Thursday, March 31, 2022

The Risks of a Russian Ceasefire Offer


Nataliya Bugayova

Ukraine may soon face a new threat in this war—Russia’s ceasefire offer. It seems odd to say that a ceasefire is a threat. Once war begins, the default position in the West is to seize the earliest opportunity to “stop the fighting.” But while some ceasefires lead to peace, others lead to more war—as the Russians have repeatedly shown. The frontlines frozen in a ceasefire set the conditions for the negotiations and reconstruction that follow. They also set conditions for future conflict. Those seeking enduring peace in Ukraine must resist the temptation to accept a Russian ceasefire offer that sets conditions for renewed conflict on Russia’s terms or gives Russia leverage on Ukraine with which to force concessions and surrenders.

Russia is on the ropes in Ukraine today. It has not achieved any of Putin’s central objectives. The Russian army is suffering damage that will take years to repair if repair is even possible. Ukrainian forces are conducting counteroffensive operations, steadily pushing the Russians back from their positions around Kyiv and Kharkiv. A ceasefire can stop the fighting, for a time, but it will also give Moscow a chance to reset and prepare to renew the fighting on more advantageous terms. Vladimir Putin has used this approach successfully in Syria and Ukraine since 2014. He will likely try to use it again soon, and we must recognize it for what it is—a trap.

Properly supported, the Ukrainians may well be able to reclaim much of their territory from the exhausted and demoralized Russian forces. The West must back Kyiv in that endeavor, providing military aid that Ukraine needs and disregarding Russian ceasefire offers meant to freeze the battlefield in what is likely close to the best configuration Putin can hope for and in a way that supports maximalist Russian “peace” demands that have only one goal—stripping Ukraine of its sovereignty.

Any consideration of a Russian ceasefire offer must take account of six primary risks.

Putin’s intentions toward Ukraine have not changed and likely never will. Putin’s goals in Ukraine always exceeded countering NATO or forcing Ukraine into neutrality. Putin has made it clear in word and action over the past 20 years that he will accept nothing less than Russian control over Ukraine. He explicitly said that Ukraine “never had its own statehood” in advance of the Feb 24 invasion.[1] There is no room for an independent Ukraine in Putin’s “Russian World.”

Putin’s intent has remained constant, but his ability to act on it has varied. Ukraine has fended off Putin’s attempts to control Ukraine for years: by denying the Kremlin’s proxies the ability to dominate Ukraine’s politics in 2004 and 2013; by halting Russia’s offensive in 2014 and since refusing Putin’s manipulative peace frameworks; and now by defeating the first phase of Russia’s full invasion.

The Kremlin will use any ceasefire to adapt, not scale down, its ambitions to erode and ultimately destroy Ukraine’s sovereignty. We must help Ukraine ensure that any ceasefire it accepts makes it harder, not easier, for the Kremlin to resume political, economic, or military activities to deprive Ukraine of its independence.

Russia has a long history of ceasefire violations. Russia regularly violated ceasefires in Syria and framed its troop rotations as “withdrawals” to buy time for its military operations, as ISW analyzed in detail.[2]

The Kremlin has also repeatedly violated ceasefire agreements in Ukraine since 2014.[3] Russia exploited ceasefires in attempts to manipulate Ukraine in Russia-favorable peace frameworks.[4] A ceasefire with Russia can only be acceptable, therefore, if it freezes the lines in positions favorable to Ukraine. The ceasefire must reflect a Russian defeat, not a draw.

Russia would use a ceasefire to try to break the momentum of Ukraine’s Armed Forces. Ukraine has defeated Russian objectives in the first phase of this war. Russia has not achieved its explicit goals of seizing Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Odesa and changing Ukraine’s government.[5]

Ukraine is gaining the initiative and conducting limited but successful counteroffensive operations.[6] Ukraine would likely be able to prevent any consolidation of Russian gains and reclaim more of its territory with an increase in the quantity and speed of assistance from the West, including more of the advanced weapons systems needed to conduct counteroffensive operations.

A ceasefire is one of the few options Putin has available to him to interrupt Ukraine’s initiative, as well as to shift the Russian invasion off the losing trajectory it is currently on. Ukraine should seek, provided full Western support, to continue counteroffensive operations until it has reached a position and situation of its choosing at which to freeze the fighting.

Russian forces would use a ceasefire to regroup. Ukraine has forced Russia to slow and scale back some of its efforts but there is no indication that Russia has defined down its overall military objectives—despite the rhetoric about concentrating on Ukraine’s east.[7]

Russian forces are likely already regrouping and preparing to launch a new campaign. But Russian units are badly damaged and repairing them will take a long time. If the currently planned Russian push in Ukraine’s east does not quickly go Moscow’s way, Putin might offer a ceasefire to buy time to rebuild some of his units.

Russia can use a ceasefire to consolidate gains and freeze the frontline in the best configuration Putin can hope for. Make no mistake—Russia will dig in and establish a long-term military foothold in Ukraine to threaten its statehood and NATO in perpetuity if undeterred. But Ukraine’s south is the only place where Russia has made substantiative gains and even they are not solidified.

Driving Russian forces out of Ukraine, especially from the south, is critical to Ukraine’s long-term viability, given the south’s military and economic significance. Ukraine might be able to do that with proper Western support. Russian forces are militarily controlling some places, like Kherson, but they cannot yet govern them. The local population, including many Russian speakers, is challenging Russia’s rule despite Russia’s brutal efforts to force the locals into submission.[8] Ukrainian troops are also contesting Russia’s military gains in the south.[9]

A ceasefire would allow Russia to focus on consolidating its gains in the south, which would inevitably mean increased terrorizing of the local population as the Kremlin tries to establish governance and a military foothold. A ceasefire would also halt any Ukrainian military counter-offensive in the south.

