UA-69458566-1

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 28, 2023

Kateryna Stepanenko, Riley Bailey, Grace Mappes, Nicole Wolkov, and Fredrick W. Kagan

May 28, 2023, 3pm ET

Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.

Click here to access ISW’s archive of interactive time-lapse maps of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These maps complement the static control-of-terrain map that ISW produces daily by showing a dynamic frontline. ISW will update this time-lapse map archive monthly.

Note: The data cutoff for this product was 12pm ET on May 28. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the May 29 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Russian forces conducted the largest Shahed drone strike against Ukraine since the start of the war overnight on May 27-28. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces launched 59 Shahed-131/136 drones, of which Ukrainian forces shot down 58.[1] Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat characterized this strike as the largest drone strike since the start of the war and stated that Russian forces chiefly targeted Kyiv.[2] Zhytomyr Oblast Head Vitaliy Bunechko reported that Russian drones struck an unspecified infrastructure facility in the oblast.[3] The Russian allocation of aerial munitions to targeting Kyiv rather than prioritizing infrastructure or military facilities continues to constrain this limited Russian air campaign’s ability to meaningfully degrade Ukrainian offensive capabilities for the upcoming counteroffensive, as ISW has previously assessed.[4]

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that the Russian relief in place operation in Bakhmut may continue past his initial June 1 deadline and last until June 5. Prigozhin stated on May 28 that Wagner’s withdrawal from the city may take a few more days because Wagner is not able to transfer all equipment in good condition by June 1.[5] Prigozhin stated that Wagner forces intend to fully withdraw from Bakhmut to rear field camps by June 5.[6] The Washington Post reported on May 28 that Ukrainian personnel in the Bakhmut area have observed Wagner forces leaving Bakhmut City itself and regular Russian personnel taking responsibility for Wagner’s previous positions in the city.[7] The Ukrainian personnel reportedly stated that they cannot confirm that regular Russian forces are replacing Wagner throughout Bakhmut City, however.[8] Russian sources amplified footage on May 27 and 28 purporting to show elements of the ”Nevsky” volunteer battalion and the irregular 1st ”Wolves” Sabotage and Reconnaissance Brigade operating on the flanks in the Bakhmut area.[9] ISW has previously assessed that the “Wolves” Sabotage and Reconnaissance Brigade was operating in the Avdiivka area, further suggesting that Russian forces may be transferring irregular forces and Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) elements from around Avdiivka to the Bakhmut area.[10] ISW previously assessed that the Russian transfer of these elements to Bakhmut may decrease the tempo of Russian offensive operations on the Avdiivka-Donetsk City front.[11]

The tempo of Russian operations around Bakhmut remains notably low. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on May 28 that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Orikhovo-Vasylivka (11km northwest of Bakhmut), west of Khromove (immediately west of Bakhmut), and in the direction of Ivanivske (6k west of Bakhmut).[12] Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty reported on May 28 that only one combat clash occurred near Bakhmut City in the past 24 hours.[13] Geolocated footage published on May 28 indicates that Russian forces made marginal gains west of Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut).[14] Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces are counterattacking west of Klishchiivka but that Ukrainian forces maintain their current positions in the area.[15] A Russian source claimed that Ukrainian forces continued counterattacks near Orikhovo-Vasylivka on May 27, where Russian sources claimed Ukrainian forces advanced up to one kilometer on May 26.[16] Ukrainian personnel in the Bakhmut area reportedly expressed optimism that the decreased tempo of Russian operations around Bakhmut may facilitate further limited and localized Ukrainian counterattacks.[17] ISW previously assessed that the decreased tempo of Russian offensive operations in the Bakhmut area and the ongoing relief in place operation are likely providing Ukrainian forces in the area the initiative to launch a new round of operations around the city if they so choose.[18]

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin appears to have again indirectly undermined Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authority and regime. Prigozhin responded to a journalist’s question about Russian state media banning any discussions about Wagner forces, stating that unnamed Russian bureaucrats will only benefit from such censorship in the near term of one to three months before the Russian people will push back and start hating the bureaucrats.[19] Prigozhin stated that Russian officials would have been able to enjoy their historic ability to censor Russian society if Russia had not started the war in Ukraine. Prigozhin then gave advice to an unnamed official: “If you are starting a war, please have character, will, and steel balls - and only then you will be able to achieve something.” Prigozhin implied that accomplishing real achievements would let the official avoid lying about the construction of new buildings, metro stations, and bridges in an effort to look good. Prigozhin notably shifted the discussion from talking about unnamed Russian officials to directly addressing a single man. Prigozhin’s comments are likely targeted at Putin whom the Russian state media has routinely portrayed as a leader minutely involved with small infrastructure projects and the lives of ordinary Russian people. Putin used to host annual hours-long “Direct Line” press conferences with constituents in which he often responded to inquiries that are best suited for local governments, for example.[20]

