current incident in Bryansk region to the murder of Dugina. According to R.Politik’s information, Ponomarev has been trying to create and find sponsors for a new military-political antiPutin project in Ukraine (see Novaya Gazeta’s slightly ironic coverage (Rus) of an October Congress in Poland where Ponomarev, together with Andrey Illarionov and Gennady Dudkov, tried to organise a legitimate Russian “parliament” in exile). The announced activities turned out to be practically nonexistent or fake. There is no real evidence that the NRA has any substance to it whatsoever. Ponomarev’s new media outlet ‘Morning of February’ also folded after a few months, with journalists blaming (Rus) Ponomarev for late payments and the project’s accruing debts.
Much of what Ponomaryov says should be taken with a healthy pinch of salt – even within the Russian anti-Putin opposition he is considered a hustler and provocateur. The Civil Council (Rus) claims to be the political branch of the RVC. The Council is managed by Anastasia Schultz-Sergeeva (Rus) and Denis Sokolov (Rus). The Russian expert community considers both to be extreme radicals with little support in the country.
Several questions still hang in the air over what actually happened in Bryansk. Russian media, including various social media accounts, reported wildly different stories (Rus) in its aftermath. What is known for certain is that the RVC were able to cross the Russian border, infiltrate the settlement and return safely back to Ukraine without any issues. Moreover, the Russian military response was sluggish and only occurred several hours later, after the RVC had already left. Information surrounding the incident was fragmented and chaotic, and the Kremlin was unable to create a logical narrative about what had happened. Meanwhile, pro-war Telegram channels and regional authorities exaggerated the gravity of the incident by spreading unverified information. Domestic policy overseers, who traditionally have nothing to do with military affairs, also weighed in, trying to put a patriotic spin on the whole episode by heroising (Rus) the young boy Fyodor who was allegedly wounded (to the extent that his mother had to appeal (Rus) to the public to leave her son alone). It took time for Russian authorities to absorb what had happened and then create an ‘official’ explanation for the public – when it arrived, it was instantly questioned (Rus) even by those who support the war. Interestingly, only 10 percent of Russians said (Rus) they regarded the incident as an important event that week.
The Russian Reaction
Ponomarev’s possible involvement and conflicting information about what really happened fuelled suspicions that Russia’s security services were behind the attack. Meduza quoted Ukrainian military sources as saying that the Russian military was “preparing possible provocations” in order to “accuse Ukrainian defenders of violating [Russia’s] territorial integrity”. This explanation was backed by parts of the Russian liberal opposition (e.g. Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Leonid Volkov).
However, later developments meant there was no reason to believe that the incident in Bryansk region was a Russian false flag (as R.Politik wrote last year, the Kremlin does not need any special pretexts to attack and can simply launch offensives without any false flag operations). Furthermore, it was also quite clear that the Kremlin was confused about what had happened and did not know how to react. Opposition media were excessively alarmist, fearing that something big would follow the raid. In turn, pro-war military correspondents demanded and expected a harsh reaction. Ultranationalist ‘oligarch’ Konstantin Malofeev cited the Bryansk incursion as a reason to escalate the war. “The last red lines have been erased today in Bryansk region,” he wrote on Telegram. “Now anyone who even whispers about peace will be an accomplice of terrorists.” Mikhail Delyagin, a State Duma deputy for A Just Russia — For Truth (and well-known for his media appearances) said, “the only normal response” to this incident would be “the immediate destruction of Zelensky and Zaluzhny.” Military correspondent Alexander Kots, a member of the presidential Human Rights Council, compared the RVC to the detachments of Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev that attacked Russian cities during the Chechen wars, “that scum that we had mopped up by the middle of the ‘tens'”. Another war correspondent, Yevgeny Poddubnyi, demanded the elimination of the political and military leadership of Ukraine. One of the largest Z-channels, Starshe Eddy, which actively cooperates with the Ministry of Defence, called for Ukraine’s leaders to be killed “by the Mossad method”. Finally, Ramzan Kadyrov urged the authorities to “bomb all spots” related to the attack and impose the highest level of martial law in certain regions to keep residents safe. Against this tumultuous backdrop, it was not surprising that Putin suddenly canceled his trip to Pyatigorsk and instead, according to presidential spokesman Peskov, headed to the Kremlin to hear security services’ reports about the incident. Opposition media outlet Vyorstka (we would strongly recommend double checking information published here, as it often turns out to be inaccurate) wrote (Rus), referring to a siloviki source, that Putin was preparing an emergency Security Council meeting. Then, a source close to the State Duma said (Rus) the same to Radio Mayak. Even when Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied these rumours and claimed (Rus) that a regular Security Council meeting had already been scheduled for the following day, Telegram channels continued writing (Rus) about a secret emergency meeting that took place on 3 March (it did not).