The Kremlin will use a ceasefire to introduce ambiguity in the information space. The Kremlin is on the defensive in the information space domestically and globally, where Ukraine has a clear advantage. The Kremlin would use a ceasefire to put Ukraine’s forces on the defensive in the information space by blaming Ukraine for any ceasefire violations.

The Kremlin has effectively used ceasefires to muddy the diplomatic waters in the past. And the West has shown that it does not cope well with Russia-introduced ambiguity—especially in long-lasting conflicts. The Kremlin would use the appearance of ceasefire negotiations to discourage more reluctant Western countries from continuing military aid to Ukraine.

A ceasefire would give the Kremlin a breather to adjust its domestic narrative. Many Russians pushed back against even a mention of scaling down Russian objectives in Ukraine on March 29.[10] If given time, the Kremlin would likely find a way to solidify a new storyline domestically to explain the Kremlin’s failures and delays in Ukraine—and then prepare for and justify a renewed military effort to avenge its losses.

The West should resist Russian ceasefire offers that give Putin leverage on Ukraine and instead provide Ukraine with everything it needs to win as long as the Ukrainians are willing to fight. Ukraine has a chance to defeat Russia’s objectives in the second phase of this war. The West’s highest priority should be providing all the lethal aid that Ukraine needs to do so.

Specifically, the West should prioritize helping Ukraine defend its cities from Russia’s air and artillery strikes, deny Russia the ability to resupply, and increase the mobility of the Ukrainian armed forces. The priority capabilities include long and mid-range ground-based air defense systems, combat aircraft, counter-battery radars, tanks, armored vehicles, demining vehicles—in addition to an increased supply of Javelins, Stingers, and combat drones.

Faster Western assistance is critical to helping Ukrainian forces maintain their momentum and reducing the number of lives it takes to preserve Ukraine’s sovereignty.


[1] https://lenta dot ru/news/2022/02/21/state/



Russia also used a negotiated ‘green corridor’ during the battle of Illovaisk as an opportunity to massacre retreating Ukrainians soldiers.

[4]; P. 18, p. 22 -'s%20Offset%20The%20Kremlin's%20Geopolitical%20Adaptations%20Since%202014.pdf




[8];; https://hromadske dot ua/ru/posts/v-hersone-okkupanty-pytalis-razognat-mirnyj-protest-strelboj-smi-soobshayut-o-ranenyh


[10]; https://t dot me/RKadyrov_95/1690;; https://t dot me/MariaVladimirovnaZakharova/2263; https://t dot me/MariaVladimirovnaZakharova/2260


Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 31

 Mason Clark, George Barros, and Karolina Hird

March 31, 6:00 pm ET

Ukrainian forces conducted several local counterattacks around Kyiv, in northeastern Ukraine, and toward Kherson on March 31, successfully pressuring Russian forces and seeking to disrupt ongoing Russian troop rotations. Ukrainian forces northwest of Kyiv pushed Russian forces north of the E-40 highway and will likely assault Russian-held Bucha and Hostomel in the coming days. Ukrainian forces exploited limited Russian withdrawals east of Brovary to retake territory across Kyiv and Chernihiv Oblasts. Ukrainian forces likely conducted counterattacks toward Sumy in the past 24 hours as well, though ISW cannot independently confirm these reports. Finally, Ukrainian forces conducted limited counterattacks in northern Kherson Oblast. Russian forces only conducted offensive operations in Donbas and against Mariupol in the last 24 hours and did not make any major advances.

Russian efforts to redeploy damaged units from the Kyiv and Sumy axes to eastern Ukraine are unlikely to enable Russian forces to conduct major gains. Russia continued to withdraw elements of the 35th and 36th Combined Arms Armies and 76 Air Assault Division from their positions northwest of Kyiv into Belarus for refit and likely further redeployment to eastern Ukraine. However, these units are likely heavily damaged and demoralized. Feeding damaged Eastern Military District units directly into operations in eastern Ukraine—predominantly conducted by the Southern Military District—will likely prove ineffective and additionally introduce further command-and-control challenges for the Russian military. Russian forces will likely attempt to retain their current front lines around Kyiv and in northeastern Ukraine and will continue to dig in on these fronts; ISW has not seen any indicators of Russian forces fully relinquishing captured territory. However, Ukrainian counterattacks are likely disrupting Russian efforts to redeploy and refit their forces and will continue in the coming days.

Key Takeaways

  • Ukrainian forces successfully conducted local counterattacks around Kyiv, towards Sumy, and in Kherson Oblast and will likely take further territory—particularly northwest and east of Kyiv—in the coming days.
  • Russia is withdrawing elements of its damaged forces around Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy for redeployment to eastern Ukraine, but these units are unlikely to provide a decisive shift in Russian combat power.
  • Ukrainian forces continued to repel Russian assaults throughout Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, and Russian forces failed to take territory in the past 24 hours.
  • Russian forces continue to steadily advance in Mariupol.
  • Russia’s preplanned spring draft will begin on April 1 and does not appear abnormal from Russia’s typical conscription cycle. Newly drafted conscripts will not provide Russia with additional combat power for many months.
  • The Kremlin is likely accelerating efforts to establish quasi-state entities to govern occupied Ukrainian territory.