Prigozhin may be attacking Putin for failing to give Prigozhin some promised reward for seizing Bakhmut. Prigozhin’s previous attack on Putin’s character occurred on May 9 – a symbolic holiday that Putin may have wanted to use to portray Russia’s claimed victory in Bakhmut as an achievement equivalent to Soviet Union’s drive on Berlin in 1945.[21] Kremlin state media compared the seizure of Bakhmut city to the Soviet victory in Berlin on May 21, which likely indicates that the Kremlin was preparing to associate the victory in Bakhmut with Victory Day.[22] Prigozhin claimed that Wagner had effectively captured Bakhmut by May 10 and cleared the city by May 20, and attempted to blame the delay in Wagner’s capture of the city on the Russian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD’s) withholding of ammunition.[23] Prigozhin also claimed that his ”Bakhmut meatgrinder” offensive operation killed half of the Ukrainian army, a statement that Russian ultranationalist Igor Girkin declared to be false.[24] Prigozhin also claimed that Wagner opened a springboard for further offensive operations in Donbas and sarcastically noted that Russian regular forces subordinated under the Russian MoD will be able to reach the Dnipro River, capture the territories of the four annexed regions, and capture Ukrainian strongholds west and north of Bakhmut.

Prigozhin’s jabs at Putin and the Russian MoD - in combination with his bragging about Wagner’s accomplishments – may suggest that Prigozhin is frustrated that he did not receive some promised compensation for his victory in the Battle for Bakhmut. The Russian MoD may have deliberately sabotaged Prigozhin days or weeks prior to May 9th to prevent Wagner from capturing the remaining few blocks in western Bakhmut before Victory Day, as Prigozhin suggests. Putin may have deliberately overlooked such MoD sabotage efforts to avoid having to fulfill whatever promise Prigozhin thinks Putin had made to him. Prigozhin has previously stated that if he was given 200,000 personnel, Wagner would have made further great advances on the frontlines.[25] Prigozhin’s May 28 statement and his previous behavior may indicate that he had envisioned expanding Wagner at the expense of Russian conventional forces or replacing Russian military officials with Wagner-affiliated personnel.[26] ISW previously assessed that Putin is a risk averse actor who is concerned over the health of his regime and thus unlikely to fully satisfy Prigozhin’s radical demands.[27]

The Wagner Group held a reportedly illegal pro-Wagner rally in Yekaterinburg on May 28 despite the reported banning of the rally by Yekaterinburg authorities. Approximately 100 to 150 cars of Wagner personnel and supporters held a procession from Yekaterinburg to a cemetery in Berezovsky, Sverdlovsk Oblast, where the supporters laid flowers at a Wagner monument.[28] Some Russian opposition sources claimed that local authorities explicitly banned Wagner from holding the rally and that Wagner held the rally in direct defiance of the ban.[29] Footage shows luxury cars participating in the procession, suggesting that some local elites may be supporting Wagner.[30] Sverdlovsk Oblast is a notable Russian defense industrial base (DIB) hub, and Russian authorities recently conducted several prominent arrests there of individuals including Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich on charges of espionage.[31] Gershkovich notably traveled to Yekaterinburg to report on Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s criticisms of the Yekaterinburg History Museum Director Igor Pushkarev.[32] Prigozhin has also notably feuded with Russian regional officials over allowing dead Wagner personnel to receive burials equivalent to those of regular Russian military personnel.[33]

Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov criticized former Russian officer and ardent nationalist Igor Girkin on May 27. Solovyov accused Girkin of discrediting the Russian military and stated that Russian authorities should have already imprisoned Girkin.[34] Solovyov complained that authorities have prosecuted other Russian milbloggers for discrediting the Russian military but have not touched Girkin. Girkin responded on May 28, noting that Solovyov is criticizing him despite his extensive military experience. Girkin highlighted that Solovyov has not criticized Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin despite Prigozhin’s criminal record and control over a “mercenary army.”[35] Rumors of an investigation into Girkin for discrediting the Russian military previously gained prominence in mid-April, during which Prigozhin may have tried to pressure Girkin and his patronage networks as part of an ongoing feud to compete for influence and patronage.[36]

Key Takeaways

  • Russian forces conducted the largest Shahed drone strike against Ukraine since the start of the war overnight on May 27-28.
  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that the Russian relief in place operation in Bakhmut may continue past his initial June 1 deadline and last until June 5.
  • The tempo of Russian operations around Bakhmut remains notably low.
  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin appears to have again indirectly undermined Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authority and regime.
  • Prigozhin may be attacking Putin for failing to give Prigozhin some promised reward for seizing Bakhmut.
  • The Wagner Group held a reportedly illegal pro-Wagner rally in Yekaterinburg on May 28 despite the reported banning of the rally by Yekaterinburg authorities.
  • Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov criticized former Russian officer and ardent nationalist Igor Girkin on May 27.
  • Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks northeast of Kupyansk and along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
  • Russian forces conducted limited offensive operations along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City front.
  • Russian forces continued to fire on areas in Southern Ukraine.
  • The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) asserted that Russia is now demanding that Russian citizens make additional sacrifices to support the war effort.
  • Russian occupation officials continue to forcibly deport Ukrainian children to Russia under the guise of summer camps.