Vladimir Putin commented on the incident at a routine event, at the launch of the Year of Teachers and Mentors in Russia via videoconference, where he additionally read a prepared text with an insert about the attack. He blamed “neo-Nazis and terrorists … the same ones that killed Darya Dugina in Moscow and committed yet another terrorist attack today by entering the border territory and opening fire at civilians”. After having accused them for years of nationalist-inspired crimes in Donbas, Putin promised to crush them. The way he discussed the raid undoubtedly showed that there had been an active decision to downplay the situation and that he personally did not consider it worthy of much attention (as a rule, when he is touched by something, he speaks without reading a prepared speech or makes long emotional digressions).
The next day, the Security Council meeting was entirely routine. Especially interesting was the fact that FSB head Aleksander Bortnikov did not attend, while Russia’s interior minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev delivered the main report – of the siloviki, he is the last person who should be discussing military/security issues. Earlier on, Peskov said that Bortnikov, Sergey Shoigu, Viktor Zolotov (head of Rosgvardia) and Aleksander Bogomaz (governor of Bryansk region) had all informed the president about the incident on 2 March. In other words, the Security Council played no significant role in any decision-making concerning this situation. On the evening of 2 March, the FSB reported that the saboteurs’ attack on Russian soil had been foiled: the group had been pushed out of Bryansk region into Ukraine and hit with a massive artillery strike. This statement caused serious outrage within the patriotic camp, which considered this reaction extremely inadequate. The incident fuelled discussion about the need for better border protection (at a recent FSB board meeting, Putin said that the border should be strengthened). As we noted above, the RVC has never admitted its involvement in Dugina’s murder. However, in the weeks following the raid, the FSB has doubled down on painting the RVC as a terror organisation that undertakes regular attacks on Russian soil (it is not surprising that Putin also projected this vision in his 2 March speech). On 6 March, the FSB also accused (Rus) the RVC of a failed attempt to murder Konstantin Malofeev, owner of ultra-conservative media outlet Tsargrad and linked (Rus) to one of the largest (Rus) anonymous “Zchannels” on Telegram. Malofeev has previously had important ties (Rus) to the FSB and has long been involved in Russia’s Ukraine policy. Telegram channel VChK-OGPU, close to the siloviki, suggested (Rus) that the attempt was staged by Malofeev’s aide, Aleksander Boroday (currently a State Duma deputy and previously appointed ‘prime minister’ of the DNR back when it was ‘founded’ in 2014), with FSB assistance – a version of events that should not be dismissed.
The raid created tension between the FSB and the Ministry of Defence over who was responsible. The FSB controls the border service and in peacetime would formally have to answer for such events. However, in the context of the semi-declared Russia-Ukrainian war, it is the army’s duty to prevent crossborder attacks. The fact that the Kremlin’s initial reaction looked to be much more severe is on account of the stronger political role played by the FSB compared to the Ministry of Defence. The FSB’s leadership prefers to overreact rather than underestimate the situation (while the Ministry of Defence tends to do the opposite) – explaining Putin’s decision to cancel his trip to Krasnodar region. Several days later, the Ministry of Defence launched a massive missile strike against critical infrastructure all over Ukraine, killing at least six people (Ukrainian air defences claimed that they shot down 40 percent of the incoming missiles fired on Thursday), framing it as retaliatory. However, considering the fact that Russia conducts these strikes approximately every fortnight and that the pace of this campaign is too slow to be dictated by quick decisions, it would be more appropriate to say that the Kremlin tried to “sell” a regular attack that was planned in advance as a special act of revenge (we also recommend reading Dara Massicot’s thread on Russian strikes and their dynamics).
(Lowest temperatures are for nights and highest for days, unless otherwise stated)
In the Kharkiv Oblast, the temperature will drop to -1°C (30°F) on Monday. Since then, a steady increase will propel the temperatures to 13°C (55°F) on Friday during the day and 6°C (43°F) at nights. Showers are only expected on Friday.
The same trend is expected across other regions. Bakhmut will drop to -3°C (27°F) on Monday. By Friday, however, an increase to 16°C (61°F) is on the books. Nights will be warm as well. No precipitation is expected throughout the week.
The Zaporizhzhia region will warm as well. It is already warm in the area, with temperatures hovering around 8°C (47°F) late last week. Since Wednesday, the temperatures will increase to 14-15°C (57-59°F) and stay there until the end of the week. At nights, the drop will not exceed 5°C (43°F).
Spring weather is upon Ukraine. Although occasional drops below 0°C (32°F) are possible, we expect to see warm weather more often from now on. The ground will require a few weeks to warm itself and lose the humidity to be fully “supportive” of heavy movements. On the other hand and in the short term, this transitional weather will increase the amount of mud on the roads, which may, for instance, hinder Ukrainian withdrawal from Bakhmut.
Summary of losses
According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, since the start of the war, Ukraine has lost 400 aircraft (+10), 220 helicopters (+9), 3,385 UAVs (+142), 411 anti-aircraft missile systems (launchers?)(+6), 8,275 tanks and other armoured combat vehicles (+233), 1,055 MLRS launchers (+10), 4,326 field artillery guns and mortars (+104), as well as 8,879 units of special military vehicles (+323).