Putin signed a decree on March 31 beginning Russia’s preplanned spring draft, conscripting 134,500 Russians.[1]  Russia conducts two prescheduled drafts a year, typically running from April 1 to July 15 and October 1 to December 31.[2] The number of Russian conscripts called up is relatively consistent, including 127,000 in fall 2021 and 134,000 in Spring 2021.[3] New conscripts typically undergo one or two months of basic training followed by three to sixth months of advanced training prior to assignment to specific units, and are precluded by law from deploying to combat with less than four months of training—though the Kremlin could bypass this restriction by announcing a general mobilization.[4] Russia’s Spring 2022 draft does not as of yet appear abnormal from Russia’s typical conscription cycle, but ISW will closely monitor any developments throughout the April 1-July 15 call-up period. Newly drafted conscripts will not provide Russia additional combat power for many months.

The Ukrainian General Staff reported on March 31 that 200 “mercenaries from the Middle East,” likely Syrian troops, arrived at the Gomel military airfield in Belarus on March 29.[5] ISW published an assessment of Russia’s mobilization of reinforcements from Syria and elsewhere to Ukraine earlier on March 31.[6]

The Kremlin is likely accelerating efforts to establish quasi-state entities to govern occupied Ukrainian territory. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on March 30 that Russia is attempting to set up military-civilian administrations and is preparing to create a “Kherson’s Peoples Republic” to administer occupied southern Ukraine. The General Staff later reported on March 31 that Russia's FSB, the 652nd Group of Information and Psychological Operations, and officers of the 12th Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Federation are currently overseeing the occupation around Kherson, and the Kremlin is “curating” Russian law enforcement personnel and court officials for deployment to Ukraine at an unspecified future date.[7]

We do not report in detail on the deliberate Russian targeting of civilian infrastructure and attacks on unarmed civilians, which are war crimes, because those 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 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 forces are engaged in four primary efforts at this time:

  • Main effort—Kyiv (comprised of three subordinate supporting efforts);
  • Supporting effort 1—Kharkiv;
    • Supporting effort 1a—Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts;
  • Supporting effort 2—Mariupol; and
  • Supporting effort 3—Kherson and advances northward and westward.

Main effort—Kyiv axis: Russian operations on the Kyiv axis were aimed at encircling the city from the northwest, west, and east. It is unclear if forces on this axis have been given a new mission and, if so, what it might be.

Subordinate main effort along the west bank of the Dnipro        

The Ukrainian General Staff reported on March 31 that elements of Russia’s 35th Combined Arms Army (CAA), 36th CAA, and 76th Air Assault Division withdrew from positions northwest of Kyiv into Belarus to restore combat capabilities and possible redeployment to other axes of advance.[8] Belarusian social media users additionally observed a large column of Russian Naval Infantry (vehicles marked with a “V”) moving through Gomel, Belarus towards the Russian border on March 30.[9] These units – particularly the 76th Air Assault Division—have likely suffered extensive damage since February 24 and are highly unlikely to quickly reconstitute their combat power. Russia may seek to redeploy these damaged units to Donbas or into the fighting around Izyum, but they will likely be of limited utility in the short term and face growing morale problems.

Ukrainian counterattacks west of Kyiv since March 29 have reportedly pushed Russian forces north of the critical E-40 highway, the southernmost extent of Russian advances around Kyiv.[10] Local media and social media users reported that Ukrainian forces have recaptured Lisovo, Kapitanivka, Dmytrivka, Kopiliv, and Buzova since March 29. Fighting continued throughout Bucha, Makariv, and Hostomel in the past 24 hours.[11] Ukrainian counterattacks will likely continue to steadily roll back Russian-occupied territory northwest of Kyiv in the coming days, but a sustained Ukrainian offensive to drive Russian forces out of artillery range of Kyiv would likely require a greater concentration of forces.

Subordinate supporting effort — Chernihiv and Sumy axis

Ukrainian forces are taking advantage of Russian force withdrawals of damaged units around Brovary to conduct successful counterattacks. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on March 31 that Russia continues to withdraw elements of its forces around Brovary for redeployment elsewhere, and the Kyiv Oblast administration stated its observed Russian forces withdrawing from Baryshivska, Kalityanska, and Velykodymerska on March 31.[12] Social media users reported that Ukrainian forces recaptured Ploske, Svitylnya, and Hrebelky (all east of Brovary) on March 30 and entered Nova Basan on March 31.[13]

A separate Ukrainian counterattack reportedly recaptured Sloboda, just south of Chernihiv city, on March 30.[14] The Ukrainian General Staff stated on March 31 that elements of Russia’s 2nd CAA, 41st CAA, and 90th Tank Division are operating around Chernihiv and concentrated on reinforcing their defensive positions around Chernihiv in the last 24 hours.[15] The General Staff additionally stated that it expects Russian forces to intensify their fire against Ukrainian forces in the coming days to cover the redeployment of Russian forces.[16]

Ukrainian forces are likely conducting successful counterattacks in Sumy Oblast but the advances claimed by local authorities are likely false. Sumy Regional State Administration head Dmytro Zhyvytskyi claimed on March 31 that all of Sumy Oblast except the Konotop area has been liberated from Russian forces.[17] This claim is highly likely to be false, as we have observed no evidence of Ukrainian forces pushing the Russian military back to the international border or completely relieving Sumy. However, Ukrainian forces are likely successfully conducting counterattacks toward Sumy, supporting similar operations in Chernihiv Oblast. ISW will update this assessment as more information is available.