 

We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because these activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and the Ukrainian population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

  • Russian Main Effort – Eastern Ukraine (comprised of two subordinate main efforts)
  • Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1 – Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and push westward into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and encircle northern Donetsk Oblast
  • Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2 – Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
  • Russian Supporting Effort – Southern Axis
  • Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
  • Activities in Russian-occupied areas

Russian Main Effort – Eastern Ukraine

Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1 – Luhansk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and push westward into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and northern Donetsk Oblast)

Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks northeast of Kupyansk and along the Svatove-Kreminna line on May 28. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Masyutivka (13km northeast of Kupyansk) and did not conduct operations in the Kreminna area.[37] Russian Western Group of Forces (Western Military District) Spokesperson Sergei Zybinsky claimed that assault units of the 6th Combined Arms Army (Western Military District) destroyed Ukrainian positions near Masyutivka.[38] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces advanced from Masyutivka and expanded their zone of control in the area, although ISW has still not seen visual confirmation of these advances nor confirmation that Russian forces control Masyutivka.[39] A Ukrainian serviceman serving near Kreminna reported that Russian forces regularly conduct unsuccessful ground attacks and fire prohibited gas cylinders on Ukrainian positions near Kreminna.[40] A Russian news aggregator claimed that Russian forces advanced southeast of Bilohorivka (10km south of Kremmina), while a milblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful operations near the settlement.[41] ISW has not seen visual confirmation supporting a Russian advance near Bilohorivka.

 

Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2 – Donetsk Oblast (Russian Objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)

Click here to read ISW’s new retrospective analysis on the Battle for Bakhmut.

See topline text for Bakhmut.

Russian forces continued limited offensive operations along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City front on May 28. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Sieverne (6km west of Avdiivka), Pervomaiske (11km southwest of Avdiivka), and Marinka (27km southwest of Avdiivka).[42] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces regained lost positions south of Pervomaiske but sustained losses while doing so.[43] The milblogger claimed that positional battles occurred near Vodyane (7km southwest of Avdiivka).[44] The Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) People’s Militia published footage on May 28 purporting to show elements of the DNR 87th Regiment repelling a Ukrainian counterattack on the outskirts of Avdiivka on an unspecified date.[45] A Russian source claimed that Russian forces attacked in the direction of Novokalynove (13km north of Avdiivka) and Krasnohorivka (8km north of Avdiivka) and repelled a Ukrainian counterattack near the H-20 (Donetsk City to Kostyantynivka) highway on May 27.[46]

Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast on May 28.[47]

 

Russian Supporting Effort – Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)

A Russian source claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted a failed raid across the Dnipro River on May 28. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces detected and fired on Ukrainian forces as they prepared to cross the Dnipro River near the Antonivsky Bridge.[48] This report is consistent with reports of periodic Ukrainian raids across the Dnipro River.[49]

Russian forces continued to fire on areas in southern Ukraine on May 28. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported that Ukrainian forces shot down two Shahed drones over Mykolaiv and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts and struck Beryslav, Kherson Oblast, with glide bombs.[50] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted airstrikes against Chervone, Zaporizhia Oblast, and Zmiivka, Kherson Oblast.[51] Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported that Russian artillery units conducted 70 fire missions targeting Kherson City and its environs.[52]

Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)

A local Sakha Republic outlet indicated that the regional “Bootur-1” volunteer battalion is part of the BARS-2 (Russian Combat Reserve) volunteer battalion.[53] Sakha Republic established the Bootur-1 volunteer battalion with 100 volunteers in late July 2022 under the command of local community member Alexander Kolesov.[54] About 90 volunteers from the Bootur-1 battalion deployed to the frontlines near Kharkiv City in July-August 2022, where the unit merged with the BARS-2 battalion.[55]

The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) assessed that Russia is now demanding that Russian citizens make additional sacrifices to support the war effort.[56] The UK MoD reported that Russian state media and business groups have petitioned the Russian Ministry of Economy to authorize a six-day work week for workers without offering additional pay in order to satisfy the demands of the wartime industrial complex. The UK MoD added that Kremlin propagandist Margarita Simonyan noted that citizens should work for two extra hours in munitions factories after their daytime jobs.[57]

Activities in Russian-occupied areas (Russian objective: Consolidate administrative control of annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)

Russian occupation officials continue to forcibly deport Ukrainian children to Russia under the guise of summer camp programs. Ukrainian Luhansk Oblast Military Administration Head Artem Lusohor reported that Russian occupation authorities announced the creation of a vacation summer camp in Russia for Ukrainian children from Russian-occupied Shchastia Raion in Luhansk Oblast.[58] ISW has previously reported on Russian occupation authorities using children’s camps as a guise to forcibly deport Ukrainian children to Russia.[59]

The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported that Russian occupation officials plan to open regional “Defenders of the Fatherland” branches in June that will offer a Russian state support fund for participants of the “special military operation.”[60] The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported that Russian occupation officials will attempt to use these regional offices to collect data on residents to support expanding United Russia’s popularity in occupied Ukraine.