According to the Ukrainian General Staff, Russia lost (eliminated) 159,090 personnel (+10,960), 3,466 tanks (+150), 6,769 armoured combat vehicles (+154), 2,487 artillery systems (+107) and 493 MLRS (+18), 259 anti-aircraft systems (+12), 304 aircraft (+5) and 289 helicopters (+1), and 2,108 UAVs (+71), 5,348 vehicles and fuel tanks (+106), 873 cruise missiles (+34), 18 warships and boats (0) and 242 pieces of special equipment (+12).
(Numbers in parentheses denote a fortnightly change).
Military situation in Belarus
No major changes occurred in Belarus over the past seven days. The country’s political-military leadership did not undertake any unusual activities either. Actions of the Belarusian service members were mainly centred around International Woman’s Day, a popular holiday in the former USSR states. Nonetheless, some noteworthy training events occurred in the latter part of the week.
From a political point of view, there were two main events last week. Firstly, Col. Andrey Gorbatenko (Head of the Minsk Suvorov School), and Col. Vadim Shadura (First Deputy Commander of the North-Western Operational Command), promoted to the rank of Major General, and Lt. Gen. Ivan Tertel (Head of the KDB), as well as Lt. Gen. Anatoly Lappo (Chairman of the State Border Committee) and Ivan Kubrakov (Minister of the Interior) received “For the Service to the Motherland” medal. Rewards came for their actions aimed at finding a “saboteur” responsible for the attack on the Russian A-50 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft.
According to the Belarusian President, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) carried out the attack jointly with Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He stated the preparations started six to eight months before the strike when the perpetrator began training in Kyiv.
During the attack, the saboteur used a small civilian UAV, the size of which was too small for the Belarusian air defences to detect. During the ceremony, Lukashenko stressed that shortly after the attack, he ordered Belarusian service members to cover the state borders to stop the potential perpetrator’s escape. He noted that more than 20 helpers possibly involved in the attack were also detained. According to Lukashenko, some were even linked to the latest “terrorist attack” in Bryansk Oblast on 2MAR (See above).
Luhasneko also spent some time talking about the Ukrainian political leadership. After calling Volodymyr Zelensky a “lice”, Lukashenko blamed him for approving the attack on Belarus meant to draw Minsk into the Russo-Ukrainian war. He also reminded that a series of unfriendly actions against Belarus followed earlier Ukrainian attempts to sign a bilateral peace pact with Belarus. Lukashenko pointed out that Belarusian leadership has nerves of steel and would not fulfil the will of its Ukrainian counterparts. (COMMENT: Our sources on the Ukrainian side noted that for months Lukashenko has been trying to reach Zelensky through back channels to improve relations on the political level. One such attempt reportedly involved Turkish President Recep Erdoğan. Nevertheless, currently, there is no communication between Kyiv and Minsk. Thus, we believe Tuesday’s harsh comments on Zelensky stem from Lukashenko’s frustration and inability to reach Zelensky).
Two days later, Lukashenko met with the Secretary General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Zhang Min, to discuss the procedure for Belarusian application to the organisation. He noted the necessity of taking additional legal measures to become a full-fledged member of the organisation before the next SOC summit to be held in June.
Also on Thursday, Lukashenko also proposed new amendments to codes on criminal liability for “extremist” or “anti-state” crimes. The new law would introduce the death penalty for Belarusian officials or service members if they committed treason. Moreover, it presents additional financial penalties of up to BYN1.85 million (around USD734,000) for committing several “anti-state” crimes. The document also allows to penalise citizens discrediting the Belarusian Armed Forces or other power organisations and lengthens the period of detention of persons suspected of committing treason, conspiracy or espionage activities from three to ten days. Officially, the change is necessary to ensure the highest quality of the operational investigative measures. Interestingly, a Belarusian source stated that the new law was to exempt from criminal liability citizens, who carried preparations and attacks on “state institutions with international support” (UN, EU, etc.), but these plans were abandoned.
Referring directly to the military sphere, it must be noted that Lukashenko signed Decree No. 66 on Friday. The document is related to the annual conscription of the reserve officers and regulates the conscription of 250 reserve officers (230 for the Belarusian Armed Forces, 20 for State Border Guards) in 2023. For context, these numbers stood at 150 in 2022 and 100 in 2021. Although there is an increase in the scope of reservists’ call-ups, it does not seem that these are preparations for mobilisation. Nevertheless, it highlights that the Belarusian Armed Forces will maintain a heightened exercise tempo throughout 2023.
