Key Takeaways

  • The Ukrainian counteroffensive that began in Kharkiv Oblast has not yet culminated and is actively pushing into Luhansk Oblast.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin took measures to assert full Russian control over the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).
  • Russian forces conducted the first strike on Kyiv Oblast since June with a Shahed-136 drone.
  • The Head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, announced that Putin awarded him the rank of Colonel-General.
  • Increasing domestic critiques of Russia’s “partial mobilization” are likely driving Putin to scapegoat the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and specifically Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
  • Ukrainian troops likely consolidated positions and regrouped in northern Kherson Oblast after making major gains over in the last 48 hours.
  • Russian sources reported Ukrainian offensive preparations northwest, west, and northeast of Kherson City.
  • Russian forces continued ground attacks in Donetsk Oblast on October 5.
  • Russian milbloggers continued to criticize the implementation of the Russian “partial mobilization” on October 5.
  • Russian citizens who are economically disadvantaged and ethnic minority Russian communities continue to bear a disproportionate burden in mobilization rates and casualty rates according to investigative reports, suggesting that Russian authorities may be deliberately placing poor and minority Russian citizens in more dangerous positions than well-off or ethnic Russians.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin completed the final formality in the process for illegally annexing Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories on October 5.

Ukraine’s northern Kharkiv counteroffensive has not yet culminated after one month of successful operations and is now advancing into western Luhansk Oblast. Ukrainian forces captured Hrekivka and Makiivka in western Luhansk Oblast (approximately 20 km southwest of Svatove) on October 5.[1] Luhansk Oblast Head Serhiy Haidai reported that Ukrainian forces have begun liberating unspecified villages in Luhansk Oblast on October 5.[2] Ukrainian forces began the maneuver phase of their counteroffensive in Kharkiv Oblast— which has now reached Luhansk Oblast—on September 6.[3] Russian forces have failed to hold the banks of the Oskil and Siverskyi Donets rivers and leverage them as natural boundaries to prevent Ukrainian forces from projecting into vulnerable sections of Russian-occupied northeast Ukraine. The terrain in western Luhansk is suitable for the kind of rapid maneuver warfare that Ukrainian forces used effectively in eastern Kharkiv Oblast in early September, and there are no indications from open sources that the Russian military has substantially reinforced western Luhansk Oblast. Ukraine’s ongoing northern and southern counteroffensives are likely forcing the Kremlin to prioritize the defense of one area of operations at the expense of another, potentially increasing the likelihood of Ukrainian success in both.

Russian forces conducted a Shahed-136 drone strike against Bila Tserkva, Kyiv Oblast, on October 5, the first Russian strike in Kyiv Oblast since June.[4] Footage from the aftermath of the strike shows apparent damage to residential structures.[5] Russian milbloggers lauded the destructive capability of the Shahed-136 drones but questioned why Russian forces are using such technology to target areas deep in the Ukrainian rear and far removed from active combat zones. That decision fits into the larger pattern of Russian forces expending high-precision technology on areas of Ukraine that hold limited operational significance.[6]

Russian President Vladimir Putin took measures to assert full Russian control over the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP). Putin issued a decree transferring control of the ZNPP to Russian state company Rosenergoatom on October 5.[7] The ZNPP’s current Ukrainian operator Energoatom announced that its president assumed the position of General Director of the ZNPP on October 5.[8] The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian officials are coercing ZNPP workers into obtaining Russian passports and signing employment contracts with Rosenergoatom.[9] International Atomic Energy Agency General Director Rafael Grossi plans to meet with both Ukrainian and Russian officials this week in Kyiv and Moscow to discuss the creation of a “protective zone” around the ZNPP.[10] Russian officials will likely attempt to coerce the IAEA in upcoming discussions and negotiations into recognizing Rosenergoatom’s official control of the ZNPP, and by implication Russia’s illegal annexation of Zaporizhia Oblast.