Supporting Effort #1—Kharkiv:

The Ukrainian General Staff reported on March 30-31 that Russian forces are assembling forces previously withdrawn from other lines of Russian advance to form “strike groups” reinforced with artillery to the Izyum area.[18] Russian forces likely intend to advance southeast from existing positions around Izyum to link up with Russian forces advancing west in Luhansk Oblast, but damaged Russian units redeployed from northeastern Ukraine will likely be of limited utility in the near future.

The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that Russian aircraft and loitering munitions targeted four Ukrainian command posts and an S-300 air defense system south of Izyum on March 31, though ISW cannot independently confirm this claim.[19] Russian forces continued to shell Kharkiv but did not conduct any assaults on the city in the past 24 hours.[20]

Supporting Effort #1a—Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts:

Ukrainian forces continued to repel Russian assaults throughout Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, particularly concentrated on Popasna and Rubizhne, in the past 24 hours.[21] The Ukrainian General Staff reported at 6:00 am local time on March 31 that Ukrainian forces repelled five enemy attacks over the previous 24 hours and claimed to have destroyed 10 tanks, 18 armored and 13 unarmored vehicles, and 15 artillery systems.[22] The General Staff additionally stated that the Russian air force intensified its operational tempo in the Donbas region in the past 24 hours.[23] The Russian General Staff claimed that LNR forces captured Zhytlivka (northwest of Severodonetsk) and Zolota Nyva (southwest of Donetsk) on March 31, but ISW cannot verify this claim.[24]

Supporting Effort #2—Mariupol:

Russian forces likely continued to advance in Mariupol on March 31.[25] DNR and LNR officials claimed that DNR forces are involved in Russian operations in Mariupol alongside Russian forces.[26]

Supporting Effort #3—Kherson and advances northward and westwards:

Ukrainian forces conducted successful counterattacks in several areas along the southern front on March 31. Ukrainian forces recaptured Orlove, Zagradivka, and Kochubeyevka in northern Kherson Oblast.[27] Ukrainian Air Assault Forces additionally claimed to recapture Zatyshshya, Malynivka, Vesele, Zelenyi Hai, and Chervone in Zaporizhia Oblast on March 31.[28] The Ukrainian General Staff reported Russian forces concentrated their efforts on maintaining their current positions.[29]

Immediate items to watch

  • Russian forces will likely capture Mariupol or force the city to capitulate within the coming days;
  • Russian reinforcements may enable a renewed Russian offensive through Slovyansk to link up with Russian forces in Luhansk Oblast;
  • Russian withdrawals from near Kyiv and Chernihiv will become significant if Russian troops begin to pull back from front-line positions around either city.

[1] https://iz dot ru/1313474/2022-03-31/prezident-rossii-vladimir-putin-podpisal-ukaz-o-prizyve-134-500-chelovek-na-srochnuiu-sluzhbu.









[10] https://tsn dot ua/ato/pivdennu-chastinu-buchanskogo-rayonu-kiyivschini-viyskovi-zachischayut-vid-voroga-2025079.html;;;




[14];;;;  .



[17] https://tsn dot ua/exclusive/u-zvilnenih-vid-okupantiv-gromadah-schodnya-znahodyat-trupi-lyudey-yaka-situaciya-u-sumah-ta-oblasti-31-bereznya-2025298.html;  https://censor dot net/ua/news/3330162/u_zvilnenyh_vid_okupantiv_gromadah_sumschyny_pratsyuyut_sapery_tryvaye_zachystka_vid_drg_jyvytskyyi.










[27] https://www.slovoidilo dot ua/2022/03/31/novyna/suspilstvo/zsu-zvilnyly-okupantiv-try-sela-xersonshhyni; https://nv dot ua/ukr/dnipro/zsu-zvilnyayut-sela-hersonskoji-oblasti-ta-vidganyayut-voroga-podali-vid-krivogo-rogu-novini-dnipra-50229865.html;;https://www.ukrinform dot ua/rubric-ato/3444325-sili-oboroni-vidnovili-kontrol-nad-troma-naselenimi-punktami.html; https://vesti dot ua/uk/strana-uk/hronologiya-vojny-v-ukraine-chetverg-31-marta-obnovlyaetsya; https://www dot;

[28] https://zolochiv dot net/ukrainski-viyskovi-zvilnyly-5-naselenykh-punktiv-na-zaporizhzhi/;



Russia Mobilizes Reinforcements from Syria and Africa to Ukraine

Jennifer Cafarella, Ezgi Yazici, and Zach Coles

Key Takeaways:

  • Russia began a redeployment of Wagner private military contractor (PMC) units and their Syrian proxies from Africa and Syria to Ukraine in early February. These forces have not had an observable effect within Ukraine. Their redeployment has created security gaps in the places they have left that Russia is attempting to mitigate at least partially.
  • A reported decrease in Russian air sorties in Syria could indicate the withdrawal of some Russian assets, but ISW cannot confirm any redeployment of Russian military forces or equipment from Syria.
  • Russian forces are redeploying within Syria. It is possible that this redeployment indicates preparation for a future partial withdrawal from parts of Syria. However, it is also possible that Russia is merely changing its posture in order to support the recruitment and training of Syrian fighters.
  • Russia’s attempt to generate Syrian recruits appears to focus on individual replacements for Russian fighters rather than the redeployment of existing Syrian militias as coherent units. Russia is prioritizing Syrians with combat experience who have fought in units with close relationships with Russian forces, including the Tiger Forces, 5th Corps, Liwa al Quds, and others. However, even fighters from these units are unlikely to significantly alter the situation in Ukraine. The number of fighters Russia has recruited and/or already deployed to Ukraine is unclear from available sourcing at this time.
  • Any change in the posture of Russian forces or pro-regime militias creates security gaps that anti-regime actors including Turkey, ISIS, al Qaeda, and Syrian opposition groups can exploit. It also affects core Iranian interests. ISW has already observed early indications of changes in the posture of Iranian proxy militia forces in Syria in reaction to recent developments and will publish an assessment in the coming days.