Last week, high-rank Belarusian officers were directly involved in a couple of events. On Tuesday, the Deputy Chief of the General Staff for Combat Command, Maj. Gen. Valery Gnilozub took part in the farewell ceremony of Belarusian reservists recently called up for military training, while three days later, the Deputy Commander of the Air Force and Air Defence Forces, Maj. Gen. Dmitry Mihkolap was involved in the appointment of the new Commander of the 61st Fighter Aviation Base, Col. Oleg Turchinovich. The latter ceremony was also combined with the farewell of the former base commander Col. Leonid Davidovich, who was appointed the position of the Belarusian Aviation Chief.
Belarusian soldiers and officers also participated in preparing for and celebrating International Woman’s Day (Wednesday). Since Monday, they were visiting their relatives and handing flowers to woman in most Belarusian cities. Such actions were held even in Aleppo (Syria), where the Belarusian field hospital is deployed. Service members of certain military formations also recorded special holiday videos.
Due to the abovementioned involvement, Belarusian military formations’ training activities were minimal at the beginning of the week. The notable exceptions were the gathering of Belarusian SOF divers (Tuesday) and a few training flights of the Belarusian air components.
The main training effort started on Thursday and was mainly focused on Belarusian artillery formations. On this day, an unspecified mechanised brigade (19th or 120th) underwent readiness inspection, which was correlated with the continuation of the 6th Mechanised Brigade logistics battalion readiness check (including removal of the military equipment from storage bases), and combat coordination measures taken by the Iskander-equipped subunit of the 465th Missile Brigade.
On Friday, the howitzer battery of the 38th Air Assault Brigade conducted live ammo firing drills at the Brestsky Training Ground. Interestingly, its platoons acted autonomously and carried out their own firing missions from the different concentration areas. During the drills, servicemen actively used UAVs to adjust the fire.
Subsequently, the heavy howitzer battalion of the 111th Artillery Brigade and elements of the 841st Artillery Group (11th Mechanised Brigade) carried out field exits. Notably, the latter subunit used rail transport and likely went to the Gozhsky Training Ground.
Artillery-focused drills were held even with the cadets of the Belarusian Military Academy. On Thursday, they started practical firing classes, which were held at least until Friday. Future officers used 2A65 howitzers and trained at the Osipovichi Training Ground.
Besides, the 103rd Airborne Brigade conducted another bilateral company-level tactical exercise, which was finished on Thursday. Interestingly, the Belarusian service members took part in joint Russo-Belarusian firing training that occurred a day later. It is also worth mentioning that between 6FEB and 7MAR, the Belarusian Armed Forces called up more than 500 reservists of the communications and rear specialities for military drills.
Over the past seven days, the number of military transfers observed on Belarusian roads was relatively low. It mostly involved trucks, light vehicles and BTR APCs. However, a few more notable military complexes were also spotted. This refers to the 40V6M radar mast used for the S-400 air defence system (Monday), two BUK air defence launchers (on trailers) observed on Thursday, and several communications vehicles (R-434 variants) spotted a day later. The military echelon, including ZIL trucks, was also reported on Thursday. However, its affiliation is unclear.
The activity of the Russian Armed Forces was limited. Nonetheless, at least three flights of Russian MiG-31K supersonic interceptors in the Belarusian air space were reported. Helicopter training flights were carried out almost daily and sometimes held between Belarusian air bases and training grounds. Similarly, on Saturday, Russian An-12 (RF-90787) was flying between Machulischy and Baranovichi.
The ground transfers of Russian vehicles were relatively standard. The possible arrival of a military echelon with about 18 2A65 howitzers was reported on Tuesday. Also, (un)loading of another echelon with several trucks was observed three days later in the vicinity of Polonka Railway Station.
Below is the summary of Belarusian training activities since 27FEB.
