April 5, 2023
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that Ukrainian forces will withdraw from Bakhmut to avoid encirclement if necessary, but do not yet assess the need to do so. Zelensky stated during a press conference in Poland on April 5 that Ukrainian troops face a very challenging situation in Bakhmut, and that Kyiv will make the “corresponding decisions” if Ukrainian troops risk encirclement by Russian forces. Zelensky’s statement is in line with other recent statements by Ukrainian officials that Ukrainian military command will order a withdrawal from Bakhmut when and if they deem a withdrawal to be the most strategically appropriate option. While it remains to be seen whether Ukraine’s defense of Bakhmut and its efficacy in fixing Russian forces in the area is worth Ukrainian losses (and we will likely be unable to assess this until observing the Ukrainian spring counteroffensive), Ukrainian military leadership continues to clearly signal that Ukrainian forces are still not encircled and have the option to withdraw as necessary.
Russian President Vladimir Putin framed Russia’s efforts to consolidate control of occupied territories of Ukraine as a matter of internal security and rule of law during a meeting with the Russian National Security Council on April 5. Putin called for the continued economic, legal, and social integration of occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhia oblasts into the Russian Federation and emphasized the importance of Russian “restoration” efforts in occupied areas in facilitating the integration process. Putin also accused Ukraine of threatening civilians in occupied areas and highlighted recent ”terrorist attacks” against occupation officials and law enforcement agencies, referring to Ukrainian partisan attacks against occupation organs. Putin emphasized the need for intensified law enforcement operations to guard against such attacks and called for the increased participation of local Ukrainian citizens in law enforcement processes, explicitly encouraging collaborators and informants in occupied areas. Putin has notably invoked the concept of “terrorism” and threats to Russian domestic security to justify domestic repressions and is likely setting conditions for further repressions and law enforcement crackdowns in occupied territories using similar framing.
Putin also attempted to portray Russia as a respected world power against the backdrop of Chinese officials downplaying close relations with Russia. Putin held a televised meeting presenting ambassador credentials to the heads of 17 diplomatic missions on April 5, during which he highlighted Russia’s close relationship with Syria and cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), likely as part of ongoing Russian efforts to appeal to non-Western states. Putin stated that Syria is a reliable partner with whom Russia reached several unspecified agreements during Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s recent trip to Russia on March 14. Putin berated ambassadors from the United States and European Union (EU) states and claimed that the West is responsible for the war in Ukraine and geopolitical confrontation with Russia.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that Ukrainian forces will withdraw from Bakhmut to avoid encirclement if necessary, but do not yet assess the need to do so.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin framed Russia’s efforts to consolidate control of occupied territories of Ukraine as a matter of internal security and rule of law during a meeting with the Russian National Security Council.
- Putin also attempted to portray Russia as a respected world power against the backdrop of Chinese officials downplaying close relations with Russia.
- Putin dismissed Colonel-General Nikolai Grechushkin from his post as Deputy Head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations on April 5.
- Russian and Ukrainian forces continued to engage in positional battles along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces likely made gains in and around Bakhmut and continued offensive operations along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City frontline.
- Russian businessmen may be assuming a larger role in supporting the Russian MoD’s efforts to form irregular volunteer formations.
- Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova continues to deny international allegations that Russia is forcibly deporting Ukrainian children to Russia.