Russia is attempting to redeploy Syrian units with experience working under Russian commanders to Ukraine to mitigate high Russian casualties. ISW previously assessed that Russian conscription efforts at home are unlikely to provide Russian forces around Ukraine sufficient combat power to replenish casualties and restart major offensive operations in the near term.[1] A redeployment of Syrians is unlikely to significantly alter the situation in Ukraine and will incur risks to core Russian interests in Syria by exacerbating the vulnerabilities of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime that Turkey, ISIS, and anti-Assad groups can exploit. Any change to the disposition or deployment of pro-regime forces in Syria also has major consequences for Iranian interests. ISW has observed early indications of changes in the posture of Iranian proxy militia forces in reaction to recent developments and will publish an assessment in the coming days.

Syria represents the largest single pool of experienced foreign fighters that Russia can draw from to generate additional combat power relatively quickly. The pool includes Syrians currently serving alongside Russian PMCs like the Wagner group, including abroad, or in Russian-backed Syrian militias. It also includes Syrians with prior experience in such units that could be remobilized. Initial reporting indicates Russia is likely taking a phased approach to mobilizing Russian and Syrian reinforcements from the Middle East and Africa in order to generate multiple waves of reinforcements.

Russia began a redeployment of Wagner units and their Syrian proxies from Africa and Syria to Ukraine in early February. Libyan media sources began reporting the redeployment of Wager Group units along with their Pantsir air-defense systems and Syrian proxies in early February, with later reports appearing to corroborate this redeployment in early March.[2] Unconfirmed Syrian sources reported that 500 Wagner fighters had already deployed to Ukraine from Syria by March 8 alongside fighters from the pro-regime “ISIS hunters” militia, which works closely with Russian forces in Syria.[3] Ukrainian forces first reported on March 8 that they discovered Wagner dog tags with Syrian phone numbers on killed Russian soldiers and later stated on March 20 that Wagner personnel were arriving in Ukraine. British military intelligence said on March 28 that more than 1,000 Wagner militants and senior leaders will deploy to eastern Ukraine.[4] Russia has likely also pulled Wagner forces from other deployments, including the Central African Republic. Wagner Group is also recruiting actively in Syria.[5] Syrian sources reported as early as March 9 that Russian officers offered Syrians fighting in Libya new contracts to fight in the Central African Republic, likely in order to backfill Wagner forces.[6]

At the time of publication, there is little evidence that Russia has begun to move military assets out of Syria, although such movement could have occurred without revealing open-source indicators. Reports by anti-regime sources of an observed decrease in Russian air operations and ground patrols beginning in early March could indicate that Russia has reduced its air posture in Syria. However, the change could also simply reflect the change in Russia’s immediate prioritization of efforts in Syria. On March 28, Russia conducted its first airstrikes in Idlib since Russian forces invaded Ukraine, indicating Russia likely seeks to maintain at least a minimum level of capability in Syria even if it is freeing up assets to shift to Ukraine.[7]

Russian forces are redeploying within Syria in order to recruit and mobilize additional Syrian fighters for a second wave of reinforcements. The Kremlin announced on March 11 that it would welcome “16,000 Middle Eastern” fighters to deploy to Ukraine alongside Russian forces and published footage of Syrian combatants preparing to deploy to Ukraine.[8] Ukrainian military intelligence claimed on March 20 that the Russian military ordered its base in Hmeimim, Syria, to send up to 300 fighters from Syria to Ukraine daily.[9] Syrian sources corroborate that the Hmeimim airbase is the hub for Russia’s effort to redeploy Syrians to Ukraine.[10] Numerous Syrian news outlets and social media users attest since then that Russian forces are identifying and recruiting Syrian fighters interested to fight in Ukraine in exchange for salaries and a six-month contract.[11] This recruitment effort appears to prioritize individual replacements for Russian soldiers rather than the redeployment of existing pro-regime militia groups as coherent units.

The Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria, which maintains headquarters in multiple Syrian provinces, is leading the recruitment effort and has likely refocused away from other missions at least temporarily.[12] Major recruitment pushes are occurring in at least Hama, Aleppo, Damascus, and Deir ez Zour. Ukrainian Intelligence claims and several unconfirmed reports refer to as many as 12-14 recruitment centers across Syria’s M5 highway, which connects Aleppo to Damascus.[13] Russia is likely organizing most if not all of these centers with support from Syrian elements (more below).