|Date||Lower echelon||Higher echelon||Location||Event|
|28FEB2023||n/a||Local state bodies and military commisarriats||Minsk||Start of the annual TDF formation classes|
|28FEB2023||n/a||38th Air Assault Brigade||Brestsky Training Ground||Parachute jumps from IL-76MD|
|28FEB2023||Mixed artillery battalion||38th Air Assault Brigade||Brestsky Training Ground||Firing drills|
|1MAR2023||n/a||38th Air Assault Brigade||Brestsky Training Ground||Company-level tactical exercise|
|2MAR2023||n/a||11th Mechanised Brigade||Chepelevo Training Ground||Start of the company-level tactical exercise|
|2MAR2023||Likely 358th Mechanised Battalion reinforced with additional air defence assets||120th Mechanised Brigade||Lithuanian border area (?)||Possible end of field exit|
|2MAR2023||Representatives of the Belarusian MoD and the 140th Repair Plant||230th Combined Arms Training Ground||State tests of the Belarusian-made T-72BM2|
|3MAR2023||Logistic battalion||6th Mechanised Brigade||???||Start of the combat readiness check|
|4MAR2023||n/a||11th Mechanised Brigade||Chepelevo Training Ground||End of the company-level tactical exercise|
|7MAR2023||Military divers from Belarusian Special Operation Forces||38th Air Assault Brigade||Gathering of Belarusian SOF military divers|
|7MAR2023||Cadets of the Missile Forces and Artillery Faculty||Belarusian Military Academy||Osipovichi Trianing Ground||Practical firing training combined with tactical medicine classes|
|9MAR2023||n/a||19th or 120th Mechanised Brigade||???||Combat readiness check|
|9MAR2023||Logistics battalion||6th Mechanised Brigade||???||Continuation of the combat readiness check with the removal of equipment from storage bases|
|9MAR2023||Iskander subunit||465th Missile Brigade||???||Continuation of special training classes|
|10MAR2023||Howitzer battery||38th Air Assault Brigade||Brestsky Training Ground||Tactical exercise with live ammo firing|
|10MAR2023||Heavy howitzer battalion||111th Artillery Brigade||???||Field exit|
|10MAR2023||Elements of the 841st Artillery Group||11th Mechanised Brigade||Gozhsky Training Ground (?)||Field exit|
|10MAR2023||Cadets of the Missile Forces and Artillery Faculty||Belarusian Military Academy||Osipovichi Trianing Ground||2A65 firing classes|
|10MAR2023||n/a||???||???||Joint Russo-Belarusian shooting classes|
|10MAR2023||Military divers from Belarusian Special Operation Forces||38th Air Assault Brigade||Continuation of the Belarusian SOF military divers gathering|
|10MAR2023||n/a||103rd Airborne Brigade||Losvido Training Ground||End of the company-level tactical exercise|
The situation at selected axes and directions
No frontline changes were reported in the Kharkiv Oblast over the past two weeks.
It has already been more than four weeks since the Russian MoD claimed to have captured Hryanykivka. However, since then, no visual evidence has been produced to confirm this development. Attacks further south, towards Masiutivka and Synkivka, continued, but all Russian attacks in these areas were repelled. We do not wish to say that Russian offensive potential in the part of Ukraine culminated because the attackers never really had any serious offensive capability to start with.
Over the past two weeks, Russians did not conduct any ground attacks from the country proper into Ukraine.
Although Russian forces continued to conduct ground attacks across the entire frontline, no confirmed frontline changes occurred in the Luhansk Oblast over the past two weeks.
Unofficial sources stated that the Ukrainian 25th Airborne and the 92nd Mechanised Brigades defeated Russians in the Nevske – Chervonopopivka area and advanced east of the R-66 highway. But these claims were not substantiated by any visual evidence.
Russian may have pushed slightly west of Ploschanka, but the veracity of this claim has not been confirmed.
Apart from these reported changes, attacks near Stelmakhivka, Kuzemivka, Makiivka, Nevske, Terny, and Yampolivka brought no results.
In the previous weekly update, we listed all Russian units that we believe are deployed into the oblast. Although the list is not exhaustive, Russians are significantly underperforming in the region. In the current environment, we are probably behind the peak of Russian military offensive capacity, and significant reinforcements would be needed to propel Russians into the Kharkiv Oblast. We have seen no indications that such strengthening of Russian positions was ongoing. To the contrary, Serhiy Haidai, the Luhansk Regional Military Civil Administration Head, claimed last week. However, the number of attacks towards Bilohorivka and Kreminna had increased recently, some Russian forces pulled back to replenish reserves. Overall Russian difficulties in the Luhansk Oblast will hinder Russian progress in the Donetsk Oblast. Without progressing through Lyman towards Lysychansk, Russians will only probably need to rely on one or two axes of advance towards Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, which are heavily fortified throughout and reaching Slovyansk from the Luhansk Oblast is currently unattainable for Russian units.
Donetsk Oblast Direction
Donetsk Oblast remained the only region in Ukraine where Russians achieved any confirmed territorial gains. Over the past two weeks, they captured a few villages and pushed deeper into Bakhmut. The Donetsk Oblast is indeed Moscow’s number-one priority, but objectively speaking, Russian progress in the region is incremental at best. To make it worse, although Russians enjoy superiority in artillery fires, this preponderance is not evenly scattered across the sectors, let alone the entire oblast or the country. Russians are expending a lot of ammunition, and it is not at all certain that they will be able to maintain this pace of strikes after Bakhmut falls. Since the last update, Russians have captured some 23 sq km (around nine sq miles).
Let’s start from the northern parts of the oblast. Russians made no progress there. Spirne and Verkhokamyanske were attacked almost daily with the objective of reaching Siversk. However, all assaults appear to be confidently pushed back. There has not been any piece of information published over the past several weeks suggesting that Russians made even minimal gains.
The same pertains to areas north of Svatove. Likewise, attempts to move towards Rozdolivka, Fedorivka, Vesele and Vasyukivka were unsuccessful. Especially after the fall of Soledar, there were concerns that Russian attacks would spill over neighbouring settlements and their progress would be faster. This did not happen, probably because all available capacities were diverted to Krasna Hora and Bakhmut. The northern part of the frontline is certainly not prioritised, at least until Bakhmut is taken.