Significant activity in Belarus (ISW assesses that a Russian or Belarusian attack into northern Ukraine is extraordinarily unlikely).

Belarusian opposition leader Valery Tsepkalo claimed on May 27 that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was rushed to a Moscow hospital following a closed-door meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.[61] Belarusian opposition outlet the Hajun Project stated that it could not confirm Tsepkalo’s claims, however, and stated that Lukashenko returned to Minsk from Moscow on May 25.[62]

The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces continue to arrive in Belarus to train before deploying to Ukraine.[63]

ISW will continue to report daily observed Russian and Belarusian military activity in Belarus, but these are not indicators that Russian and Belarusian forces are preparing for an imminent attack on Ukraine from Belarus. ISW will revise this text and its assessment if it observes any unambiguous indicators that Russia or Belarus is preparing to attack northern Ukraine.

Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update.



[2] https://armyinform dot com.ua/2023/05/28/taktyka-voroga-zalyshayetsya-nezminnoyu-vin-namagayetsya-zavdavaty-udariv-po-obyektah-krytychnoyi-infrastruktury-yurij-ignat/

[13] https://armyinform dot com.ua/2023/05/28/na-bahmutskomu-napryamku-intensyvnist-vorozhyh-atak-znachno-znyzylasya-sergij-cherevatyj/

[20] http://en.kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/65973

[25] https://meduza dot io/feature/2023/05/24/rodinu-lyublyu-putina-slushayus-shoygu-na-mylo-voevat-budem-dalshe   

[30] https://t.me/astrapress/28144; https://www.e1 dot ru/text/politics/2023/05/28/72345197/

[34] https://t.me/strelkovii/5097 ; https://www.pravda dot ru/news/society/1838873-igor_strelkov/

[40] https://suspilne dot media/487456-skidaut-z-drona-baloni-iz-gazom-oficer-rozpoviv-ak-rosiani-atakuut-na-kreminskomu-napramku/

[53] https://1sn dot ru/v-yakutske-torzestvenno-vstretili-geroya-rossii-aleksandra-kolesova

[54] https://yakutia-daily dot ru/komandir-otryada-bootur-o-tom-kak-vyvel-iz-pod-ognya-50-bojczov-prosbe-k-bogu-i-boevom-bratstve/?read

[55] https://ysia dot ru/komandir-dobrovolcheskogo-otryada-bootur-vse-nashi-bojtsy-stoyali-ochen-stojko-i-hrabro/

[60] https://sprotyv.mod.gov dot ua/rosiyany-namagayutsya-informatsijno-vplyvaty-na-meshkantsiv-tot/

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 27, 2023

 Kateryna Stepanenko, Riley Bailey, Grace Mappes, and Fredrick W. Kagan


May 27, 2023, 6:30pm ET

Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.

Click here to access ISW’s archive of interactive time-lapse maps of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These maps complement the static control-of-terrain map that ISW produces daily by showing a dynamic frontline. ISW will update this time-lapse map archive monthly.

Note: The data cutoff for this product was 1pm ET on May 27. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the May 28 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Wagner Group mercenaries appear to be withdrawing from Bakhmut city to reconstitute and regroup in the rear as Russian offensive operations decrease in and around the city. Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian offensive operations had dramatically decreased to two skirmishes in the Bakhmut direction, and Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar attributed this decrease to the Russian relief-in-place and regrouping of forces in the area.[1] The Ukrainian General Staff reported on May 27 that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations west of Khromove (immediately west of Bakhmut) and in the direction of Predtechyne (15km southwest of Bakhmut).[2] Malyar stated that Ukrainian forces hold dominant elevated positions north and south of Bakhmut and that Ukrainian forces stopped combat operations on May 26 and 27 to fulfill other unspecified tasks.[3] Malyar also stated that Ukrainian forces continue to control positions in the southwestern outskirts of Bakhmut City.[4] A prominent Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces are not conducting active operations aimed at regaining positions in Bakhmut City itself despite the possible continuation of localized Ukrainian counterattacks northwest and southwest of the city.[5]

Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov stated that Wagner mercenaries are withdrawing from the city of Bakhmut and are “regrouping to another three locations.”[6] Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin reiterated that Wagner forces continued to withdraw from Bakhmut city on May 27.[7] Prigozhin’s statements are likely true given the decrease in Russian offensive capabilities around Bakhmut and Ukrainian statements regarding the situation in Bakhmut.

