Content Assessment: Unspeakable Suffering? Ukraine Conflict Assessments in Maps (May 25 – 28, 2022)
Information - 95%
Insight - 95%
Relevance - 94%
Objectivity - 93%
Authority - 96%
A short percentage-based assessment of the qualitative benefit of the post highlighting the recent Ukraine conflict assessments in maps from the Institute for the Study of War.
Editor’s Note: One of the most accurate and detailed sources for ongoing updates on the Ukraine crisis is the Ukraine Conflict Update from the Institute for the Study of War. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) is a 501(c)(3) organization and produces strictly non-partisan, non-ideological, fact-based research. ISW seeks to promote an informed understanding of war and military affairs through comprehensive, independent, and accessible open-source research and analysis. ISW’s research is made available to the general public, military practitioners, policymakers, and media members. Providing a daily synthesis of key events related to the Russian aggression against Ukraine, ISW updates may benefit cybersecurity, information governance, and legal discovery professionals as they follow the business, information technology, and legal trends and trajectories impacted by and stemming from the current Ukraine conflict.
Assessment and Maps*
Ukraine Conflict Assessments – An Overview in Maps
- Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Russia Team
- Critical Threats Project (CTP), American Enterprise Institute
General Assessment Background Info
- ISW systematically publishes Russian campaign assessments that include maps highlighting the assessed control of terrain in Ukraine and main Russian maneuver axes.
- These maps augment daily synthetic products that cover key events related to renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine.
The Russian Offensive Campaign Assessments
- May 28, 2022
- By Frederick W. Kagen, Kateryna Stepanenko, and George Barros
Russian President Vladimir Putin is inflicting unspeakable suffering on Ukrainians and demanding horrible sacrifices of his own people in an effort to seize a city that does not merit the cost, even for him.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine that aimed to seize and occupy the entire country has become a desperate and bloody offensive to capture a single city in the east while defending important but limited gains in the south and east. Ukraine has twice forced Putin to define down his military objectives. Ukraine defeated Russia in the Battle of Kyiv, forcing Putin to reduce his subsequent military objectives to seizing Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine stopped him from achieving that aim as well, forcing him to focus on completing the seizure of Luhansk Oblast alone. Putin is now hurling men and munitions at the last remaining major population center in that oblast, Severodonetsk, as if taking it would win the war for the Kremlin. He is wrong. When the Battle of Severodonetsk ends, regardless of which side holds the city, the Russian offensive at the operational and strategic levels will likely have culminated, giving Ukraine the chance to restart its operational-level counteroffensives to push Russian forces back.
Russian forces are assaulting Severdonetsk even though they have not yet encircled it. They are making territorial gains and may succeed in taking the city and areas further west. The Ukrainian military is facing the most serious challenge it has encountered since the isolation of the Azovstal Plant in Mariupol and may well suffer a significant tactical defeat in the coming days if Severodonetsk falls, although such an outcome is by no means certain, and the Russian attacks may well stall again.
The Russians are paying a price for their current tactical success that is out of proportion to any real operational or strategic benefit they can hope to receive. Severodonetsk itself is important at this stage in the war primarily because it is the last significant population center in Luhansk Oblast that the Russians do not control. Seizing it will let Moscow declare that it has secured Luhansk Oblast fully but will give Russia no other significant military or economic benefit. This is especially true because Russian forces are destroying the city as they assault it and will control its rubble if they capture it. Taking Severodonetsk can open a Russian ground line of communication (GLOC) to support operations to the west, but the Russians have failed to secure much more advantageous GLOCs from Izyum partly because they have concentrated so much on Severodonetsk.
The Russians continue to make extremely limited progress in their efforts to gain control of the unoccupied areas of Donetsk Oblast, meanwhile. Russian troops have struggled to penetrate the pre-February 24 line of contact for weeks, while Russian offensive operations from Izyum to the south remain largely stalled. The seizure of Severodonetsk could only assist in the conquest of the rest of Donetsk Oblast if it gave the Russians momentum on which to build successive operations, but the Battle of Severdonetsk will most likely preclude continued large-scale Russian offensive operations.
Russian progress around Severdonetsk results largely from the fact that Moscow has concentrated forces, equipment, and materiel drawn from all other axes on this one objective. Russian troops have been unable to make progress on any other axes for weeks and have largely not even tried to do so. Ukrainian defenders have inflicted fearful casualties on the Russian attackers around Severodonetsk even so. Moscow will not be able to recoup large amounts of effective combat power even if it seizes Severdonetsk, because it is expending that combat power frivolously on taking the city.
Ukrainian forces are also suffering serious losses in the Battle of Severodonetsk, as are Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure. The Russians have concentrated a much higher proportion of their available offensive combat power to take Severodonetsk than the Ukrainians, however, shaping the attrition gradient generally in Kyiv’s favor. The Ukrainians continue to receive supplies and materiel from their allies as well, however slow and limited that flow may be. The Russians, in contrast, continue to manifest clear signs that they are burning through their available reserves of manpower and materiel with no reason to expect relief in the coming months.