Two weeks ago, Russians captured Berkhivka and Yahidne and entered the northern part of Bakhmut in Stupki. These movements also brought Russians near Khrmovoe. A week ago, their line of control was around 800 meters from the main road linking Bakhmut with Chasiv Yar. Despite this, Ukrainian supplies streaming into the city continued and continue. But the biggest problem is with a possible withdrawal. With Russians operating so close to the road, their ATGM teams can quickly strike slow-moving Ukrainian vehicles retreating from the city. Artillery strikes are also a big challenge. With around 4-5 brigades and some territorial defence brigades deployed to the city’s defence and with the corridor’s width of around 8 km (5 miles), an organised pullback (retreating defensive action) while simultaneously in engagement with the Russians could be very challenging.
Nevertheless, the political-military leadership appears fully committed to defending the city. On 3MAR, Ukrainians destroyed a bridge in central Bakhmut, marking their withdrawal from the city’s eastern parts. Bakhmutivka now forms the main line of defence, but only to the south of Yahidne. In fact, Ukrainian positions in northern Bakhmut are challenging to defend. There are no basements in this part of the town; thus, defending (and attacking) forces find it difficult to hide from artillery strikes. Ukrainian force quality in this sector is also questionable, as both factors contributed heavily to Russian gains in northern Bakhmut.
Ukrainians opened up some additional ground lines of communications (GLOC) from Chasiv Yar to Bakhmut, but the road quality is deplorable, especially during the transitional weather period.
No changes occurred in the southeastern parts of the city. Ukrainian defensive lines are just south of the T0504 road, as Russians cannot push the defenders over the road.
Two weeks ago, we stated that “on 25FEB, Ukrainian media reported that Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi, Commander of the Ground Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and Commander of the Eastern Group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, arrived in Bakhmut. There, he reportedly “checked the situation in units, listened to unit commanders speak regarding problematic matters, assisted in resolving them and supported the soldiers there”.
On 11MAR, he was reportedly again in Bakhmut. According to the Ukrainian Ground Forces Facebook page, Ukrainian Ground Forces “the commander constantly holds the operational situation at the frontline under control and takes necessary measures to keep Bakhmut under Ukrainian control”. It added, “it is necessary to buy time to build reserves and launch a counteroffensive, which is not far off.” The reality is that not many people know why Ukrainians continue to defend the city at the current stage. A Ukrainian soldier fighting in Bakhmut stated on Saturday morning that “as soon as the Russians take the road to Khromovo, Bakhmut will gradually begin to transform from a fortress into a large mass grave. Then there will be no point in keeping silent about things that have been bothering you for many months. Maybe someone will see treason in them, but I will already sneeze deeply. Patience is running out.” As stated in the introduction, there is very little understanding behind the high command’s decision to defend the city for so long, especially as there is a common understanding that its fall will not bring significant changes onto the battlefield. Ukrainians also established defensive lines just east of Chasiv Yar, but when Mike and Rob were there last week, they so no indications that they were being prepared for active use.
Secondly, historically, a fall of a significant city is unlikely to propel Russians to make further gains. On the contrary, Russians in the second phase of this war always stalled after capturing a city. This was clearly visible after they took over Popasna in early May and Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in late June. In fact, Popasna is located some 23 km (14 miles) east of Bakhmut, which only shows how slowly Russians have been progressing over the more extended period of several months.
The Bakhmut area is where all Russian progress ends. Last week, no territorial gains were made in other parts of the Donetsk Oblast.
After the capture of Novobakhmutivka four weeks ago, Russians tried to extend their attacks towards Oleksandropil, but these efforts did not deliver any results.
Unconfirmed reports from the Russian side claimed that the attackers captured Vesele, but no visual confirmation substantiated these claims. It appears that the Russian objective is to envelop Avdiivka. Indeed, Russians continue their ground and artillery attacks on the city but also attempt to push north from Vodyane. So far, the Russians are far away from fulfilling this objective.
No changes to the Russian attack plan occurred near Mariinka. The attackers captured areas north of the settlement, but their assaults on Pobieda were fruitless. Consequently, Russians here too also fail to envelop Mariinka.
We are at least temporarily behind the culminating point in Russian attacks on Vuledar. Although the attackers continued offensive operations towards the settlement over the past two weeks, the losses they have sustained in the process have entirely degraded their ability to conduct effective, combined-arms operations against Ukrainians defending this sector. The 155th Naval Infantry Brigade (Pacific Fleet) that led one of the attacks was again destroyed. We assess that the unit has been reconstituted at least thrice since 24FEB22, so its combat effectiveness is significantly degraded, both from morale and equipment. Russian operations near Vuhledar also highlight their inability to learn and plan and conduct their operations flexibly.
There was at least one HIMARS strike in the region. On 9MAR, Ukrainians reportedly hit a Russian transport enterprise in Volnovakha. Ukrainian sources stated that the company operated civilian buses that Wagner used to move its forces across southern Ukraine.