The Russian military command may be transferring Donetsk People’s Republic’s (DNR) forces to relieve Wagner Group forces in Bakhmut city. The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) assessed that the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) forces have likely entered Bakhmut city as of May 24 and begun clearing operations.[8] ISW previously observed elements of the 132nd Separate Guard Motorized Rifle Brigade of the DNR’s 1st Army Corps operating in the Bakhmut direction after previously fighting in the Avdiivka area.[9] It is unclear at this time if elements of the 132nd Brigade are operating inside of the city, but DNR Head Denis Pushilin previously raised the DNR flag in Bakhmut - which likely indicates that the DNR forces are assuming control over Bakhmut.[10] Pushilin also indicated that DNR elements were clearing the city as of May 23.[11]

The Russian transfer of DNR elements to Bakhmut may decrease the tempo of Russian offensive operations on the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line. ISW previously assessed that the Russian military command has heavily committed a variety of DNR elements to the Avdiivka-Donetsk City frontline.[12] Russian attacks around Avdiivka-Donetsk City area appear to have been decreasing in recent days, which may be connected to the transfer of DNR forces to Bakhmut. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on May 27 that Russian forces conducted 13 combat operations in eastern Ukraine, of which seven attacks were in the Marinka area (about 19km west from Donetsk City).[13] The Ukrainian General Staff previously reported that Russian forces attacked 20 times in Marinka alone on the day Wagner forces declared victory over Bakhmut on May 20.[14] The Russian offensives around Avdiivka have been steadily decreasing since at least April 8 after the Russian military command attempted to intensify offensive operations near the settlement in mid-March, and the transfer of DNR units to Bakhmut may further slow Russian efforts on the Avdiivka-Donetsk City frontline.[15] The Russian military command may be transferring DNR units operating in the well-defended Avdiivka-Donetsk City area to avoid making other directions vulnerable or to ensure quick reinforcements for Bakhmut city.

The Russian military command appears to be reinforcing Bakhmut’s flanks with regular formations, however. The UK MoD assessed that elements of the 31st Brigade of the Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) have likely transferred from the Svatove-Kreminna line to reinforce Bakhmut’s flanks in recent weeks.[16] Ukrainian military officials previously reported that Russian forces are transferring unspecified VDV, motorized rifle, and special forces units to the Bakhmut direction after successful Ukrainian counterattacks on Bakhmut‘s flanks.[17] ISW also observed Cossack units operating in Soledar, although these units likely were previously operating in the area.[18]

Former Russian officer and ardent nationalist Igor Girkin accused Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin of planning a coup against the current Russian leadership. Girkin openly accused Prigozhin of planning to conduct a coup amid the upcoming Ukrainian counteroffensive and of continuously violating Russian censorship laws against the discreditation of the Russian army and military command.[19] Girkin warned of “mutiny” if Prigozhin is “allowed” to lead the Wagner Group. Girkin noted that Prigozhin ordered for the Wagner forces to withdraw to the Wagner bases deep inside of Russia on the eve of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. He also claimed that Wagner personnel had never taken oaths promising not to engage in combat against Russia or its military.[20] Prigozhin stated on May 27 that Wagner will decide later on if it will fight in Ukraine or in another country, which indicates that Prigozhin retains the ability to command his own army outside of the formal Russian military command structure.[21] Girkin also recently criticized the Russian military command for failing to address Prigozhin’s open and vulgar conflict with the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), even warning that Prigozhin will “devour” the Russian military officials who “bet” in his favor as he seeks to increase his political power.[22] A member of Girkin’s Angry Patriots Club claimed that the conflict between Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Prigozhin is developing into a conflict between the Russian military and Wagner forces but that Putin is not paying attention.[23] Girkin’s and his associates’ criticisms are largely consistent with Prigozhin’s continued prioritization of his own personal aims over those of the Russian Ministry of Defense and the broader operational situation near Bakhmut.[24] Prigozhin’s decision to withdraw his forces from Bakhmut and, apparently, from active combat on the eve of the Ukrainian counter-offensive is strategically questionable.

Ukrainian officials denied Western reporting that suggested that a Chinese diplomat expressed interest in a negotiated ceasefire in Ukraine amidst the likely renewal of Russia’s information campaign surrounding negotiations. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated on May 27 that he contacted his European counterparts who recently met with Chinese Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui and that they denied that Li had expressed interest in a ceasefire that would see Russia retain control of occupied territories, as a May 26 Wall Street Journal report suggested.[25] Li Hui visited Moscow on May 26 reportedly to discuss a negotiated settlement to Russia’s war in Ukraine, a visit that the Kremlin likely used to attempt to renew a recurring information operation falsely claiming that Russia is open to serious negotiations.[26] The Kremlin previously intensified this information operation in December 2022 to attempt to delay the provision of Western tanks and other advanced military equipment to Ukraine in order to set conditions for Russia’s 2023 winter-spring offensive.[27] The Kremlin is likely reintroducing the information operation intending to weaken Western willingness to send critical security assistance to Ukraine ahead of potential Ukrainian counteroffensive operations.