Evidence of eroding military professionalism in the Russian officer corps is mounting. The Ukrainian Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that Russian commanders are attempting to preserve military equipment by forbidding drivers from evacuating wounded servicemen or providing supplies to units that have advanced too far. Refusing to risk equipment to evacuate wounded personnel on the battlefield—other than in extraordinary circumstances—is a remarkable violation of core principles of military professionalism. Such behavior can have serious impacts on morale and the willingness of soldiers to fight and risk getting injured beyond their own defensive lines. ISW cannot independently confirm the GUR’s report, but commentary by Russian milbloggers offers some circumstantial support for it. Russian milblogger Alexander Zhychkovskiy criticized the Russian military command’s disregard for reservists on the deprioritized Zaporizhia Oblast front. Zhychkovskiy reported that Russian commanders trapped lightly-equipped infantry units in areas of intense Ukrainian artillery fire without significant artillery support and did not rotate other units through those areas to relieve them. Zhychkovskiy noted that Russian commanders are responsible for high losses and cases of insanity among servicemen. Another milblogger, Alexander Khodarkovsky, said that Russian commanders are not sending reinforcements in a timely matter, preventing Russian forces from resting between ground assaults.
Waning professionalism among Russia’s officers could present Ukrainian forces with opportunities. Russian morale, already low, may drop further if such behavior is widespread and continues. If Russian troops stuck on secondary axes lose their will to fight as the Battle for Severdonetsk consumes much of the available Russian offensive combat power, Ukraine may have a chance to launch significant counteroffensives with good prospects for success. That prospect is uncertain, and Ukraine may not have the ability to take advantage of an opportunity even if it presents itself, but the current pattern of Russian operations is generating serious vulnerabilities that Kyiv will likely attempt to exploit.
- Russian forces pressed the ground assault on Severodonetsk and its environs, making limited gains.
- Russian forces in Kharkiv continue to focus efforts on preventing a Ukrainian counteroffensive from reaching the international border between Kharkiv and Belgorod.
- Ukrainian forces began a counteroffensive near the Kherson-Mykolaiv oblast border approximately 70 km to the northeast of Kherson City that may have crossed the Inhulets River.
- Russia’s use of stored T-62 tanks in the southern axis indicates Russia’s continued material and force generation problems.
- Ukrainian partisan activity continues to impose costs on Russian occupation forces in Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts.
- May 27, 2022
- By Kateryna Stepanenko and Mason Clark
Russian forces began direct assaults on Severodonetsk on May 27 despite not yet having fully encircled the town. Russian forces have performed poorly in operations in built-up urban terrain throughout the war to date and are unlikely to be able to advance rapidly in Severodonetsk itself. Russian forces continue to make steady and incremental gains around the city but have not yet encircled the Ukrainian defenders. Ukrainian forces continue to maintain defenses across eastern Ukraine and have slowed most Russian lines of advance. Russian forces will likely continue to make incremental advances and may succeed in encircling Severodonetsk in the coming days, but Russian operations around Izyum remain stalled and Russian forces will likely be unable to increase the pace of their advances.
- Russian forces began direct assaults on built-up areas of Severodonetsk without having fully encircled the city and will likely struggle to take ground in the city itself.
- Russian forces in Lyman appear to be dividing their efforts—attacking both southwest to support stalled forces in Izyum and southeast to advance on Siversk; they will likely struggle to accomplish either objective in the coming days.
- Russian forces in Popasna seek to advance north to support the encirclement of Severodonestk rather than advancing west toward Bakhmut.
- Positions northeast of Kharkiv City remain largely static, with no major attacks by either Russian or Ukrainian forces.
- Russian forces continue to fortify their defensive positions along the southern axis and advance efforts to integrate the Kherson region into Russian economic and political structures.
- May 26, 2022
- By Karolina Hird, Mason Clark, and George Barros
Russian forces have made steady, incremental gains in heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine in the past several days, though Ukrainian defenses remain effective overall. Deputy Ukrainian Defense Minister Hanna Malyar stated that the fighting is currently at its “maximum intensity” compared to previous Russian assaults and will likely continue to escalate. Spokesperson for the Ukrainian Defense Ministry Oleksandr Motuzyanyk characterized Russian gains as “temporary success” and stated that Ukrainian forces are using a maneuver defense to put pressure on Russian advances in key areas. Russian forces have now taken control of over 95% of Luhansk Oblast and will likely continue efforts to complete the capture of Severodonetsk in the coming days. Russian forces have made several gains in the past week, but their offensive operations remain slow. Russian forces are heavily degraded and will struggle to replace further losses.
- Russian forces unsuccessfully attempted to advance southeast of Izyum near the Kharkiv-Donetsk Oblast border.
- Russian forces continued steady advances around Severodonetsk and likely seek to completely encircle the Severodonetsk-Lysychansk area in the coming days.
- Russian forces continued to make persistent advances south and west of Popasna toward Bakhmut, but the Russian pace of advance will likely slow as they approach the town itself.
- Russian forces in occupied areas of the Southern Axis are reportedly preparing a “third line of defense” to consolidate long-term control over the region and in preparation to repel likely future Ukrainian counteroffensives.