Last week did not bring any changes to the situation in the Zaporizhihia Oblast or across the wider southern Ukraine. Positional battles continued in the region, but they had no impact on the frontline in any way. Both sides are evidently focused on conducting military operations in other parts of the country, especially in the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts, where the bulk of their forces is located. The byproduct of these commitments is subdued military activity across entire southern Ukraine.
Two events occurred last week worth highlighting. Firstly, on 8MAR, Russian and pro-Russian sources accused Ukraine of conducting a UAV strike in Enerhodar. It reportedly started a fire, which threatened a power line supporting the city and local areas. However, the following day, the Russian’s massive air and missile attacks disconnected the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) in Enerhodar from all external power sources for 10 hours, forcing the plant to go into blackout mode. Back-up power generators were switched on to sustain the plant’s operations. This mode of operation did not last long as on Thursday evening. The plant was reconnected to the grid. The event marked the first time the plant lost all external power supply since November 2022 and highlighted continued unsuccessful Russian attempts to degrade Ukraine’s power grid.
Secondly, two pieces of information were published last week about a possible build-up of Ukrainian forces in the region. On 6MAR, Vladimir Rogov, a member of the main council of the Zaporizhzhia regional administration, claimed that Kyiv had assembled a 12,000-men-strong component for an upcoming offensive reportedly to take place in late March/early April. The objective of this push is Melitopol/Mauriupol.
A few days later, on 9MAR, Yevgeny Balitsky, the acting Governor of the Russian occupation of Zaporizhzhia Oblast, claimed that the UAF concentrated around 40,000 troops in northern parts of the oblast.
We expect the Russian and pro-Russian sources to continue to regularly warn about a possible Ukrainian counterattack in this area. However, so far, we have seen no indications of a Ukrainian build-up in this area.
The situation in the Kherson Oblast remained unchanged. Types of operations did not change either: artillery strikes, interception attemts, reconnaissance and infiltration missions.
According to Natalia Humenyuk, the spokesperson for the Ukrainian Southern Operational Command, Kyiv’s forces recently destroyed seven Russian naval vessels that tried to reach islands on the Dnipro River delta. Neither side controls islands in the area, although regular reconnaissance attempts continue. On the other hand, the Russian 126th Coastal Defence Brigade (Crimea-based), repelled a Ukrainian attempt to land on the Velykyi Potomkin Island on 7MAR.
Outlook for the week of 13MAR-19MAR
In assessing the probability or likelihood of certain events, we will use a set of terms followed by the US Intelligence Community.
|Almost no chance||Very unlikely||Unlikely||Roughly even chance||Likely||Very likely||Almost certain(ly)|
|Remote||Highly improbable||Improbable (improbably)||Roughly even odds||Probable
|Highly probable||Nearly certain|
We have decided to introduce more accountability to our forecasts. Therefore, each weekly update assesses how correct (or incorrect) our predictions were. Here is what we said last week. Please also remember that while we try to remain as objective as possible regarding our performance, the reader will ultimately have to decide how (in)accurate we have been.
Last week’s forecast
After a one-week break, we were wondering whether we should post a reflection on our previous forecast. We decided it would be a good idea since it shows how little changes in Ukraine over a two-week period.
“We do not anticipate any changes in the Kharkiv Oblast. The intensity of Russian attacks will not increase, and neither will their geographical scope. We continue to assess that there is a roughly even chance that Russians will capture new territory, but we are more focused on the 45 per cent number than on the 55. Following last week’s incursions into the Kharkiv Oblast from Russia proper, the attackers can conduct similar attacks this week. However, we would not like to attach a probability score to such a scenario. Russian artillery attacks will certainly continue.” Indeed, no frontline changes occurred in the region.
“Likewise, we continue to expect no significant changes in the Luhansk Oblast. It does not seem that Russians can conduct larger attacks across the oblast. Hence their advances stalled in the region with little prospect of moving forward this week. Indeed, it is unlikely that they will make territorial gains across the oblast.” Russians may have made minimal tactical gains, but the frontline barely moved. There were some reports from the Ukrainian side about Russians being pushed back in Chervonopopivka, but they have not been substantiated with visual evidence.
“The exception could be the Kreminna area, but here we give Russians a 45-55 per cent chance of achieving tactical progress and moving slightly forward. It is highly unlikely that a significant breakthrough will be achieved.” As above, some advances could have been made, but the general outlook for the Kreminna area was spot on.
“We will stick with the same prognosis for the Donetsk Oblast. Russians are unlikely to make substantial gains, although there is a roughly even chance that they will capture some territory. Specifically, we are looking at areas near Novobakhmutivka and Avdiivka. We assess that chances are remote that Vuhledar will fall next week, although it is likely that some offensive actions will be taken in this direction.” There were correct when it came to Vuhledar, but Russians captured a couple of villages. Technically, we could count it as “will capture some territory”, but looking at Russian progress in this war so far (and pardon sarcastic tone), seizing two villages is significant progress.