The Kremlin has established a pattern in this information operation in which some Russian officials express feigned interest in negotiations while other Russian officials simultaneously reiterate Putin’s maximalist goals for the war in Ukraine.[28] Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin stated on May 26 that the conditions for a ”comprehensive, just and lasting peace” in Ukraine include the cessation of hostilities by Ukrainian forces, the end of Western security assistance to Ukraine, the Ukrainian return to a “neutral non-aligned status,” the explicit Ukrainian refusal to join NATO and the EU, and the recognition of Russia’s annexation of occupied territories in Ukraine.[29] Galuzin’s reiteration of Russia’s maximalist objectives coincide with Putin’s alleged expression of Russian interest in negotiations during a phone call with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva on May 26.[30]

Key Takeaways

  • Wagner Group mercenaries appear to be withdrawing from Bakhmut city to reconstitute and regroup in the rear as Russian offensive operations decrease in and around the city.
  • The Russian military command may be transferring Donetsk People’s Republic’s (DNR) forces to relieve Wagner Group forces in Bakhmut city.
  • The Russian transfer of DNR elements to Bakhmut may decrease the tempo of Russian offensive operations on the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line.
  • The Russian military command appears to be reinforcing Bakhmut’s flanks with regular formations, however.
  • Former Russian officer and ardent nationalist Igor Girkin accused Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin of planning a coup against the current Russian leadership.
  • Ukrainian officials denied Western reporting that suggested that a Chinese diplomat expressed interest in a negotiated ceasefire in Ukraine amidst the likely renewal of Russia’s information campaign surrounding negotiations.
  • Russian forces continued limited offensive operations northeast of Kupyansk and south of Kreminna.
  • Russian forces continued to launch unsuccessful offensive operations on the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line.
  • Ukrainian forces continued to strike rear logistics nodes in southern Zaporizhia oblast.
  • The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) warned on May 26 that Russian forces are preparing to conduct large scale provocations to create radiological danger at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).
  • The Russian Ministry of Justice registered the civil society group “Council of Mothers of Wives” as a foreign agent on May 26, likely to curb resistance to ongoing and future Russian force generation efforts.
  • Russian authorities are escalating efforts to portray Russia as a safe guardian of Ukrainian children.

We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because these activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and the Ukrainian population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

  • Russian Main Effort – Eastern Ukraine (comprised of two subordinate main efforts)
  • Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1 – Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and push westward into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and encircle northern Donetsk Oblast
  • Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2 – Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
  • Russian Supporting Effort – Southern Axis
  • Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
  • Activities in Russian-occupied areas

Russian Main Effort – Eastern Ukraine

Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1 – Luhansk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and push westward into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and northern Donetsk Oblast)

Russian forces continued limited offensive operations northeast of Kupyansk and south of Kreminna on May 27. Geolocated footage published on May 26 indicates that Russian forces likely advanced northwest of Bilohorivka, Luhansk Oblast (12km south of Kreminna).[31] The Ukrainian General Staff reported on May 27 that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Bilohorivka and Masyutivka, Kharkiv Oblast (13km northeast of Kupyansk).[32] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces recaptured several recently lost positions southeast of Bilohorivka, although ISW has not observed visual confirmation of this claim.[33] Another Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces advanced up to two kilometers from Masyutivka, although ISW has not seen visual confirmation of these advances nor confirmation that Russian forces control Masyutivka.[34] The milblogger claimed that fighting is ongoing near Dvorichna (16km northeast of Kupyansk) and Synkivka (8km northeast of Kupyansk).[35] Russian Western Grouping of Forces (Western Military District) Spokesperson Sergey Zybinsky claimed that Russian forces also conducted offensive operations near Movchanove (10km northeast of Kupyansk) and destroyed a Ukrainian platoon in the area.[36]

Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2 – Donetsk Oblast (Russian Objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)

Click here to read ISW’s new retrospective analysis on the Battle for Bakhmut.

See topline text for Bakhmut.

Russian forces continued to launch unsuccessful offensive operations on the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line on May 27. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults on Pervomaiske and Sieverne within 12km west of Avdiivka, and seven attacks on Marinka (about 20km southwest of Donetsk City).[37] A Kremlin-affiliated milblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted a reconnaissance-in-force in the Novokalynove direction (about 12km north of Avdiivka) from Krasnohorivka (approximately 9km north of Avdiivka).[38] The milblogger also claimed that Russian forces repelled a Ukrainian counterattack across the H20 highway from Novokalynove. Another Kremlin-affiliated milblogger stated that Russian forces are continuing assaults in Marinka and unsuccessfully conducted offensive operations in Krasnohorivka (about 19km west from Donetsk City).[39] The Donetsk People’s Republic claimed that the 10th Separate Tank Battalion of the 1st Army Corps is operating in the Avdiivka direction.[40] Russian sources also indicated that elements of the 110th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade (formerly the 100th Brigade, 1st Army Corps) are operating in the Nevelske direction (approximately 18km northwest of Donetsk City).[41]