Some reports indicate that Russia pulled back Russian forces stationed near front lines in Aleppo and in Aleppo City on March 19, reportedly in order to relocate to Hmeimim airbase.[14] These forces are presumably military police and/or Spetznaz and could be relocating to Hmeimim airbase or onward to recruitment centers elsewhere in Syria to support the mobilization of Syrian fighters. New recruits from the 5th Corps reportedly replaced these Russian forces. Similar Russian redeployments may also have occurred in other areas including Dera’a, Suwayda, Homs, Deir ez Zour, and Hasaka provinces, but ISW has not collected evidence of further Russian withdrawals from key areas or front lines.

Some Russian forces may be preparing to redeploy to Ukraine. Unconfirmed reports of Russian reinforcements to key bases in Syria could reflect a troop surge necessary to tear down Russian basing or, alternatively, that Russia is committing resources to continued recruitment and possibly the mitigation of resulting risks in Syria. Some reports indicate that Russian Military Police and Wagner Group reinforcements arrived at Qamishli airbase in Hasaka and Tabqa airbase in Raqqa on March 8 and March 23, respectively.[15] Unidentified Regime and Russian-backed forces also reportedly deployed to reinforce 5th Corps positions near Kobani on the Turkish border on March 27. The purpose of these reinforcements is unclear and could include deterring a Turkish attack or supporting a recruitment drive in Eastern Syria. Reported resistance to Russian recruitment in southern Syria could have caused Russia to reprioritize recruits from the east.[16] It is also possible that these Russian forces are supporting the decommissioning of these Russian bases in order to redeploy assets to Ukraine, however. Some unconfirmed reports state that Russian soldiers and Wagner militants withdrew from Syria’s second-largest military storage facility in southeastern Homs on March 29 before redeploying to the Palmyra military airport.[17] ISW will publish further updates on the movement of Russian forces within or out of Syria as more information becomes available.

Russia is leveraging its pre-existing relationships with multiple pro-regime units to coordinate the recruitment and select individuals from these units with combat experience.[18] These units include the Tiger Forces (aka 25th Division), “ISIS Hunters” militia, Liwa al Quds, and reconciled opposition forces who joined the Russian-commanded 5th Corps.[19] Syrian regime security structures including Syrian Military intelligence and Syrian translators who have worked with the Russians are also recruiting, likely in coordination with Russian forces.[20] Some reports state that Russia has denied applicants who do not possess combat experience.[21] Other unconfirmed reports indicate Russian commanders have expressed a desire for Syrian fighters with experience in urban combat.[22] Key Russian-backed Syrian units including the Tiger Forces and Liwa al Quds do have urban experience and have conducted urban training with Russian forces in Aleppo.[23] However, the likely effectiveness of these Syrian forces should not be overstated. The urban defense that Ukraine’s armed forces and Ukrainian civilians are preparing in Kyiv is significantly more robust than what pro-Assad regime militias faced in Syria’s Aleppo.[24] Moreover, the fierce fighting underway in Kharkiv, Kherson, and Mariupol indicates that Syrian replacements are likely to have a marginal effect at best.

Finally, Russia is attempting to recruit and train a wider range of pro-regime Syrian fighters who do not have prior experience working with Russian forces, likely as a contingency for the upcoming months to replace combat losses and set conditions for a longer war. Syrian fighters who have not worked under direct Russian command can offer an alternative source of recruits to Russia’s ineffective reserves but will likely need a months-long training process for Russia to effectively integrate them into the Ukrainian battlefield. The Kremlin faces a trade-off between a shorter training process that would result in a relatively quick low-quality reinforcement that is unlikely to generate additional combat power and a longer training effort that would significantly delay battlefield results. Pro-Assad regime militia units with less established relationships with Russian forces also have been conducting recruitment efforts since as early as March 15. It is possible that Assad aims to offer Russia additional recruits in order to mitigate the scale of Russia’s redeployment of more capable Syrian units. Russian forces began providing public attention to these recruitment efforts on March 27, especially the pro-regime National Defense Forces militias.[25]

Any change in the extent or focus of Russian support to the Assad regime’s military posture can significantly affect the status quo in Syria. To date, Russian airpower has allowed Russia to set the pace of fighting, deny rivals similar opportunities, and stabilize frontlines (relatively). The efforts of Russian officers to supply and coordinate a wide range of pro-regime stakeholders and perform other stabilization functions receive less attention but are a major contributor to the status quo. The combined effects of Russian airpower and Russia’s physical presence across Syria provide a minimum level of security for core Russian interests: the air and naval bases on Syria’s Mediterranean coast and Syrian oil and natural gas fields which Russian companies have secured contracts to operate. The refocus of Russian forces in Syria on a recruitment drive can itself jeopardize these effects and create friction within the pro-regime coalition. The potential redeployment of Russian forces or major elements of pro-regime forces in key areas or frontlines could create major security gaps and indicate that Russia is willing to take significant risks in Syria to support a long war in Ukraine.

The Kremlin’s decision regarding the scale of redeployments of Russians and Syrians from Syria to Ukraine will determine the gaps and opportunities that pro-regime partners and rivals alike can selectively exploit. ISIS is the most likely to move fast in Syria and is already waging an aggressive campaign against pro-Assad regime forces in central Syria that has sustained pressure on regime supply lines and oil and natural gas fields since 2019.[26] Turkey is balancing its role and seeks opportunities to serve as a mediator in Ukraine but could still escalate in Syria if it perceives a need or opportunity to gain additional leverage against the Kremlin. ISW is evaluating how other actors, including Iran’s proxies, are recalibrating in Syria as the Kremlin refocuses and will provide updates in future publications.  