“On the other hand, Russians are highly likely to progress in the Soledar-Bakhmut sector. After the fall of Yahidne and Berkhiva, the Ukrainian position in the area deteriorated. Last week’s assumption that attacks from Paraskoviivka may be extended onto Khromove was incorrect. This week will show whether Russians are more interested in pushing towards Bakhmut’s city centre from the north or conducting an envelopment attack on Khromove.” We were correct in anticipating more Russian gains, which last week manifested by the Ukrainian loss of Dubovo-Vasylivka. They also inched closer towards the road linking Chasiv Yar with Bakhmut in Khromove.
“It is unlikely that Russians will capture Vasyukivka and Rozdolivka next week, as the emphasis is clearly on capturing Bakhmut.” This prognosis was spot on.
“Regarding Bakhmut, the withdrawal from territories north of the city further deteriorates Ukrainian positions in the area. Especially the fall of Yahidne and possible extensions of attacks towards Khromove could seriously jeopardise the Ukrainian presence in Bakhmut. Russians are likely to capture some territory within the city, and there is a roughly even chance that Ukrainians would pull back from Bakhmut. The probability score will increase substantially if Khromove falls.” Ukrainians left the eastern part of Bakhmut, while their territorial control in the city’s northern parts also decreased. Khromove still stands, and thus Ukrainians continue to maintain their presence in the city. We will deduct 0.5 point for the “a roughly even chance” comment on the pullback from Bakhmut.
“We continue to maintain that Russian attacks towards Ivanivske lost steam. We give it a 45-55% chance that Russians will progress in this area.” This was spot on.
“We do not foresee any major changes in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast. Positional attacks will almost certainly continue. It is also possible that Russians will make some territorial gains, but a sizable Russian offensive in this part of Ukraine is highly unlikely to happen next week.” This assessment was correct.
“The same pertains to the Kherson Oblast. River infiltration operations from both sides will continue, but without an impact on the frontline. Russians will continue to strike civilian areas north of the Dnipro River.” This assessment was correct.
We expect no changes in the posture of the Belarusian Armed Forces (BAF) and Russian units deployed to Belarus. The BAF’s exercise tempo may increase this week. Chances are remote that Russians will attack Ukraine from Belarus next week. Although the pace of drills decreased, we saw no changes in the overall military situation in Belarus
Final score: 9/10 (90%)
Next week’s forecast
We continue to anticipate no changes in the Kharkiv Oblast. Although Russian artillery and missile attacks on the region will continue, the attackers will unlikely extend their territorial control (we decreased the probability score from 45-55 per cent to 20-45 per cent). At the current juncture, Russian operations are contingent on reinforcements, and so far, it does not seem that their positions in the Kharkiv Oblast have been strengthened.
Despite deploying a rather sizable force into the Luhansk Oblast, Russians have been unable to alter the frontline. They are thus unlikely to capture new territory (one settlement and more) this week, either. Tactical fluctuations are, however, likely.
The same pertains to the Kreminna area. While positional battles are highly likely, a Russian push forward is not. The chances of Russians achieving a significant breakthrough in this sector are presently remote.
The increased tempo of Russian attacks across the Donetsk Oblast highlighted their focus on fulfilling the goals of the second phase of the war (capturing the remaining parts of the oblast). Based on last week’s activities and operations, it is likely that Moscow’s forces will capture more territory. We are particularly looking at areas near Avdiivka, Mariinka, and Novobakhmutivka.
Forecasting operations around Bakhmut is either very easy or very hard. Why? We believe that the decision to maintain a Ukrainian presence in the city is purely based on political and not military considerations. It is thus difficult to predict what Zelensky will decide. On the other hand, with a clear political commitment to defend the city, Ukrainians can presumably rely on reinforcements to stall Russian attacks in the city and on its flanks. Nevertheless, Russians will likely progress in the northern parts of the village, while their advances in the eastern parts have probably culminated. We continue to maintain that Russian attacks towards Ivanivske lost steam. They are unlikely to progress in the southwestern sector. Based on last week’s comments by Ukraine’s top military officials, Ukrainians are unlikely to leave Bakhmut this week.
It is unlikely that Russians will capture Vasyukivka and Rozdolivka next week, as the emphasis is clearly on taking over Bakhmut.
We do not foresee any major changes in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast. Positional attacks will almost certainly continue. It is also possible that Russians will make some territorial gains, but a sizable Russian offensive in this part of Ukraine is highly unlikely to happen next week.
The same pertains to the Kherson Oblast. River infiltration operations from both sides will continue, but without an impact on the frontline. Russians will continue to strike civilian areas north of the Dnipro River.
We expect no changes in the posture of the Belarusian Armed Forces (BAF) and Russian units deployed to Belarus. Chances are remote that Russians will attack Ukraine from Belarus next week.