- May 25, 2022
- By Kateryna Stepanenko, Karolina Hird, Frederick W. Kagan, and George Barros
Some pro-Russian milbloggers on Telegram continued to criticize the Kremlin for appalling treatment of forcefully mobilized Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DNR and LNR) servicemen–contradicting Russian information campaigns about progress of the Russian special military operation. Former Russian Federal Security Service officer Igor Girkin (also known by the alias Igor Strelkov) amplified a critique to his 360,000 followers from a smaller milblogger discussing a video wherein a DNR battalion appealed to DNR Head Denis Pushilin about maltreatment of forcefully mobilized forces. The milblogger blamed Russian leadership, not Pushilin, for beginning the invasion with insufficient reserves and unprepared, forcefully mobilized forces. The milblogger added that Russia did not provide the soldiers of its proxy republics with new weapons, despite claiming that Ukrainian forces prepared to attack occupied Donbas areas for a year prior to Russian invasion. The milblogger also claimed that the Kremlin failed to mobilize and adequately prepare the next batch of reserves, while Ukrainian forces are successfully preparing their troops for counteroffensives. Girkin also criticized the Kremlin for failing to pay the DNR battalion for three months. Some milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces staged the video, but the video still gathered attention of pro-Russian Telegram users.
The incident highlights a continuing shift in the Russian-language milblogger information space regardless of the video’s authenticity. Milbloggers would likely have either attacked or dismissed such a video loudly and in near-unison earlier in the war, when they all generally focused on presenting optimistic pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian narratives. The response to this video in the Russian-language milblogger space demonstrates the strong resonance anti-Kremlin narratives can now have. It is impossible to know what effect this change in this information space might have on general perceptions of the war in Russia, but it is one of the most visible and noteworthy inflections in the attitudes of previously strongly pro-Kremlin ostensibly independent Russian voices speaking to Russians that we have yet seen.
Today’s statement by DNR Militia Head Eduard Basurin explaining that Russian forces would focus on creating “smaller cauldrons” rather than on a single large encirclement is likely in part a response to a critique that surfaced both in the milblogger space and in the Russian Duma that Russian forces had failed to form and reduce “cauldrons” of the sort they used in 2014. Basurin’s statement, along with other changes in the ways in which Russian officials have spoken about cauldrons and Russian operations in the east following those critiques suggest that the Russian and proxy leadership is sensitive to shifts in this information space.
Russian forces are increasingly facing a deficiency in high-precision weaponry. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that due to an increasing lack of high-precision weapons Russian forces are seeking other methods of striking critical infrastructure and have intensified the use of aircraft to support offensives. The Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) noted that up to 60% of Russia’s high-precision stockpile has already been exhausted, which is consistent with previous reports by Western defense officials that Russian forces have been increasingly relying on “dumb bombs” because they are facing challenges replenishing their supplies of precision munitions in part due to sanctions targeting Russia’s defense-industrial production. A lack of high-precision weapons will likely result in an increase in indiscriminate attacks on critical and civilian infrastructure.
The Kremlin is attempting to expand the pool of Russian passport-holders in occupied areas. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on May 25 that will simplify the procedure for obtaining a Russian passport within Kherson and Zaporizhia Oblasts. This renewed campaign of so-called ”mass passportization” is occurring in occupied territories and likely represents an effort to set conditions for some sort of post-conflict political arrangement (the precise form of which Putin prefers remains unclear) through manipulating access to Russian citizenship. Occupation authorities may additionally attempt to exploit this new decree to carry out covert mobilization in occupied areas, as having a Russian passport would make conscription-eligible residents of occupied territories subject to forced military service.
The Kremlin and Russian military commanders are introducing new regulations aimed at addressing the diminishing level of combat-ready reserves. The Russian State Duma and the Russian Federation Council passed a bill raising the maximum age for voluntary enlistment into the Russian military from 40 to 50. Russian Telegram channels also reported that Russian leadership forced operational officers and commanders of the Russian Border Guards of southern Russian regions including Rostov Oblast and occupied Crimea to indefinitely cancel all summer vacations–a rather unsurprising step in light of the military situation in principle, but an indication of the next source of manpower to which Putin will apparently turn. Russian Border Guards will reportedly deploy to training grounds for unspecified exercises in late May. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian forces are forming new reserve units within the Southern Military District.
- Russian forces prioritized advances east and west of Popasna in order to cut Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) southwest of Severodonetsk and complete encirclement efforts in Luhansk Oblast.
- Russian forces have likely entered Lyman and may use this foothold to coordinate with advances southeast of Izyum to launch an offensive on Siversk.
- Russian forces may start the Battle of Severodonetsk prior to completely cutting off Ukrainian GLOCs southwest and northwest of Severodonetsk.
- Russian forces struck Zaporizhzhia City in an attempt to disrupt a key logistics hub for Ukrainian forces operating in the east.
We do not report in detail on Russian 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.
Chronology of Maps from May 25-28, 2022 – Mouseover to ScrollUkraine Conflict Maps - 052522-052822
* Shared with direct express permission from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
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