Russian forces did not conduct offensive operations southwest of Donetsk City on May 27 and continued launching artillery and air strikes at Ukrainian positions in the area.[42] A Russian milblogger amplified video footage reportedly showing elements of the Russian 37th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade of the 36th Combined Arms Army (Eastern Military District) shelling Ukrainian positions in the Vuhledar direction.[43] The Ukrainian General Staff retroactively reported that unspecified Russian airborne units participated in an attack on Vuhledar in February 2023 and suffered heavy losses.[44]

Russian sources amplified footage on May 26 purporting to show the aftermath of a Ukrainian strike at the Azovstal Metallurgical Combine in Mariupol with two long-range missiles.[45] Russian sources also claimed that Russian air defenses shot down one of the two missiles.[46]

Russian Supporting Effort – Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)

Russian forces continued to target southern Ukraine with artillery, drone, and air strikes on May 27.[47] The Ukrainian Southern Operational Command reported that Russian forces conducted airstrikes against Beryslav Raion, Kherson Oblast, and targeted Mykolaiv Oblast with Shahed drones.[48] Russian sources claimed that Russian forces struck the Obvodna rail station in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast on May 26.[49] The Ukrainian Southern Operational Command reported on May 27 that Russian forces’ primary tactic in southern Ukraine is counterbattery fire.[50]

Ukrainian forces continued to strike rear logistical nodes in Zaporizhia Oblast on May 27. Russian and Ukrainian sources reported that Ukrainian forces struck Polohy and Berdyansk, Zaporizhia Oblast on May 27.[51] Some Russian sources claimed that Russian air defenses intercepted Ukrainian Storm Shadow missiles targeting Berdyansk on May 26, on which ISW has recently reported.[52]

The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) warned on May 26 that Russian forces are preparing to conduct large scale provocations to create radiological danger at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).[53] The GUR published audio intercepts on May 27 in which Russian military personnel claimed that unknown drones dropped chemical weapons in Enerhodar.[54] The GUR stated that Russia intends to falsely blame Ukraine for the attacks and aims to undermine the coming Ukrainian counteroffensive.[55] ISW has no independent confirmation that Russia is preparing to conduct a nuclear or chemical false flag attack in occupied Zaporizhia Oblast, but GUR’s reports are consistent with longstanding debunked Kremlin information operations. ISW has notably reported on prior Kremlin efforts to set conditions for false flag attacks as pretexts for the 2022 full scale invasion of Ukraine and to undermine Western support for Ukraine, and US officials have previously debunked claims that Ukraine was preparing to conduct chemical attacks.[56] The Kremlin has also previously accused Syrian opposition groups of conducting chemical attacks that the Syrian government had actually conducted themselves.[57]

The Russian MoD claimed that the “Ivan Khurs” Yury Ivanov-class intelligence vessel returned to port at Sevastopol on May 26 to resupply following the claimed May 24 attack against the vessel.[58]

Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)

The Russian Ministry of Justice registered the civil society group “Council of Mothers of Wives” as a foreign agent on May 26, likely to curb resistance to ongoing and future Russian force generation efforts.[59] The “Council of Mothers and Wives” routinely advocated for their relatives serving in the Russian military by reaching out to local officials following the start of partial mobilization in late September 2022.[60] Putin previously tried to dull the informational impact of the group’s public criticism of mobilization in late November 2022 by attending a meeting with hand-picked women in the Russian political sphere who were falsely presented as mothers of mobilized personnel.[61] The added legal pressure on the group is likely meant to allow Russian officials to suppress the group’s activities in the event of renewed heightened public resistance to Russian force generation efforts.

Russian officials reportedly confirmed that Russian conscripts are operating near the Ukrainian border as of May 27. The Yaroslavl Oblast government announced on May 27 that Russian conscripts perform tasks in various military units, including those deployed near the Russian border with Ukraine.[62] ISW assesses that the Kremlin is unlikely to deploy conscripts to Ukraine itself due to the potential for social backlash reminiscent of the domestic response to conscripts’ deployment to Ukraine earlier in the full-scale invasion.[63]

Russian convict recruits reportedly continue to desert their positions in frontline areas of Ukraine. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that 20 convict recruits who recently arrived to strengthen Russian units near Svatove, Luhansk Oblast stole a Russian military vehicle and fled their positions on May 25.[64] Russian sources reported on May 26 that Russian authorities are searching for 39-armed convict recruits who deserted their positions near Lysychansk, Luhansk Oblast.[65]

Russian arms manufacturer Kalashnikov Group is launching a new division for producing drones.[66] Kalashnikov Group President Alan Lushnikov announced on May 26 that the company intends to significantly increase Russia’s production of reconnaissance and combat drones by 2024.[67]

Russian space agency Roscosmos is reportedly recruiting its own employees to form a volunteer battalion. Russian and social media sources amplified an advertisement for the “Uran” volunteer battalion that reportedly appeared on the internal Roscosmos website, which ostensibly only Roscosmos employees can access.[68] The possible recruitment of highly educated and likely limited specialists in the Russian aerospace field suggests that Russian officials may be prioritizing immediate force generation requirements over long-term human capital needs.

