Key Takeaways

  • Russian and proxy troops in Ukraine are operating in roughly six force groupings.
  • Russian forces conducted ground attacks north of Kharkiv City, northwest of Slovyansk, east of Siversk, and made unspecified gains around Bakhmut.
  • Ukrainian forces reportedly struck a Wagner force concentration in Popasna, Luhansk Oblast, inflicting casualties.
  • Forty-two states called on Russian forces to withdraw from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Enerhodar, just two to four hours before another strike hit Enerhodar.
  • Ukrainian forces struck the Antonivsky road bridge, likely keeping all three road bridges to and on the right bank of the Dnipro inoperable to heavy equipment.
  • Russian military recruitment and enlistment centers continue to face challenges in incentivizing Russians to sign military service contracts.
  • Russian occupation authorities continued rubleization measures and civilian data collection in occupied territories to set conditions for annexation referenda.

Russian and proxy troops in Ukraine are likely operating in roughly six groups of forces oriented on Kharkiv City and northeastern Kharkiv Oblast; along the Izyum-Slovyansk line; the Siversk-Lysychansk area; Bakhmut; the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area; and Southern Ukraine. The Kharkiv City and Siversk-Lysychansk groups are likely built around cores drawn from the Western and Central Military Districts respectively. The Izyum-Slovyansk axis is increasingly manned by recently formed volunteer battalions that likely have very low combat power. Wagner Group private military company (PMC) soldiers are in the lead around Bakhmut, while forces drawn from the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) predominate in the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area. Troops from the Southern Military District (SMD) likely formed the original core of forces in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts but have been reinforced with troops of the Eastern Military District, Airborne Forces, and Rosgvardia. None of these groupings is homogeneous—elements of various military districts, proxy forces, volunteer units, and other formations are scattered throughout the theater.

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These dispositions suggest that Moscow is prioritizing the advance around Bakhmut and, possibly, toward Siversk with its Russian forces while seeking to draw on the enthusiasm of DNR forces to seize ground they have failed to take since 2014 on the Avdiivka axis. The high concentration of volunteer battalions around Izyum and Slovyansk suggests that that area is not a focus of Russian attention and may be vulnerable to Ukrainian counterattacks. The congeries of forces in and around Kherson Oblast may pose significant challenges to Russian command and control, especially if Ukrainian forces press a counteroffensive there.

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Kharkiv City and northeastern Kharkiv Oblast:

Mainly Western Military District units

Russian force composition around Kharkiv City is at least in part composed of Western Military District (WMD) units. The Ukrainian General Staff has identified that Russian forces concentrated WMD units around Kharkiv City and in border areas of Russia’s Kursk and Bryansk Oblasts (northeast of the city).[1]Russian offensive operations on this axis have generally been desultory and suggest a lack of focus, possibly reflected in more limited force deployments.

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Izyum-Slovyansk line:

Mainly Volunteer Battalions and some Eastern Military District units

Russian forces are likely committing volunteer units and some remaining detachments of the Eastern Military District (EMD) to the Izyum-Slovyansk line and are likely deprioritizing the axis in favor of defending positions in southern Ukraine. Ukrainian military officials reported that EMD elements that had previously supported offensive operations towards Slovyansk have been redeploying to the Southern Axis in an effort to defend occupied territories in western Zaporizhzhia and Kherson Oblasts.[2] Russian outlets and Telegram channels have begun identifying and announcing recruitment for volunteer units operating near Izyum around reports of Ukrainian counteroffensive preparations. Russian media outlet Readovka reported that the volunteer Cossack detachments “Yermak” and “Kuban” are recruiting reinforcements for offensive operations in Kharkiv Oblast, likely around Izyum given that Cossack units have been operating in the area since April.[3] Kremlin-affiliated outlet Kommersant also reported that the “Don” Cossack Detachment that has been fighting around Velyka Komyshyvakha (southwest of Izyum) since April is joining volunteer and other Cossack units (including the ”Kuban” detachment).[4] Russian war correspondent Sasha Kots reported that the “Russian Legion” is recruiting personnel to operate on the Kharkiv-Donetsk Oblast border.[5] The “Russian Legion” has reportedly operated southeast of Izyum since entering Ukraine on May 12. Reliance on volunteer forces may explain the lack of Russian progress and some successful Ukrainian counterattacks on the Izyum-Slovyansk line.