[2] libyaobserver dot ly/news/wagner-withdraws-hundreds-syrian-mercenaries-through-benghazi-airport; libyaalahrar dot tv/2022/02/06/%d9%85%d9%88%d9%82%d8%b9-%d8%b3%d9%88%d8%b1%d9%8a-%d8%b1%d9%88%d8%b3%d9%8a%d8%a7-%d8%b3%d8%ad%d8%a8%d8%aa-300-%d9%85%d9%82%d8%a7%d8%aa%d9%84-%d8%b3%d9%88%d8%b1%d9%8a-%d9%85%d9%86-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ac/; marsad dot ly/en/2022/03/08/russia-withdraws-syrian-fighters-from-libya-without-sending-in-new-groups/; eanlibya dot com/%d9%85%d9%88%d9%82%d8%b9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b3%d9%88%d9%8a%d8%af%d8%a7%d8%a1-24-%d9%88%d8%b5%d9%88%d9%84-%d8%af%d9%81%d8%b9%d8%a9-%d9%85%d9%86-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%85%d8%b1%d8%aa%d8%b2%d9%82%d8%a9-%d8%a7/; eanlibya dot com/%d9%85%d9%88%d9%82%d8%b9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b3%d9%88%d9%8a%d8%af%d8%a7%d8%a1-24-%d9%88%d8%b5%d9%88%d9%84-%d8%af%d9%81%d8%b9%d8%a9-%d9%85%d9%86-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%85%d8%b1%d8%aa%d8%b2%d9%82%d8%a9-%d8%a7/; libyaalahrar dot tv/2022/03/08/%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b3%d9%88%d9%8a%d8%af%d8%a7%d8%a1-24-%d8%b1%d9%88%d8%b3%d9%8a%d8%a7-%d8%aa%d8%b3%d8%ad%d8%a8-%d9%85%d8%a6%d8%a7%d8%aa-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%85%d9%82%d8%a7%d8%aa%d9%84%d9%8a%d9%86-%d9%85/; marsad dot ly/en/2022/03/08/russia-withdraws-syrian-fighters-from-libya-without-sending-in-new-groups/; eanlibya dot com/%d9%85%d9%88%d9%82%d8%b9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b3%d9%88%d9%8a%d8%af%d8%a7%d8%a1-24-%d9%88%d8%b5%d9%88%d9%84-%d8%af%d9%81%d8%b9%d8%a9-%d9%85%d9%86-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%85%d8%b1%d8%aa%d8%b2%d9%82%d8%a9-%d8%a7/; libyasecuritymonitor dot com/wagner-operatives-withdrawn-from-sokna/; libyaalahrar dot tv/2022/02/20/%d9%81%d8%a7%d8%ba%d9%86%d8%b1-%d8%aa%d8%b9%d9%8a%d8%af-%d8%aa%d9%85%d8%b1%d9%83%d8%b2%d8%a7%d8%aa%d9%87%d8%a7-%d8%a8%d8%a7%d8%aa%d8%ac%d8%a7%d9%87-%d9%82%d8%a7%d8%b9%d8%af%d8%a9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ac/; marsad dot ly/ar/2022/02/20/%d9%85%d8%b1%d8%aa%d8%b2%d9%82%d8%a9-%d9%81%d8%a7%d8%ba%d9%86%d8%b1-%d9%8a%d9%86%d8%b3%d8%ad%d8%a8%d9%88%d9%86-%d9%85%d9%86-%d9%85%d8%af%d9%8a%d9%86%d8%a9-%d8%b3%d9%88%d9%83%d9%86%d8%a9-%d9%88%d9%8a/; stj-sy dot org/en/ukraine-wagner-group-begins-relocating-syrian-fighters-from-libya-to-russia/; libyaobserver dot ly/news/syrian-org-russia-redeploys-syrian-fighters-libya-ukraine

[3]; alaraby dot co dot uk/politics/%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%AA%D9%86%D9%82%D9%84-%D9%85%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%A7-%D9%85%D9%86-%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%84%D9%84%D9%82%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%84-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A3%D9%88%D9%83%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A7; qasioun-news dot com/ar/articles/249550/%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%AA%D8%B3%D8%AD%D8%A8-%D8%A8%D8%B9%D8%B6-%D9%85%D8%AC%D9%85%D9%88%D8%B9%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%BA%D9%86%D8%B1-%D9%88%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A3%D8%AE%D8%B1%D9%89%D9%85%D9%86-%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%A5%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%A3%D9%88%D9%83%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A7


[5]; deirezzor24 dot net/en/russia-has-opened-the-door-to-volunteering-in-eastern-syria-to-recruit-mercenaries-and-send-them-to-ukraine/; syriahr dot com/en/242662/

[6] middleeastmonitor dot com/20220309-russia-withdraws-hundreds-of-syrian-fighters-from-libya/; 7al dot net/2022/03/26/%d9%85%d9%82%d8%a7%d8%aa%d9%84%d9%88%d9%86-%d8%b3%d9%88%d8%b1%d9%8a%d9%88%d9%86-%d9%81%d9%8a-%d8%a5%d9%81%d8%b1%d9%8a%d9%82%d9%8a%d8%a7-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%88%d8%b3%d8%b7%d9%89-%d9%85%d8%a7-%d8%b9%d9%84/ramez-h/news/



[9] gur dot gov dot ua/content/okupanty-perekydaiut-v-ukrainu-cherhovi-terorystychni-hrupy-z-metoiu-likvidatsii-kerivnytstva-ukrainy dot html;