Activities in Russian-occupied areas (Russian objective: Consolidate administrative control of annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)

Russian authorities are escalating efforts to portray Russia as a safe guardian of Ukrainian children. Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Head Leonid Pasechnik announced the formation of a Russian State Duma Committee dedicated to prosecuting claimed Ukrainian crimes against children of Donbas, including the “illegal export” of Ukrainian children – whose families are presumably in Russia – to other countries.[69] Ukrainian Minister for the Reintegration of Occupied Territories Iryna Vereshchuk announced on May 26 that Russia returned a child who had been deported from Mariupol following Russian occupation of the city.[70]

The Kherson Oblast administration announced further efforts likely aimed at stymieing Ukrainian partisan activity and concealing Russian military movements. Kherson Oblast occupation administration head Vladimir Saldo announced the establishment of a curfew for all of the occupied Kherson Oblast as of May 25.[71] The curfew is between 23:00pm and 04:00am nightly for areas more than 30 kilometers from the east (right) bank of the Dnipro River and 21:00pm to 06:00am for areas within 30 kilometers of the riverbank.[72]

Significant activity in Belarus (ISW assesses that a Russian or Belarusian attack into northern Ukraine is extraordinarily unlikely and has thus restructured this section of the update. It will no longer include counter-indicators for such an offensive.)

The Belarusian Ministry of Defense (MoD) reported that Belarusian territorial troops are continuing to train to respond to sabotage and reconnaissance groups.[73]

ISW will continue to report daily observed Russian and Belarusian military activity in Belarus, but these are not indicators that Russian and Belarusian forces are preparing for an imminent attack on Ukraine from Belarus. ISW will revise this text and its assessment if it observes any unambiguous indicators that Russia or Belarus is preparing to attack northern Ukraine.

Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update.




[1] https://t.me/annamaliar/798https://t.me/annamaliar/797; https://suspilne dot media/488617-rosia-gotue-udar-po-zaporizkij-aes-predstavniki-rdk-ta-legionu-svoboda-rosii-lisautsa-v-rf-458-den-vijni-onlajn/?anchor=live_1685172293&utm_source=copylink&utm_medium=ps

[17] https://armyinform dot com.ua/2023/05/20/na-bahmutskomu-napryamku-znyshheno-13-polovyh-skladiv-iz-boyeprypasamy-okupantiv-sergij-cherevatyj/

[29] https://t.me/rusbrief/120772https://tass dot ru/politika/17858337; https://meduza dot io/news/2023/05/27/mid-rf-nazval-usloviya-dlya-dostizheniya-mira-ukraina

[30] http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/71213

[53] https://gur dot gov.ua/content/okupanty-hotuiut-masshtabni-provokatsii-zi-stvorennia-oseredku-radiatsiinoi-nebezpeky.html

[54] https://gur dot gov.ua/content/spetssluzhby-rf-rozpochaly-vtiliuvaty-provokatsiiu-iz-khimichnoiu-zbroieiu.html

[55] https://gur dot gov.ua/content/spetssluzhby-rf-rozpochaly-vtiliuvaty-provokatsiiu-iz-khimichnoiu-zbroieiu.html; https://gur dot gov.ua/content/okupanty-hotuiut-masshtabni-provokatsii-zi-stvorennia-oseredku-radiatsiinoi-nebezpeky.html ;

[65] https://meduza dot io/news/2023/05/26/baza-i-161-ru-v-rostovskoy-oblasti-ischut-voennyh-sbezhavshih-iz-samoprovozglashennoy-lnr; https://161 dot ru/text/criminal/2023/05/26/72341738/; https://t.me/bazabazon/18003

[66] https://t.me/severrealii/17029https://t.me/radiosvoboda/41531; https://www.gazeta dot ru/army/news/2023/05/26/20527346.shtml; https://iz dot ru/1518873/2023-05-26/kalashnikov-soobshchil-o-kratnom-narashchivanii-proizvodstva-dronov

[67] https://t.me/severrealii/17029https://t.me/radiosvoboda/41531; https://www.gazeta dot ru/army/news/2023/05/26/20527346.shtml; https://iz dot ru/1518873/2023-05-26/kalashnikov-soobshchil-o-kratnom-narashchivanii-proizvodstva-dronov

[70] https://suspilne dot media/488617-rosia-gotue-udar-po-zaporizkij-aes-predstavniki-rdk-ta-legionu-svoboda-rosii-lisautsa-v-rf-458-den-vijni-onlajn/?anchor=live_1685199963&utm_source=copylink&utm_medium=ps