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Siversk-Lysychansk:

Central Military District with some DNR and LNR units

Units of the Russian Central Military District (CMD) and some LNR and DNR units are operating on the Siversk-Lysychansk axis and have resumed their offensive operations likely following an operational pause initiated in late July. CMD Commander Colonel General Aleksandr Lapin visited Lysychansk on August 8 and likely ordered CMD troops to resume offensive operations towards Siversk during his visit. The Russian Defense Ministry identified Lapin as responsible for securing Lysychansk on July 3, and he had likely continued to command the troops in the area since then.[6] The grouping has been consistently launching offensive operations in the Siversk area since August 8, whereas they had previously engaged in sporadic limited assaults usually at two-to-three-day intervals.[7] Social media footage published on Twitter on August 5 showed elements of the Russian 55th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the 41st Combined Arms Army of the CMD reportedly operating in the direction of Siversk.[8] ISW has previously reported that Russian forces also moved a CMD battalion tactical group (BTG) to the Severodonetsk-Lysychansk area in late June.[9]

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Bakhmut:

Wagner Group with LNR and some WMD units

Detachments of the Wagner Group private military company (PMC) have been active in Russian efforts to gain ground around Bakhmut and have likely contributed to recent successes in this area. Various Russian and Ukrainian sources reported that Wagner Group mercenaries were instrumental in the previous captures of Pokrovske (due east of Bakhmut), Klynove (18km southeast of Bakhmut), Novoluhanske (25km southeast of Bakhmut), and the Vuhlehirska Power Plant (about 20km southeast of Bakhmut).[10] Russian Telegram channels lauded the work of the Wagner Group in completing the tactically complicated capture of the Vuhlehirska Power Plant on July 26, showing the approval that the Russian information space has recently awarded the Wagner Group.[11] LNR units, such as the 6th Cossack Regiment, and other WMD detachments are operating in the Bakhmut direction as well.[12]

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The Wagner Group also reportedly maintains a headquarters in Popasna, about 40km northeast of Bakhmut. A Russian miblogger posted imagery on Telegram of his reported visit to the Wagner Group headquarters, which he claimed was in Popasna, on August 9.[13] This location likely allows Wagner Group command to coordinate various offensive operations in northeastern Donetsk Oblast from well within Russian-occupied territory in Luhansk Oblast. Various Russian and Ukrainian sources reported that Ukrainian forces targeted and destroyed the headquarters on August 14, possibly based on geolocation of the aforementioned milblogger’s Telegram post.[14] The strike may impact Wagner’s command and control abilities in the Bakhmut area.

Avdiivka-Donetsk City:

DNR units

DNR units, which have been operating in the area since 2014, are operating in the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area after likely having participated in operations to seize Luhansk Oblast. DNR-based milbloggers and war correspondents have been publishing footage of the DNR 1st Slavic Brigade, 5th Brigade, and the 11th Regiment making limited advances north and northwest of Donetsk City.[15] The DNR also began advertising volunteer recruitment for the DNR 100th Guards Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, and Ukrainian officials reported that Russian occupation authorities have begun to mobilize men from Mariupol to join DNR efforts.[16] Readovka also identified that one unspecified Cossack detachment is operating around Mariinka, northwest of Donetsk City.[17] ISW has previously assessed that DNR-based milbloggers have increased their coverage of small-scale progress on the Avdiivka-Donetsk City axis likely in an effort to boost morale among DNR and Russian fighters.[18] It is likely that such coverage is aimed at recruiting more DNR fighters to support the attempted breakthroughs around Donetsk City.

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Southern Ukraine:

Mixed

The Russian force composition along the Southern Axis is relatively more diverse than that of other axes. Russian military leadership has likely rushed a mix of forces to this area to defend it against an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive, which likely explains the wide variety of force groupings in this area. ISW has observed elements of the 35th and 36th Combined Arms Armies (CAA) of the Eastern Military District (EMD), the 22nd Army Corps of the Black Sea Fleet, the 49th CAA of the Southern Military District (SMD), 76th Guards Air Assault Division, and Rosgvardia throughout Southern Ukraine.[19]

Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command noted on August 3 that Russian forces were sending elements of the 35th CAA to northern Kherson Oblast.[20] Various Ukrainian officials reported on August 3 that Ukrainian forces destroyed a command post of the 22nd Army Corps in Chornobaivka, on the outskirts of Kherson City.[21] Ukrainian forces additionally targeted control points of the 76th Air Assault Division in Chornobaivka on August 5.[22] Elements of the 49th CAA reportedly have been active on the western bank of the Dnipro River, particularly in the Snihurivka area of Mykolaiv Oblast.[23] Deputy Chief of Ukraine’s Main Operational Department of the General Staff Oleksiy Gromov stated on August 4 that elements of Rosgvardia (Russia’s internal military force) moved to the eastern bank of Dnipro River, suggesting that Russian forces are prioritizing securing the defense of this bank.[24]

Authors: Kateryna Stepanenko, Karolina Hird, Grace Mappes, and Frederick W. Kagan

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