[10] syria dot tv/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D9%83%D8%B1%D9%85-%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%A8%D8%AD%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%A9-%D8%A3%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%86%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%87%D8%A7-%D9%84%D9%84%D9%82%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%84-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A3%D9%88%D9%83%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%B5%D9%88%D8%B1; libyaalahrar dot tv/2022/03/08/%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b3%d9%88%d9%8a%d8%af%d8%a7%d8%a1-24-%d8%b1%d9%88%d8%b3%d9%8a%d8%a7-%d8%aa%d8%b3%d8%ad%d8%a8-%d9%85%d8%a6%d8%a7%d8%aa-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%85%d9%82%d8%a7%d8%aa%d9%84%d9%8a%d9%86-%d9%85/; eanlibya dot com/%d9%85%d9%88%d9%82%d8%b9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b3%d9%88%d9%8a%d8%af%d8%a7%d8%a1-24-%d9%88%d8%b5%d9%88%d9%84-%d8%af%d9%81%d8%b9%d8%a9-%d9%85%d9%86-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%85%d8%b1%d8%aa%d8%b2%d9%82%d8%a9-%d8%a7/

[11] deirezzor24 dot net/en/russia-has-opened-the-door-to-volunteering-in-eastern-syria-to-recruit-mercenaries-and-send-them-to-ukraine/;;

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[13] dot com/home/article/3521986/%D9%85%D9%86-%D9%87%D9%85-%C2%AB%D8%B1%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%84-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A7%C2%BB-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B0%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%8A%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%86-%D9%84%D9%84%D9%82%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%84-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A3%D9%88%D9%83%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%9F; thelenspost dot com/97109-2/;; alaraby dot co dot uk/politics/%D8%B6%D8%AC%D9%8A%D8%AC-%D8%AF%D8%B9%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A-%D9%84%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%AA%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%87%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D9%83%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%87-%D9%88%D8%AA%D8%B3%D9%87%D9%8A%D9%84-%D8%AA%D8%AC%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%AF-%D9%85%D8%B1%D8%AA%D8%B2%D9%82%D8%A9; deirezzor24 dot net/en/russian-forces-distribute-ridiculous-aid-to-murat-and-hatlah-in-deir-ezzor-province/

[14] qasioun-news dot com/ar/articles/249943/%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%AA%D9%82%D9%84%D8%B5-%D8%B9%D8%AF%D8%AF-%D8%B9%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B5%D8%B1%D9%87%D8%A7-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%AD%D9%84%D8%A8-%D9%88%D8%AA%D9%86%D9%82%D9%84-%D8%AC%D8%B2%D8%A1%D9%8B%D8%A7-%D9%85%D9%86%D9%87%D9%85-%D8%A5%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%85

[15]; syria dot tv/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AE%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%A9-%D8%AE%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%84-2022-%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%B2%D9%8A%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%B9%D8%B3%D9%83%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%B5%D9%84-%D8%A5%D9%84%D9%89-%D9%85%D8%B7%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%B4%D9%84%D9%8A; syria dot tv/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AE%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%A9-%D8%AE%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%84-2022-%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%B2%D9%8A%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%B9%D8%B3%D9%83%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%B5%D9%84-%D8%A5%D9%84%D9%89-%D9%85%D8%B7%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%B4%D9%84%D9%8A; syria dot tv/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AE%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%A9-%D8%AE%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%84-2022-%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%B2%D9%8A%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%B9%D8%B3%D9%83%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%B5%D9%84-%D8%A5%D9%84%D9%89-%D9%85%D8%B7%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%B4%D9%84%D9%8A; eyeofeuphrates dot com/ar/news/2022/02/24/4538; syria dot tv/%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%B2%D8%B2-%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%A7-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D9%85%D8%B7%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B7%D8%A8%D9%82%D8%A9-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D9%82%D8%A9-%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%B4%D9%84%D9%8A-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AD%D8%B3%D9%83%D8%A9

[16] 7al dot net/2022/03/27/%d9%87%d9%84-%d8%aa%d8%aa%d8%ae%d9%84%d9%89-%d8%b1%d9%88%d8%b3%d9%8a%d8%a7-%d8%b9%d9%86-%d8%af%d8%b9%d9%85-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%84%d9%88%d8%a7%d8%a1-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ab%d8%a7%d9%85%d9%86/ramez-h/news/


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[19] horanfree dot com/?p=10985; stj-sy dot org/en/syria-has-the-recruitment-of-syrian-fighters-towards-ukraine-begun/; deirezzor24 dot net/en/volunteers-and-mercenaries-official-parties-and-loyal-personalities-dedicate-their-efforts-to-recruit-in-the-ranks-of-the-russian-forces/;;

[20] stj-sy dot org/en/ukraine-wagner-group-begins-relocating-syrian-fighters-from-libya-to-russia/; syriahr dot com/en/242672/

[21] stj-sy dot org/en/ukraine-wagner-group-begins-relocating-syrian-fighters-from-libya-to-russia/

[22] stj-sy dot org/en/syria-has-the-recruitment-of-syrian-fighters-towards-ukraine-begun/



[25] Syria dot tv/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D9%83%D8%B1%D9%85-%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%A8%D8%AD%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%A9-%D8%A3%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%86%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%87%D8%A7-%D9%84%D9%84%D9%82%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%84-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A3%D9%88%D9%83%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%B5%D9%88%D8%B1

[26]; rudaw dot net/english/middleeast/syria/06032022