The head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, announced that Putin awarded him the rank of colonel general on October 5.[11] This promotion is particularly noteworthy in the context of the recent controversy surrounding Kadyrov and his direct criticism of Central Military District (CMD) Colonel General Aleksander Lapin, which ISW has previously analyzed.[12] Although ISW has not found official confirmation of Kadyrov’s promotion, Putin may have made the decision to elevate Kadyrov’s rank in order to maintain the support of Kadyrov and Chechen forces while simultaneously pushing back on the Russian Ministry of Defense and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, from whom Putin seems to be rhetorically distancing himself. Kadyrov’s new rank may be a sign that Putin is willing to appease the more radical and vocal calls of the siloviki base at the expense of the conventional military establishment.

Increasing domestic critiques of Russia’s “partial mobilization” are likely driving Putin to scapegoat the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and specifically Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Putin deferred mobilization for all students, including part-time and masters students, via a decree on October 5.[13] Putin told Russian outlets that because “the Ministry of Defense did not make timely changes to the legal framework on the list of those who are not subject to mobilization, adjustments have to be made.”[14] That direct critique of the MoD is also an implicit critique of Shoigu, whom Putin appears to be setting up to take the fall for the failures of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The chairperson of the Russian State Duma Defense Committee, Colonel General (Ret.) Andrey Kartapolov, also criticized the MoD on Russian state television on October 5. Kartapolov said that all Russians know the MoD is lying and must stop, but that message is not reaching “individual leaders,” another jab at Shoigu.[15] One Russian milblogger claimed that Kartapolov’s comments demonstrate that Shoigu will soon be “demolished” and “recognized as the main culprit” of Russia’s military failures. The milblogger reminded his readers that it was the Russian MoD and its head that made an “invaluable and huge contribution to the fact that we are now on the verge of a military-political catastrophe.”[16] Another milblogger defended Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin and Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov for criticizing the MoD, applauding them for driving necessary change.[17] Kadyrov’s announcement that Putin awarded him the rank of Colonel-General is similarly indicative that Putin is willing to appease the siloviki base that has taken continued rhetorical swings at the MoD establishment.

Putin will likely hold off on firing Shoigu for as long as he feels he can in order to continue to blame Shoigu for ongoing military failures and to build up support among other factions. Shoigu’s replacement will need to take responsibility for failures that occur after his tenure begins. Putin is already working to improve his support among the nationalist milbloggers and the siloviki such as Prigozhin and Kadyrov. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov old reporters on October 5 that Prigozhin “makes a great contribution within his capabilities” to efforts in Russia and Ukraine and declined to answer questions surrounding Prigozhin’s critiques of government officials.[18] A milblogger emphasized on October 5 that Putin “regularly hosts military correspondents, carefully reads their reports, asks the right questions, and receives objective answers,” implicitly contrasting that relationship with the dishonest way in which milbloggers believe the MoD interacts with Putin.[19]

Russian authorities detained the manager of several milblogger telegram channels on October 5, indicating that the Kremlin is likely setting limits on what criticism is allowed in the domestic Russian information space. Alexander Khunshtein, the deputy secretary of the General Council of Putin’s political party, United Russia, published footage on October 5 showing Russian authorities detaining Alexei Slobodenyuk.[20] Slobodenyuk is an employee of Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Patriot media group and the manager of several milblogger telegrams, the most prominent of which are “Release Z Kraken” and “Skaner.” The telegram channel “Skaner” has featured criticism of major state officials and military personnel, the most prominent of whom are Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, and Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. Russian authorities detained Slobodenyuk on accusations of fraud. His detention suggests that the Kremlin is attempting to set boundaries for which criticism is allowed in the information space and on which high-ranking officials milbloggers and journalists can criticize—Defense Minister Shoigu, Putin‘s likely scapegoat-in-waiting, now appears to be fair game, whereas officials close to Putin such as Lavrov and Putin’s spokesperson are off-limits.

Authors: Karolina Hird, Katherine Lawlor, Riley Bailey, Grace Mappes, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

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